As I conduct my research on Australian waste facts, I’m left dumbfounded by our numbers.
Did you know that the average Australian produces 2.7 tonnes of waste per year?
Now picture ONE family producing 2.7 tons of waste in 365 days … that’s an unbelievable amount of rubbish!
According to the National Waste Report, Australia as a nation produces 64 million tons per year.
Much of this is household waste like plastic packaging and food waste.
Now imagine driving to work in the morning, and a garbage truck that weighs 11 tons passes you. Then divide 64 million tons by 11 tons.
That’s the number of trucks that will be on the road – 5,818.
Australia is one of the BIGGEST producers of waste in the world.
As our population grows our consumption increases, and the more we consume the more we tend to ‘throw away’.
This post will highlight the most recent Australian waste statistics so that we can be more conscious of the waste we produce.
It is a problem that we all contribute to and if we aren’t making a conscious effort to change our ways, there won’t be much left for our future generations.
Waste Facts In Australia
Food is essential to survival, you need it for good health and energy to move about during the day.
In the world today, more than 870 million people go to sleep hungry and are malnourished.
Here’s the low down on food waste in Australia:
- Australia throws away 1.3 billion tons of food each year.
- This amount of food can feed the entire population and reduce hunger on the street (which ozharvest does a wonderful job of).
- Australia produces enough food to feed 60 million people.
- In most households, 1/3 of this waste is made up of food. This, in turn, adds up to 2.6 million tons annually and 1/5 of the foods bought from shops are also thrown in the bin.
Greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced if we were all to compost or have a worm farm for food scraps and organic waste.
Plastic Bag Waste
Australians have generated 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic. 5 billion tonnes of this plastic is in landfill or in oceans which are choking marine life.
Only 9% of this plastic has been recycled, the other 91% sits in landfill, floats in our oceans or burned.
- An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year. Many animals mistakenly ingest plastic believing it to be a food source.
- Australians use more than 10 million plastic bags a day. They are washed down to the seas and lakes which later destroy the ecosystem.
- Our landfills are composed of 85% of soft plastic, and only 1/3 of the plastics end up being recycled.
- According to research conducted by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organization, between 2017-18, only 32 percent of the plastic is recycled which means that 600,000 tons out of 900,000 tons of plastic bags were recycled last year.
- Since July 2019, Australia has reduced plastic usage by 80 percent. Woolworths and Coles’s ban on plastic bags has made it possible to reduce 1.5 billion plastic bags end up in landfill.
Slowly manufacturers in Australia and China are switching over to making biodegradable bags. Although some of these bag’s “biodegradable” claims are still questionable.
New research from the University of Plymouth in the UK has found that those bags stick around in the environment longer than you think.
Dr Imogen Napper, who led the study, said, “After three years, I was really amazed that any of the bags could still hold a load of shopping”.
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Tips on reducing plastic bag pollution:
- Bring your own shopping bags to the supermarket. There are so many sturdy reusable grocery bags available in stores made out of cotton, canvas, hemp, and even recycled plastic.
- You can buy reusable mesh produce bags instead of using the small plastic bags found in the loose produce section of your supermarket. Mesh produce bags are lightweight, see-through and great for holding mushrooms, grapes, apples or any loose produce.
- Make or buy your own foldable shopping bag. These bags can be folded into small pouches and popped into your handbag.
Clothing is a basic need that we cannot live without. But fast fashion is the main culprit of clothing waste.
How many pieces of clothing items do you purchase every month? What do you do with the old ones?
Do you hand them down to siblings, donate to family and friends or make a trip to the charity bins?
Here’s what research shows:
- Australian landfills receive approximately 6000kgs of clothes every 10 minutes. As I write this, I’m shaking my head as to how mind blogging this figure is.
- Water is a major component in manufacturing clothes. According to WWF, it takes 2,700 litres of water to make one cotton T-shirt, that’s enough for one person to drink for 900 days i.e. nearly 3 years.
- Most people throw out three-quarters of clothes bought within a year and only 30 percent is recycled or donated.
Fashion is mainstream and it’s unavoidable in our modern-day society. Some people want to wear the latest fashion trends while others want to be comfortable yet stylish.
Tips on reducing clothing waste whilst still maintaining your style:
- Plan, shop and donate your pre-loved clothing to places like Smith Family, Vinnies, Salvos, Anglicare, and Australian Red Cross. It’s a great way to donate your good quality clothes and pick up a new wardrobe.
- Understand your own personal fashion style. You might want to focus less on trends and more on colours and designs that flatter your body.
- Be creative instead of throwing clothes away. If it’s a small tear, can it be repaired or re-designed? You can also layer, mix and match different clothes items together.
Disposable Coffee Cup Waste
I love coffee and it’s a MUST have every morning. Some love to make their own coffee at home (me!) and some like to buy their coffee on the way to work.
The problem with takeaway coffee is that it’s served in disposable coffee cups that are extremely hard to recycle.
- According to ABC’s War on Waste documentary, 1 billion disposable paper cups, used for take away coffee, are not recyclable and end up in landfill.
- Aussies are using over 50,000 cups every half hour.
- Most coffee shops don’t even offer discounts for bringing your own reusable cup.
- 7 Eleven are working on a system to help recycle the 70 million coffee cups they sell each year.
Tips on reducing disposable coffee cups:
- Bring your own reusable coffee cup or stainless steel flask to the cafe and simply ask them to fill it up.
- Pop your reusable coffee cup in your handbag or backpack whenever you’re heading out (you never know when you feel like coffee or tea).
- Buy more than 1 reusable coffee cup or stainless steel flask, leave one in the car and one in your bag.
Plastic Straw Waste
I never understood why we used straws so I dug a little deeper.
Apparently, the first known straws were made by the Sumerians and were used for drinking beer as a way to avoid the solid byproducts of fermentation that sink to the bottom.
The use of plastic straws became popular following World War 2 because it was inexpensiveness to manufacture since cheap drinks and meals usually came with plastic straws.
So do we really need straws?
Has it become a custom, a routine or simply sheer laziness of not wanting to pick up a glass or a bottle?
Plastic straws like plastic bags are a major problem if they end up in our waterways and don’t get recycled.
You hear news like sea turtles with straws stuck up their nose and it’s just plain horrible.
Here’s the stats on plastic straw waste:
- Australians use 3.5 billion straws annually, that’s 10 million straws a day!
- The straws are used for only 20 to 30 minutes and not reused. This leads to the ever-growing volume of plastic waste.
- Craig Reucassel from ABC’s War on Waste documentary visited a number of pubs in Sydney asking owners how many straws they used. One pub owner said they used about 10,000 straws a month.
- McDonald’s has committed to phase out straws by 2020 and is also trialling paper straws.
Tips to no more plastic straws:
- If you’re a business owner, put the straws behind the counter. One pub was using 190,000 a year vs 32,000 after putting the straws behind the counter.
- Don’t stock or offer straws at your cafe or restaurant. If your customers get upset, explain to them why and hopefully they come to their senses.
- If your little one likes to drink out of straws, you might want to use reusable stainless steel straws with silicone tips on them. Most are retractable and lightweight enough to carry in your handbag.
Plastic Bottle & Aluminum Can Waste
Back in my early childhood, we use to have soft drinks and milk delivered in glass bottles to our house once a week by truck.
I think it was around the late eighties to early nineties where glass bottles were re-used and refilled again. I use to look forward to that delivery truck.
Australia had somewhat less rigid food regulation back then… but we didn’t have so much plastic bottle pollution either.
Now it seems like plastic bottles and aluminum cans have taken over our oceans and causing major environmental issues.
Here are some facts you should know:
- 1 billion plastic water bottles are bought in Australia every year.
- I million plastic bottles are bought every minute.
- Australians use 17 billion bottles and cans annually and less than half is recycled.
- It takes 400 years for plastic bottles to break down and most end up as tiny pieces of plastics that never biodegrade.
- These tiny pieces of plastics are called “microplastics”. Microplastics are ingested by marine life which ends up in our food chain and may cause health complications to humans in the long term.
- The number of plastic bottles and aluminum cans produced can cover 4000 kilometers, that’s like crossing Australia.
Tips to reduce plastic bottle and aluminum can waste:
- Participate in your state’s Container Deposit Scheme – They issue a 10 cent refund on recyclable cans and bottles. The Container Deposit scheme was first implemented in South Australia in 1977, Northern Territory in 2012, New South Wales in 2017, the Australian Capital Territory in June 2018 and Queensland in November 2018.
- Western Australia has announced plans for a container deposit scheme commencing in early 2020. Tasmania has also recently announced a scheme will be in place by 2022.
- Buy a reusable water bottle that’s BPA-free, fill it up and carry your own water bottle when you’re out.
- Just a reminder that not all bottled water is fluoride-free. Tap water actually has a high concentration of minerals (often more than bottled water) and it’s FREE.
- Ditch soft drinks…. they’re full of sugar and have empty calories. You’re better off hydrating yourself with water.
- Carry your own water bottle…. yes repeating it again but it’s so easy to forget. If you’re not sure which one to get, the Biome store has an endless range of water bottles.
Electronic Waste aka E-Waste
Technology changes at lightning speeds and with it comes new gadgets and devices.
As a global population, we humans have produced over 50 million tonnes of electronic waste this year alone.
80% of e-waste is illegally dumped.
E-waste junkyards can leak lead and mercury into the environment and in third world countries, e-waste is oftentimes burnt, which can have major negative side effects on people’s health.
In Australia, old TVs, fridge, white goods, computer hardware, and phones usually find their way to landfill.
What’s worse is these electronics are made with plastics, glass, and precious metals that can be recycled.
Here are the statistics on Australia’s electronic waste:
- 700,000 tonnes of e-waste is made in Australia.
- 90% of electronic waste don’t have a dedicated recycling program,
- The average Australian family generates 1.4 tonnes of electronic waste over 10 years. This includes monitors, batteries, printers and more.
- Around 11,000 tonnes of batteries end up in landfill every year and only 3% of batteries are recycled in Australia. Over time, the chemicals in these batteries leak out and are toxic to the environment, potentially harming wildlife and affecting surrounding soil or waterways.
- Aussies replace their mobile and smart phones every 18-24 months on average.
- There are over 25 million unused phones in Australia. If we lined up all our unused phones, they’d stretch further than the distance between Sydney and Perth.
- Currently in Australia we only recycle 10% of our mobile phones. Most Australians don’t even know how to recycle their phone.
- Fun fact – A collection of 50,000 phones can contain up to 1 KG of gold!
Tips for reducing and recycling electronic waste:
- ALDI has a battery recycling program. Simply drop your used household batteries into the recycling bin located in every ALDI store. Only AA, AAA, C, D and 9V sized batteries (rechargeable and non- rechargeable) are accepted through the program.
- You can recycle your old mobiles and accessories with MobileMuster. Drop them off at over 3500 public drop off points including all major mobile phone retailers, including Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, and Samsung stores.
- In Australia, we have the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme. This was established in 2011 to provide Australian households and small businesses access to free collection and recycling of televisions, computers, including printers, computer parts, and peripherals. Planet Ark maintains a database of television and computer drop-off points. Search for recycling drop off spots here.
- Four organisations have been approved to deliver recycling services under the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme. For more information, including details of the collection services and drop-off points they provide, visit their websites:
If you ever stop by your nearest transfer station, you’ll find all sorts of unwanted household furniture.
Many are in still in good condition, are almost new and did I say cheap? It’s amazing what people throw away these days.
Our disposable culture has meant that cheap furniture mass produced by big companies like IKEA or Fantastic Furniture usually ends up in landfill.
- According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 9.8 million tons of furniture is produced per year.
- In Australia, 85 percent of the furniture we put out for council collection day isn’t recycled and finds its way to the landfill.
- In Australia, 900 million people visit an IKEA store every year and IKEA alone sells $1.5 billion furniture per year.
- On the plus side, residents living in Sydney can participate in IKEA’s buyback program by selling their old IKEA furniture back to the store.
- Based on a survey of 2500 Australian households in metro areas, on average each household disposes of 24kg of wooden furniture per year.
- Many of these furniture products are made with veneers and engineered wood that can’t be sanded back or retreated as they swell and rot quickly when exposed to moisture. As prices are so low, many people opt to throw it away and buy new furniture.
Tips for reducing and recycling furniture waste:
- When purchasing furniture, focus on quality materials that last. After all, it requires time and energy to move furniture out of your house and dispose of it.
- Be conscious of how furniture is made. With mass-produced furniture, you don’t see the logging of trees, manufacturing, transportation and the environmental impact it has on our planet.
- Look for responsibly made furniture, handcrafted with care and quality from local producers who make furniture with low impact on the environment.
- Donate old furniture to family and friends. Alternatively, you can sell your old furniture on local Facebook groups. Simply search “Suburb/city name + buy and sell” on Facebook and join that group. It’s a great way to meet the locals and prevent it from going to landfill.
Waste is more than what we put in our rubbish bins. If you made it to the end of this article, it’s obvious that there are various forms of waste that don’t break down- they are sent to our tightly packed landfills.
Landfills are not designed to break down waste, only to store it. As rubbish in landfill decomposes, because of the lack of oxygen, bacteria in the waste produce methane gas, which is highly flammable and dangerous if allowed to collect underground.
Most of the trash that ends up in landfill can be reused or recycled in other ways. If all this sounds too much for you, then simply start with composting your food scraps. Scatter your food scraps in the garden and your plants will thank you for it.
If we want to make the world a better place, all it takes is being more conscious of our shopping habits and how we dispose of waste.
Australian Waste References:
- Must watch, ABC’s Documentary War on Waste: http://education.abc.net.au/home#!/digibook/2597026/war-on-waste
Want to make a difference? For all zero waste and reusable products in Australia, the Biome store has everything you need in one place:
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