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Australia’s Recyclable Waste Dilemma

The garbage recycling industry was unexpectedly faced with a crisis in July 2017 when a ban on foreign plastic waste was imposed by China, which at the time was the largest waste recycling plant. This left countries looking for new destinations to take their recyclable waste.

Many of the countries were left with no option but to redirect their waste to countries in south-east Asia. This seems to be a temporary solution as the south-east Asia countries are already appearing uncomfortable handling waste from other countries as they have enough of their own to deal with.

Another reason the south-east Asian countries are refusing to become a dumping ground for export waste is because they receive a sizeable quantity of waste that is difficult to recycle, specifically poor quality plastic. They are then left to dispose of this in their oceans, further contaminating their already choking water systems and endangering their environment.

Being a first world country that is closest to Southeast Asia, Australia is most affected by the China ban. The fact that other countries from the region also refuse to import Australian waste, just makes the situation worse. However, Australia is not the first country that was affected. The ban of waste import is an even more important problem for the UK that started back in 2018.

With rubbish already piling up at recycling plants, it is clear that England needs to take a closer look at the looming waste disposal crisis. As the plastics continue to accumulate, experienced and well-known waste disposal companies such as Rubbish Waste agree that there is an urgent need for countries to be able to recycle their own waste in a move to reduce the global recycle waste burden.

Just like the UK who is searching for a country to export their waste to, Australia found itself exporting its waste to Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam out of desperation. Australia’s problems escalated when Indonesia announced that it would return 210.3 tonnes of waste to Australia because its contamination level was too high.

What was supposed to be paper waste ended up being paper waste mixed with used cans, old engine oil bottles, plastic bottles, electronic waste and more. Some of the items in the mix were termed as “toxic and hazardous materials”. The Indonesian customs officials invited members of the media to examine the containers and witness was inside. The contaminated waste was not taken lightly by the Indonesian officials who saw it as a means of “smuggling” restricted waste for recycling.

To bring some perspective to the situation, before China’s ban, about 30% of Australia’s waste for recycling was exported to China. During the period 2016/2017, the amount of waste exported by Australia to China was 1.2 million tonnes. This figure was almost twice that of the previous period.

This piece of information brings to light the fact that the amount of Australia’s domestic waste is growing at a very alarming rate. It is a point of concern, what with their new found solution quickly crumbling before their very eyes.

The problem that Australia faces is also faced by all the other waste exporting countries. This is that there are not enough recycling plants available which means that all these countries have to think of alternative measures to take.

The head of the Australian Council of Recycling, Peter Shmigel pointed out that many countries were experiencing waste management challenges and so had chosen to focus on their own problems and not compound it with importing other people’s waste. This is the line of thought Australia needs to take.

The current waste product crisis has brought to the forefront the need for Australia to look into ways of both recycling and also reusing its own waste. This is a view that is upheld by the Australian Waste Management Association CEO, Gayle Sloan. She goes on to say that this move, in addition to proving beneficial to the environment, will also create a lot more jobs for the local people.

Australia is already at an advantage with the presence of Visy, the largest recycle plant in Australia and one that is well-established. There is also a ready market with Coles Supermarket bottling their branded water in recycled bottles. In one year, Coles sold a total of 233 million bottles of water. This translates to 3,000 tonnes of plastic being saved from the garbage bag.

These promising prospects have drawn a reaction from a number of decision makers such as Geoff Parker, the CEO of the Australian Beverages Council. He says that they are prepared to ensure that they use as much recycled products as they can, but only “under the right market conditions”.

It has been observed that the problem with the whole waste management issue in Australia has arisen because this docket is under state governments. According to experts, this should be handled by the federal government. This would give the matter a more high level approach.

The bottom line, therefore, is that Australia needs to do a lot more recycling and have a lot less waste exportation.

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