Australians recycled 60 per cent of the total waste we produced in 2014-15, according to the latest national waste report, ABC News says.
For most of us, recycling means we put our waste in the yellow-top bin. That is then picked up, taken to a recycling facility and turned back into its basic material — plastic, glass, aluminium, paper.
But it turns out recycling is not so simple, and there are major problems in the Australian industry.
A Four Corners investigation last year and more recent Fairfax investigation found significant amounts of recyclable materials are being dumped in landfill.
And when China stopped taking Australia’s recyclable plastics at the beginning of this year, it became apparent just how dependent our industry was on shipping our waste overseas.
Industry leaders admit Australia’s recycling industry is in crisis, but they also say there are some very simple ways it can be fixed.
Helen Millicer, who is currently using her Churchill Fellowship to research circular economies in Europe, says if we stimulate the market for recycled materials in Australia, the industry that is already here will invest and expand, ultimately diverting more of our waste from landfill.
“We need to establish market pull, that’s the first thing,” she said.
Like most experts, Jenni Downes from the University of Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures thinks the China ban is the disruption the industry needed.
“Those disruptions have a great deal of pain first. There will be problems, but there could be great solutions,” she said.
As well as improving our local recycling, Ms Downes said it’s time to look at other options like bottle deposit schemes — where glass and plastic bottles are returned, sterilised and reused such as in the German Pfand system which provides incentives for drinks companies to supply their products in multi-use plastic or glass bottles.