Back in 2012, multiple waste recovery targets were set and designed to be achieved by 2020. Most notably this included a 65% recycling rate amongst household waste in Perth and Peel regions with a 50% rate in major regional areas.
However, there hasn’t been an increase in WA’s recycling rate over the past five years.
In 2017-18 WA households produced 1.5 million tonnes of waste which equates to about 600kg per person. This represents a decrease of 26kg per person per year compared to statistics from 2014-15, however the recycling rate has remained the same.
This is despite the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER) and the Waste Authority providing greater support to LGAs since 2015.
An array of reasons has been cited, including contaminated recycled waste, lack of effective waste education and insufficient local recycling infrastructure despite the impending COAG ban on exporting recycled waste.
Additionally, the lack of local markets for recycled waste and lengthy transport distances pose problems for waste management not just in the Perth metropolitan area, but in regional WA.
Whilst many Local Governments in WA have introduced better waste management practices over the past year, many are still not taking advantage of measurers such as providing organic bins alongside general waste and recycle bins.
Whilst landfills will always be necessary for certain types of waste, they produce toxins that can work their way into the soil and groundwater. Mehtane, a natural by-product of the decomposition of organic material in landfills, produces a greenhouse gas that is 28 to 36 times more effective than Carbon Dioxide at trapping heat.
Organic material typically makes up about half of all household waste in WA. This type of waste is incredibly useful as it can be used to produce mulch – which from an LGAs perspective can be used to produce mulch for community parks and gardens – and food and garden organics can be used to develop fertilisers. As well as being great for the environment, this demonstrates the financial benefits waste recovery can bring to a local government.
Another missed opportunity is bulk waste. WALGA set a guideline to LGAs in WA that 50% of collected vergeside waste should be recycled. Only 4 met this target with 6 including the City of Bunbury sending all of their bulk waste to landfill. The remaining 23 recycled an average of 20% of collected bulk waste. For example in 2018-19 the City of Belmont recycled 31% of the 3,562 tonnes collected. This was primarily achieved by recycling steel, cardboard, wood, green waste and mattresses.
The waste sector in Australia alone contributes more than $10 billion a year to the economy and it is believed that materials worth several hundred million dollars are lost to landfill every year making it a lose-lose proposition for a variety of stakeholders.
This all links to a central theme that waste should be seen as a resource in itself. Like all resources, this means they should be used effectively and efficiently. Recycling as much waste as possible could provide endless economic opportunities whilst simultaneously benefiting the environment.
Featured Image: Nick Fewings, Unsplashed