Plastic bottle on beach
Agriculture and Sustainability,  Waste

How is Australia combating a 170% increase in waste?

In 2014-15 Australia produced the equivalent of 565 kg per capita of municipal waste (Department of Environment and Energy, 2016).

From 1996 to 2015 Australia’s population rose by 28%. Waste generation increased by 170% at a compound growth rate of 7.8% (MRA Consulting, 2016). How is Australia combating this growth?

Waste Generation and Population


In 2014-15 Australia produced about 64 million tonnes of waste. Almost 60% of this was recycled (Department of Environment and Energy, 2016). Recycling rates are increasing which is fabulous! However, there are still multiple challenges. For example, almost one third of all recyclable items are placed in the garbage bin and end up in landfill (MRA Consulting, 2016). 


Recycling isn’t viable in towns that are a long way from major cities where most recovered materials are processed and sold. For example, states like WA with large remote populations have lower recycling rates (Department of Environment and Energy, 2016). The waste from regional areas must be transported from to sorting facilities in population centers resulting in increased transport emissions. 


Recycling material is great and all but you need to be able to sell the recycled material to make it viable. When prices for materials like metal, glass or paper drop, companies may hold onto material whilst they wait for an increase.

If you watched this Four Corners episode, you saw that there are large stockpiles of glass are located all around Australia. It is cheaper for companies to buy new glass than recycle it. It should be noted that this glass is not all going to landfill however with 26 million tonnes of glass still recycled each year (Waste Management Review, 2017).

Though large amounts of this material is ‘down-cycled’ rather than recycled. For example, in WA where recycled glass is used in road bitumen. This means that the materials recyclability ends. If it were recycled from glass to glass directly, the quality would be maintained. Therefor it could continue to be recycled into the future. 


Most states have introduced a levy on sending waste to landfill – a surcharge that companies or people must pay for per tonne. NSW charges a levy of $133.10/t of waste (metro), Victoria $60.52, South Australia $57 and Western Australia $55 (MRA Consulting, 2016).

Landfill Levies Graph

QLD has no levy. This has resulted in 44 000t of waste in 2014 and 39 000t in 2015 travelling by road and rail to QLD from other states. This causes huge amounts of unnecessary emissions with 15 000 heavy truck movements on the Pacific Highway (MRA Consulting, 2016). The NSW government had planned to combat this by introducing the ‘Proximity Principle’. This prohibited the transport of waste more than 150km.  The principle this was repealed in 2016 however so waste transport continues to be totally legal (N.Shannon, S.Seneviratne, 2016)


The average garbage bin is 60% organic material, 40% food and 20% garden waste (Department of Environment and Energy, 2016).  As seen in the graph below, a large amount of organic waste that is sent to landfill compared to other waste sources. Disposal Recycling and Energy Recovery by Type of Waste

When organic matter breaks down in landfill it releases methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 26 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide. This can be avoided by composting organic matter. Some councils now compost organic matter for you as a part of their waste management system though the majority don’t. Luckily you can still reduce your contribution to greenhouse gases and global warming by starting your own compost! 

Carbon Policy Initiatives

Carbon policy initiatives refer to the capture of methane from landfills. As we just learnt, methane has a huge global warming potential and is produced from the anaerobic conditions (no oxygen) in landfill. Between 2009-10 and 2012-13, landfill methane capture grew by 50% from 5.1 to 7.6 Mt of carbon dioxide equivalent (Department of Environment and Energy, 2016).

“The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (2015), estimated that new biogas projects “could avoid 9 million tonnes of CO2-e each year by 2020, potentially contributing 12% of Australia’s national carbon abatement. Australia’s agreement under the Paris Commitment (2015) was a 26% reduction in emissions by 2030. The waste and recycling sector could do most of the heavy lifting (at a low marginal cost)” (MRA Consulting, 2016).

Waste Management Targets

The table below surmises the strategies and targets each state has set. With three of seven states not having any numerical targets set, it’s not looking that great.

State Strategy Targets
ACT ACT Waste Management Strategy: Towards a sustainable Canberra 2011- 2025 Waste generation grows less than population. Expand reuse of goods. Waste sector is carbon neutral by 2020. Double energy generated from waste. Recover waste resources for carbon sequestration. Recovery rate increases to over:

• 85% by 2020

• 90% by 2025.

NSW NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2014-21 By 2016–17, reduce litter items by 40% compared with 2011–12 then continue to reduce to 2021–22. Also by 2021–22:

• reduce waste per capita

• reduce illegal dumping in Sydney and the Illawarra, Hunter and Central Coast regions by 30%

• establish baseline data to develop additional targets. By 2021–22, increase recycling rates for:

• MSW from 52% (in 2010–11) to 70%

• C&I waste from 57% to 70%

• C&D waste from 75% to 80%

NT Waste Management Strategy for the Northern Territory 2015-2022 No specific targets are included in the strategy.
QLD Waste—Everyone’s responsibility: Queensland Waste Avoidance and Resource Productivity Strategy (2014– 2024)


Container Refund Scheme July 2018

By 2024:

• reduce waste per capita by 5%

• reduce waste to landfill by 15%

• improve management of problem wastes (specific targets to be developed).

By 2024, increase:

• state average MSW recycling rate to 50% (from 33% in 2012-13)

• C&I recycling rate to 55% (from 42%)

• C&D recycling rate to 80% (from 61%).



SA South Australia’s Waste Strategy 2015-2020 35% reduction in landfill from 2002-03 level by 2020 (30% by 2017– 18). 5% reduction in waste generation per capita by 2020 (from 2015 baseline). For metropolitan Adelaide:

• MSW landfill diversion of 70% by 2020

• C&I diversion of 80% by 2020

• C&D diversion of 90% by 2020. Non-metropolitan waste – maximise diversion for MSW, C&I and C&D.

TAS The Tasmanian Waste and Resource Management Strategy No quantified targets are included in the strategy.
VIC State-wide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan 2015-44 No numerical targets are included in the plan.
WA Western Australian Waste Strategy: Creating the Right Environment (March 2012) Landfill diversion:

• MSW metro 50% by 2015 and 65% by 2020

• MSW regional centres 30% by 2015 and 50% by 2020

• C&D 60% across the state by 2015 and 75% by 2020

• C&I 55% across the state by 2015 and 70% by 2020.

MSW – Municipal Solid Waste

C&D – Construction and Demolition Waste

C&I – Commercial and Industrial Waste


So what does it all mean? In summary:

  • Waste is increasing but so is recycling
  • Recycling isn’t always necceasirily recycling, a lot of the time it’s ‘down-cycling’
  • When we throw a banana peel into the bin its contributing to global warming
  • State and federal governments need to collaborate and do a whole lot better

What can we do in the mean time? Like most things, it’s going to come down to us. If we produced less waste we wouldn’t need to be so worried about the short comings of our countries waste management practices. Let’s do our bit and make waste management practices. Head to the Zero Waste archives for plenty of articles and inspiration on how you can reduce your waste and help out!


Department of Environment and Energy, 2016 (Department of Environment and Energy, 2016).

Suez, 2017 (Suez, 2017)

MRA Consulting, 2016 (MRA Consulting, 2016)

The Conversation, 2017 (The Conversation, 2010)

Waste Management Review, 2017 (Waste Management Review, 2017)

N.Shannon, S.Seneviratne, 2016 

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