You may have read in our recent blogs how the changes in legislation by the Chinese Government are having real impacts on waste management practices in Australia.

In today’s blog, we want to look at the topic in a bit of more detail. This issue is going to have very large impacts on Australian waste and recycling services, covering both residential and commercial collections.

The adjustments required by the industry will happen over time, and it will require a lot of thought by Government, local councils, Australia’s waste management operators, and discussion with China.


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Why Is This An Issue For Waste Management In Australia?

To give a short summary, China has clamped down on the importation of lower grade recycling commodities for processing.

Over 2 years ago, much of the world has sold or sent recycling commodities and waste to China. This low-cost outlet has been the basis of much of the recycling programmes in Australia.

For this reason, Australia has limited recycling plants, therefore hindering waste management. As manufacturing is also greatly reduced, the local outlets or off-takers for recycling commodities is also low.

Quoting from Business Insider Australia:

“Australia produces about 64 million tonnes of waste, or about 2.7 tonnes for each person, according to government estimates for 2014-15. About 60% of that is recycled in some form.”

“China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection in July last year filed a notice to the World Trade Organisation advising that recovered mixed paper, textiles, plastics and some metals would be banned from import.”

“The ban, an extension of China’s Operation Green Fence policy to prohibit the importation of unwashed and contaminated recyclable materials, came into effect in January, barring 24 categories of solid waste, sending already weak prices for recyclable material to rock bottom and making some materials unsaleable and ultimately destined for landfill or for stockpiling.”


Why Is China Putting In Place Controls And What Is Its Impact In Australia

The basic reason is that years of this practise has led to pollution of the Chinese environment. Additionally, the market for low-quality – i.e., contaminated recyclable commodities – has fallen.

The impact on Australia’s waste management operators will be huge. In many instances, council recycling bins (and commercial bins if low-quality recycling) will be almost worthless. Therefore, contractors could face huge losses.

In many instances, for low-quality recycling such as the dark plastic wrap, contaminated commingled (such as council collections) will have no real off-taker.

This will lead to renegotiation of the council and municipal contracts, potential cost increases or even contractors walking away from multi-year collection agreements.


Waste management Australia


It will also potentially lead to more waste going to landfill or a re-examination of incineration as a solution for Australian waste.

See our update here on the Australian waste recycling plan.


How Can Australia Recycle More In 2020?

Naturally, to counter this problem, Australia’s waste management companies should handle our own produced waste without relying on China. Additionally, both residential and commercial entities can do their part and increase their efforts to help bolster Australia’s waste management and recycling state.

Unfortunately, not much has changed in 2019; the effects of the recycling crisis still lingers in Australia. Problems in 2019 included lack in funding and a weak market. But, there is no way to go but up, as they say. With these solved, it will boost national recycling to greater heights.


What Would Happen If We Recycled More?

With these problems stated, the government has been in and out of the planning room, drawing up ways to mitigate the recycling crisis at hand. The most famous solution probably has to be the 2025 National Packaging Target. Basically, the aim of this is to find more sustainable ways for packaging management in Australia. The targets include the following:

  • make packaging 100 per cent recyclable and compostable;
  • turn plastic packaging at least 70 per cent recyclable or compostable;
  • include 50 per cent of average recycled products in packaging; and
  • remove single-use plastics altogether


This can prove difficult to achieve. But, let us say that we exert a bit (but still felt) of effort in recycling and waste management here in Australia; there can still be loads of benefits we can enjoy if we increase our recycling efforts, along with proper waste management. For context, we can look at the USA and some metrics provided by USA Today:

“If everyone in America recycled just one plastic bottle, those materials could make more than 54 million T-shirts or about 6.5 million fleece jackets, according to Repreve data.”

“If everyone recycled one aluminium can, 295 million new aluminium cans could be made, according to Aluminum Association data. Also, everyone recycling just one can would reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 6,750 passenger cars off the road and save energy equivalent to 80 thousand barrels of oil. Keep America Beautiful used the EPA WARM model to calculate energy estimates.

“If everyone recycled one plastic bag, those materials could be reused in making 28,906 park benches or, according to Tex data,144,530 16-foot composite deck boards. Right now, plastic bags must be taken to a drop-off location for recycling and shouldn’t be mixed in with other recyclables.”

Waste Management Australia: Conclusion

Where we go from here is really an open question at this point in time. Obviously, we quickly need to find a solution that is politically as well as environmentally responsible.

See our blog on how Ipswich City Council has cancelled mixed recycling bin services due to this issue.

Australia has benefitted from the China boom in many ways in recent years. But now, we need to find a solution that is a bit more Australian focused.

Additionally, these solutions should obviously be boosting our recycling and waste management efforts. These are also to improve the facilities to handle more waste here in Australia, removing the need to export. Rightfully so, this has also been addressed by the Prime Minister; there existed last year and continues to exist now a waste export ban. Again, it will be a much better option to invest in improving our machine and facilities to process our waste.



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