Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Recycling Efforts Wasted

By Ian Lowe

Householders might decide it’s not worth the trouble sorting their waste.

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A recent ABC Four Corners investigation raised serious questions about the management of waste in Australia. We generate much more domestic waste than most countries. In fact, we are among the worst of all advanced nations on that indicator, so managing that waste stream is important. As most local authorities now support kerbside recycling, it takes little effort from the individual to separate waste. However, the ABC report identified problems after collection.

I was a member of Brisbane City Council’s environment advisory committee for several years. At one point there was a rumour that the waste put into recycling bins was just dumped with the general waste, so committee members actually travelled around in the collecting trucks to see what was done. We verified that the recyclables were taken to a sorting station and separated. The glass, paper and metals went off to the appropriate destinations.

That still seems to be happening as expected, but the problem now is that the market for used glass has collapsed. It is apparently now cheaper to buy new imported glass than to melt and reuse the recycled material. So little mountains of used glass have been accumulating, and in some cases the pulverised glass is just being dumped as landfill.

The second problem is dumping. Most states charge a levy to cover the cost to the community of providing...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.