It's been 4 years since China announced it's ban on the importation of recyclable materials from Australia, sending the waste industry (and me) into a tailspin! Why was our recyclable waste being shipped overseas in the first place, and where was it going to go now? As confronting as it was, the 'waste crisis' was the wake up call we needed to trigger industry action and government funding.
I can remember, at the time, being absolutely flawed that our country was shipping more than 600,000 tonnes of recyclable waste overseas each year. Apart from thinking 'what a wild idea, why would we expect another country to be responsible for our waste?', I was also fearful that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste was now stranded in Australia. I had visions of waste piling up everywhere, spilling out of warehouses all over our beautiful country. My assumption that my carefully cleaned and sorted recycling was being processed locally and turned into something useful had been so wrong!
I was reminded of this 'waste crisis' when we had friends for dinner last weekend. As I rinsed a beer bottle before putting it in the recycling bin, one of our guests asked "why are you bothering to do that? It's just going to be shipped overseas!" It made me realise that many people still don't trust kerbside recycling!
This week is National Recycling Week in Australia and much progress has been made in the 4 years since the ban was announced. Here are some positive steps that are being taken to reassure you that our recycling efforts aren't in vain and to reinforce the importance of recycling correctly:-
- The Recycling Modernisation Fund supports a Circular Economy
In July 2020, the Australian government established the Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF). The RMF supports investment in new infrastructure to sort, process and re-manufacture materials such as mixed plastic, paper, tyres and glass. The Fund treats waste as a 'valuable resource' whose value should be kept in the Australian economy, providing approximately 10,000 new jobs and diverting over 10 million tonnes of waste from landfill.
- Major supermarkets and brands pledge to drastically reduce plastic waste
Major supermarket chains and multinational brands are among more than 60 organisations to sign up to a pact to reduce plastic wasteacross Australia and the region. It's part of national packaging targets that The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) have developed to take effect in 2025 and includes having 100 % of packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable. Accordingly, Food and Beverage companies have started to change the way they make products. An example of what's happening is Bread company, Tip Top, phasing out the little plastic clips which are used to close the top of bread bags. They are being replaced by cardboard versions which are 100 % recyclable and made from 100 % recycled cardboard.
- Expansion of the Container Deposit Scheme
South Australia was the first state to introduce a container deposit scheme in 1977, giving customers a refund for returning containers. Although It has taken decades since then, now every state and territory has its own version or is running a similar scheme.
- Development of an enzyme that 'eats' plastic
An enzyme that 'eats' plastic is under development by Samsara, a start-up firm backed by the Australian National University, Woolworths and Main Sequence (which manages the CSIRO's innovation fund). They have discovered a way to break down plastic to its base form, using enzymes. The material can then be used to make new plastic. The company believes it will make plastic infinitely recyclable, reducing the need to create products from virgin materials like fossil fuels. Yay!
- The Recycle Mate app
Recycling can be confusing! Particularly when there are over 500 local councils in Australia that all have their own waste systems. The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) is about to roll out a new app nationally to help people work out what items can and cannot be recycled and where. CalledRecycle Mate, the app scans an item then produces an answer as to how it should be recycled.
If you want to read about a council that has their recycling system totally sorted! You can read about the City of Sydney recycling here:
Many advancements have been made in recent years and recycling in Australia seems to be heading in the right direction. However, there is still work to be done as millions of tonnes of plastic continue to be sent to landfill every year. A change in consumer behaviour is needed. Remember that it's consumers like you and I that have the power to refuse; then reuse and as a last resort recycle, correctly!
By Allison Licence
Allison Licence is a Sydney-based freelance writer and 1 Million Women App Coordinator who is passionate about the environment and finding ways to live more sustainably.
Header Image: Unsplash