No standard recycling rules
While about 97% of Australian households have access to a council-run kerbside recycling scheme, there are no standardised recycling rules telling councils what to collect. Glass, paper, cardboard, metals, plastics and green waste can all be recycled, but what you can put out for kerbside collection depends entirely on where you live.
“It would be much more efficient if we had standard acceptance criteria across all councils,” says Mike Ritchie, General Manager, Marketing and Communications at SITA Environmental Solutions. Until the commodity prices crash in September 2008, the market price for recycled plastics was very high, so councils and other businesses could offer free recycling services. But what local councils accept varies, depending on the transport cost, and/or proximity to, a materials recovery facility (MRF).
Recycling rates still too low
Australians recycled just 15% of all the plastics we consumed in 2007, which is 33% of all plastics packaging – the total plastics recycling rate includes durables as well as packaging. The packaging waste from household and public place recycling constitutes almost half of the total plastics recycled, but to put this into perspective, its lifespan is generally minute compared with durables such as pipes, which may last for years.
Jeff Angel, Executive Director of the Total Environment Centre, says the figures are also exaggerated because they don’t include the plastic packaging on imported finished goods, and include the recovered packaging that’s sent overseas for recycling or other purposes. “But even if 33% was correct, it’s abysmally low,” he says.
“The recycling rate in Australia has been improving over time, but there is still a lot of scope within the packaging and waste industries to improve these statistics. Greater public place recycling, better event recycling and deposit legislation would certainly help increase recycling rates,” says Planet Ark’s Brad Gray.
To improve recycling efficiency, all three sectors in the community need to work together: governments to implement a more consistent approach to recycling, industry to invest in state-of-the-art materials recovery technology, and the community to reduce plastic consumption and then to recycle, recycle, recycle…