Australia wasting recycling potential

Ernst & Young

Wednesday, 18 September, 2019



Australia wasting recycling potential

An EY report has revealed that — by failing to correctly handle our recyclable materials — Australia could be missing out on $324 million each year.

The EY report found that the current method of co-mingling recyclables — mixing items such as glass, plastic and aluminium in one bin — is reducing the value of recyclable material from a typical kerbside bin to as low as $2 per tonne. If uncontaminated recyclable materials were separated, the value of kerbside waste could increase to as much as $156 per tonne.

This discrepancy means that only $4.2 million of a potential $328 million worth of recyclable material is being captured from kerbside bins in Australia each year.

By improving waste sorting, increasing education about how to recycle and developing new markets for recyclables, Australia could generate a thriving waste management supply chain worth up to the $328 million figure.

According to EY Climate Change and Sustainability Partner Terence Jeyaretnam, this opportunity will only be realised by better sorting household waste and rethinking of waste as a commodity.

“There has to be a fundamental shift in our thinking. We must start realising and treating our waste as a tradeable commodity, like iron ore or gold, rather than just waste,” said Jeyaretnam.

“The old way of sorting our waste is not the right fit for 21st century Australia. Not only does it lead to poor environmental outcomes, it’s preventing us from grasping an opportunity worth hundreds of millions per year.

“We have this $324 million opportunity sitting in our rubbish bins that can be realised by better methods of sorting, more education about how to recycle and developing new on-shore markets for our waste.

“To capture this opportunity will require all levels of government, industry and everyday Australians to work together to ensure we capture every last bit of value from our waste,” Jeyaretnam concluded.

Key report findings:

  • If Australia built a world-class recycling system on-shore, EY estimates that more than $328 million worth of recyclable material per year could be captured and used in manufacturing and construction.
  • A fundamental behavioural shift is needed to reduce contamination in our recyclable materials. This can be aided by better information for households, clearer rules on what can be recycled, and possible new infrastructure and incentives.
  • To improve recycling, product lifecycle needs to be examined, including packaging design, choice of packaging material and on-pack information detailing packaging systems, collection and recycling services.
  • Correct sorting of recyclables before collection, rather than after, is key to extracting maximum value from recyclable items.
  • More recycled material should be included in the production of goods, infrastructure and packaging.
  • Harmonisation of regulation between federal, state and local governments should be considered as a way to provide clarity about the types of materials that can be recycled.
  • Data collection should be improved to better understand the issues in the market, as well as the opportunity in our kerbside bins.
  • Further investment, drawing on state waste levies and federal funding should be directed to developing the collection, recycling and markets to create a sustainable domestic recycling industry.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Talaj

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