Last week, Clean Up Australia released its 2017 Rubbish Report, providing statistics on the types of waste collected by volunteers and giving insights into where we should focus our efforts next in the war on waste. Here’s what we learned.
The good: Better community participation
There was a 50% increase in the number of registered Clean Up sites nationwide – 907 locations were registered, compared to 602 the year before.
While plastic remains the most littered type of rubbish with 35% collected in 2017, the number is 4% less than the year before. Paper and metal items also decreased by 2% and 1% respectively, with beverage containers also reducing their count by 2%.
This is an encouraging result for container deposit schemes. Research published by Marine Policy has shown that economic incentives such as these reduced the number of containers on the coasts of both the United States and Australia by 40%.
With more than 100 million containers collected in just 12 weeks, it will be interesting to see the impact of New South Wales’ Return and Earn scheme on future litter statistics, especially with Western Australia and Queensland considering introducing similar programs.
Container deposit schemes are a great example of sorting recyclables at the source. Sorting at the source improves the quality of collected materials and reduces contamination. The better the quality, then the better the economic value and ability to use the materials to produce new items over and over again.
Foreign markets for our recyclables will no longer accept the current level of contamination, and we know burying them in landfill is not the solution. With so many people volunteering their time and effort to get their hands dirty on Clean Up Australia Day, how can we channel this enthusiasm into what happens to waste after it’s collected, and reducing waste from the outset?
The not-so-good: Plastics still king
Avoiding single-use plastics, reducing plastic packaging, and repurposing plastic debris continue to have an important role to play in the war on plastics.
Western Australia is set to ban retailers from giving shoppers plastic bags this July, joining other states like South Australia, ACT, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. Supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths have announced their plans to phase out their plastic usage in the coming months.
Plastic Free July is another great initiative that aims to raise awareness on single-use plastics, and challenges people to avoid them for a whole month.
Similarly, the Nude Food movement has been an enormous success in Australia and is a great way to promote healthy eating while reducing the amount of plastic packaging from food.
The dirty: Irresponsible smokers
Car parts, batteries, food scraps, clothing and cigarette butts increased by 7% in 2017, and is the second largest source of rubbish. Cigarette butts increased by 11% and was the single most collected individual item (19.8%).
We’re looking for insights to understand this kind of littering behaviour, to see what we can do to make it better. Take our 2-minute poll and share it with your friends – What are you wasting when no one is watching?
Around 11,000 tonnes of handheld, automotive and industrial batteries are estimated to end up in landfill every year. Batteries were one of the items that increased in the environment in 2017, but they are recyclable and contain precious metals such as zinc, steel and manganese that can be recovered and recycled – reducing reliance on new resources.
Textiles remain a challenge for Australia given the scale of disposable fashion, and the limited options for recycling. While Australian fast-fashion booms to an industry worth $2bn a year, recent reports find that 75% of Australian adults have thrown clothes away in the past year, and 30% tossed more than 10 garments. (Source: Landfill becomes the latest fashion victim in Australia’s throwaway culture)
Food waste was another number that went up in the 2017 Rubbish Report. By correctly recycling food waste we can produce high quality compost and mulch that creates a valuable closed loop. Making your own compost heap at home can be simple:
The bottom line: Close the loop on resources
Reducing the amount of single-use plastic we consume is essential, but households, businesses and waste service providers need to improve the way we sort recycling to reduce contamination and improve the quality of the material for reuse.
Along with these strategies, we must also change the way we design and use products. Consumers and manufacturers are responsible for turning ours into a make, reuse, repurpose, and recycle culture.
The real opportunity in Australia is to create a circular economy where we close the loop on resources by only producing the material that we actually want to recycle, and reuse it back in the economy.
Cleanaway are proud national sponsors of Clean Up Australia Day – another way we’re helping make a sustainable future possible for all Australians. Visit our Clean Up hub to find out more.