Australia should take its cue from the circular economy on recycling, reusing its waste rather than sending it to landfill, says a recent report by business advisory firm EY. It added that Australians need to have confidence in their country’s recycling system and should look upon it as a resource rather than waste.
The accounting firm affirmed a combined approach to waste which included households, local councils and the private sector is needed to “restore faith” in the country’s recycling system. This would lead to the start of a win-win circular economy.
Such an economy can be achieved when “people minimize waste and make the most of resources. Shifting to a more circular economy will grow the economy, increase jobs and reduce impacts on the environment,” according to the Victorian State Government.
China recycling ban
Australia’s strategy of dealing with its waste by sending it to China for processing was thrown into confusion in 2017. It was then when China decided to tighten the restrictions on contamination for accepting foreign waste. The new standards effectively banned all Australian paper, plastics and textiles because of their high contamination rate.
Before the Chinese ban, it had been sending 619,000 tonnes of recycling waste to China every year.
A “lost opportunity”
Terence L. Jeyaretnam, an environmental and sustainability expert who is also a partner at EY in Melbourne, described the present methods as an example of a “lost opportunity”.
“Through better sorting of recyclables, reducing contamination and developing markets for our recycled waste, Australia could take advantage of this lost opportunity sitting in our kerbside bins,” he said.
He added that Australians were missing out on up to $324 million of value in our waste bins and needed to change to adapt to the future.
“The old way of sorting our waste is not the right fit for 21st century Australia,” he said in the study, adding that “not only does it lead to poor environmental outcomes, it’s preventing us from grasping an opportunity worth hundreds of millions per year.”
Restoring belief in the system
The report underlined the need for Australia to view waste as a valuable resource saying it “will only be realized if households take a more diligent approach to sorting, councils assist though education and infrastructure and there is a greater focus on waste as a resource.”
It points to a lack of confidence currently amongst households with the country’s recycling methods.
“Instead of ‘waste’ we need consumers to see a tradable asset, a commodity with a market value. The first step in changing consumers behavior is restoring their belief that what they are putting in the recycling bin is actually being recycled,” said the discussion paper.
Restoring the customer’s faith in the broken recycling system would be the first step towards creating a viable circular economy and finding a solution to the recycling crisis in Australia, summarized the report.