How on Earth did we get ourselves into this mess and what is Australia doing to address our overuse of plastics and single use products?
In 2017-18, we used some 3.4 million tonnes of plastics in Australia. Just 9.4% – 320,000 tonnes – was recycled. Of that amount, 46% (145,700 tonnes) was reprocessed in Australia and 54% (174,300 tonnes) was exported for reprocessing.
In Australia, around 600 officially registered landfills sites exist. Along with that, there are as many as 2,000 unregistered ones.
We produce a lot of plastic waste and landfill, and we’ve yet to develop large, sustainable markets in Australia for recycled plastic products. Our waste collection and resource recovery industry are also very fragmented. We also are bombarded with promotional offers on the biggest and best at never before seen prices. Often mass produced products with cheaper components that don’t last as long, and end up as landfill earlier than other choices.
Today’s consumers are demanding more. The Reduce-Reuse-Recycle message is getting cut-through but consumers want to know more. We want to know where our recyclables end up and the cost to the environment. Rising landfill levies have also made burying waste more expensive, and the other (highly toxic) option – incineration without energy recovery – is helping to drive climate change. Concern about the environmental impacts of waste, and plastic especially, is driving a new era of improved accountability.
5 years ago all our supermarkets offered free plastic bags. Now they don’t exist and have been replaced with reusable and recyclable bags. Today we are using disposable facemasks across the globe. They don’t breakdown and are contributing again to a growing landfill issue. Governments, organisations, communities and individuals need to do more, and be more aware of what happens to our waste and our products and packaging that are discarded after we no longer need them.
at Diamantina Outdoors we are conscious of the way we develop our products and manage our waste. Our products are specifically not designed for single use but to last and perform for years. Our packaging is biodegradable cardboard, and we recycle our cardboard packaging to use multiple times rather than creating more rubbish. We adopt old school principles of reliability, sustainability, and durability. Our products are specifically made with durable materials and we avoid the use of plastics where possible. We want our products to last and not end up as landfill, thereby protecting our planet in the future. Diamantina canvas tents, canvas swags, and canvas gazebos are made with UV Resistant, hydrophobic ripstop canvas and other long lasting components which means these products can be relied upon to last and be handed down from one generation to the next.
Unfortunately, we live at a time when using virgin plastic is still cheaper than recycling the plastic already in circulation, and mass manufacturing continues to explore the cheapest options with few financial incentives to use recycled materials. Australia also lacks much of the technology and infrastructure necessary to turn large volumes of plastic into other useful things. Unlike nations in Europe, who are eagerly processing their own waste – saving considerable energy and transport costs and creating jobs and safeguarding the environment – we’ve been slow to move towards what is known as a circular economy.
Australia now has a National Waste Policy, adopted last year, which is a good start. But its voluntary targets are yet to be endorsed by our federal and state environment ministers, and so far, no formal action plans or funding streams have been developed. The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association (WMRR) of Australia, the peak body for Australia’s $14 billion waste and resource recovery industry, has called on the federal government to urgently bring policies and regulations into line nationally, “to ensure the certainty of volumes to build infrastructure, create jobs and grow domestic processing”.
So where do we, the consumers, fit in?
An efficient waste and recycling system does not only depend on reputable collectors and processors and favourable market forces. It also relies on committed consumers knowing what can be recycled and where, and sorting their rubbish carefully to avoid contamination. Consumers need to consider carefully their product choices and avoid single use products, and look for durable items that don’t end up as landfill. Choose products that will last, and be efficiently used by many over the long term. And for single use products, choose items that are biodegradable and recyclable. We want our lands to produce rich and vibrant natural landscapes, food and organic matter, and not be filled with yesterdays broken and cheaply made camping and outdoor gear.
There’s growing worldwide recognition that we need to start taking greater responsibility for our waste. The environmental toll is undeniable: some eight million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans every year, with horrifying effects on our marine habitats and creatures. WWF has shone a spotlight on the heartbreaking impacts that entanglement and ingestion of plastics have on turtles and seabirds. In Australia, every state and territory except NSW has now banned single-use, lightweight plastic bags (with Victoria coming into effect later this year). We’ve also become much better at returning soft plastics to major supermarkets. However, the trouble is that supply is outstripping demand.
Similarly, container deposit schemes are boosting the return rates for some plastics, but industry players say these rates could be even higher with better plastic labelling (to distinguish what can and can’t be recycled) and improved consumer education.One of the biggest contributors to plastic waste in Australia is packaging, of which there is just under one million tonnes in our marketplace at any given time. Only about 32% of this is recovered andless than 5% is made of recycled plastic. The Australian Government has pledged to ensure that 100% of Australian packaging will be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025 and has charged the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) with delivering on that (voluntary) target.
It’s an ambitious goal, especially given there is currently no mandatory requirement for manufacturers to choose recycled over virgin plastic. Nor are they responsible for the wastes they produce. Many believe that if plastic had a fee associated with it, we would produce and consume less.
The good news is that all these great ideas are now on the agenda. There’s growing pressure on the Federal Government to adopt “Buy Recycled” or “minimum recycled content” policies and to introduce product stewardship schemes that make manufacturers responsible for waste disposal at the end of a product’s life.
The decision of Asian countries to reject our waste has cast a spotlight on Australia’s wasteful consumption, our choices at the shopping centre and the inadequacies of our recovery and recycling systems. And with the Australian Government’s recent announcement that all domestic waste exports will be banned, it has put the responsibility back on Australians to clean up our act. Enterprising manufacturers and businesses are not waiting for national legislation and reform, they’re taking the lead in developing efficient processing techniques and new markets for recycled product and focussing on non perishable consumer products that are built to last.
Research is well advanced into converting plastic into energy and we’re already seeing plastic used to make furniture, fenceposts and even roads. WWF-Australia has even transformed a deadly net from the northern Great Barrier Reef into sunglasses. We’re beginning to see plastic in a new light.
Here are some useful steps you can take to ensure that you make fewer trips to landfill sites each year:
- Donate Clothes. …
- Reduce Food Waste. …
- Eat Healthy. …
- Save Leftovers for Next Day. …
- Buy Durable Things With Less Packaging. …
- Boycott Plastic Water Bottles. …
- Just Don’t Buy as Much Stuff…. …
- Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose.
- Choose single use products that are bio degradable and can be recycled.
- Go camping with quality gear that doesnt contribute to landfill and practice environmental responsibility – take only photographs, leave only footprints.