Know Your Recycling
National Recycling Week 2020
I never thought too much about recycling in Australia until I learnt about China’s ban against foreign waste in 2018. At the time, China was the largest purchaser of plastic waste and instituted its ban against foreign waste in response to the threat to their environment posed by the large amounts of contaminated waste. We had been sending an average of 619,000 tonnes of materials (worth $523 million) to China every year. This ban meant that most recyclable waste would not meet their requirement of 99.5 percent free of contaminants, considering our 6-10 percent contamination rate for kerbside recycling, even after being sorted.
What did this mean for our recycling?
Well… we just sent it to our neighbours in SouthEast Asia. Then, when they came back and told us they were not accepting our rubbish anymore – quote Malaysia’s environment minister Yeo Bee Yin, “Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world” – that’s when the real crisis began.
Although we still managed to keep sending those countries our ‘toxic’ waste, I also learnt that our councils (I’m based in Melbourne) were sending our recyclable waste to landfill. I was shocked. Essentially all the efforts towards promoting recycling was for nothing.
Learning about all of this led me to consider Australia and many other high-income countries’ reliance on low- and middle-income countries to take in our waste, and the lack of action towards moving to a circular economy, a shift that is necessary for a sustainable future.
With increasing urbanisation and populations, global waste is only going to increase. An estimate by the World Economic Forum predicts that the increase in rubbish will overtake the population group, reaching 3.4 billion tons by 2050, an increase from 2 billion tons in 2016. With more than a third of waste globally ending up in landfill, as young people we need to think deeply about recycling and how our waste can be co-opted so it does not end up in landfill.
But there is hope – we are moving towards the right direction.
This year, our government passed the ‘Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill’, putting in place an export ban on waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres as well as increasing recycling and remanufacturing of waste materials. Not only that, to increase our recycling capabilities, a Recycling Modernisation Fund has been created, with a $190 million investment by the government, as well a National Waste Policy Action Plan, a policy towards thinking about waste in a new way – as a resource, similar to a commodity, rather than just rubbish. The numerous companies using recycled plastics illustrate that there we can have a future where we creatively ‘upcycle’ our trash.
During National Recycling Week 2020, I ask you to spare a couple of minutes to learn what can be recycled and what cannot – instead of “wish-cycling” items that cannot be recycled. Even something minor like keeping your recyclables in a plastic bag means that your recycling cannot be recycled. Spare the extra second to empty the containers and bottles properly of any leftover food or liquid so that your recyclables are not contaminated.
Take the lids off items before placing in the recycling bin.
It is great that our government is moving forward toward taking ownership over our waste and shifting towards a circular economy. However, it is up to us to make sure we are educated about what can be recycled and what cannot to ensure that our waste can be properly recycled.
Marina Daley is a National Recruitment Manager at UN Youth Australia. Marina is in her first year of a Master of International Relations and a Diploma of Spanish at the University of Melbourne.