The lost value of kerbside recycling is almost $324 million each year. This presents a clear opportunity to reform and reshape the sector, starting with household recycling and consumer behaviours, and extending to the development of a world class and sustainable recycling system.
We cannot realise this value without a seismic shift in consumer behaviour. Firstly, we need to treat waste as a tradeable commodity where quality is an important driver of price. Secondly, we need to restore people’s faith in recycling so that they believe that what they put in recycling bins is actually being recycled.
The most effective way for this to occur is through the formation of a nationally consistent scheme, that includes a consumer education program, clearer packaging to aid better sorting, and more transparency around supply and demand to enable investment in infrastructure so we can deal with our waste onshore.
The first step of committing to domestic processing of Australia’s recycling has been achieved and is a turning point in Australian waste management. We are starting to see a shift in our thinking but need to do more to treat our waste as a tradeable resource, like iron ore or gold, rather than just waste.
However, recycling only addresses the end of the supply chain. A comprehensive approach includes encouraging a reduction in waste, re-use, recycling and most importantly market development.
An investment in systems of production and consumption that recognise the waste management hierarchy – Reduce-Re-use-Recycle – and where possible operate on circular economy lines, to align with world’s best practice are required.
This change in approach, coupled with adequate investment of state waste levies, and Federal funds will achieve a sustainable domestic recycling industry.