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Rated: E · Article · Environment · #1091346
This article stemmed from a desire to aquaint myself with local environmental issues.
Where does it all go? – The path of recyclables in your local area and the global implications of the current crisis.

“One half to three quarters of annual resource inputs to industrial economies are returned to the environment as wastes within a year” (Matthews et al,2000)

Considering that the material outputs to the environment range from 21 metric tons per person in Japan to 86 metric tons per person in the United States, we may be looking at a global crisis in terms of the resource of physical space. No one wants to live surrounded by their own exudates. However, the reality prevails that if we can’t modify our lifestyles to accommodate a burgeoning global population with a lust for the wasteful western ideals of developed industrial nations, we will be knee deep in our own filth before the end of this century.

Every year the United States generates 180 million tons of solid waste, 70% of which goes into landfills. Since 1979, the US has exhausted more than two-thirds of its landfills, another one-fifth are expected to close in the next five years. (Lodge and Rayport,2003) The more alarming sideline to this fact is the growing trend for industrial nations to shirk their recycling responsibilities and export the waste (e-waste or computer waste a major component) burden to developing nations, particularly China. This will supplant the unit cost to consumers at home for adequate recycling, and satisfy growing pressure on government departments from their constituents to “do something” about the accruing waste problem. While this may be a shared noble sentiment, the buck appears to stop there. The first step to addressing this major global problem is to accept responsibility in your own backyard. There is no doubt that the global catastrophe awaiting us is, well….catastrophic! The immensity of this problem is not out of reach for everyone even though it may seem that way. The first thing to acknowledge is that everyone is accountable. Whether captain of industry or captain of the local football team. We all must accept that we can start at the grass roots level and make a significant difference. The key to all this is awareness of what occurs in your local area. It is no longer sufficient to subjugate your guilt with a little trash separation. It’s still the same volume after all. The aim of this article is to illuminate the more murky statistics associated with waste management around the world and to provide a workable framework for implementing waste saving measures around your home to relieve some of the pressure on the already overtaxed systems and resources in use. Not to deny that the existing methods need changes, this will be addressed briefly in the terms of future commitments and ongoing efforts to minimise the problems of waste management at the local and federal government level and to enforce the need for greater industry responsibility.

Initially; a case study. My home is the beautiful city of Brisbane, and I’m keen to keep it this way, with your help, which would be immeasurably appreciated. Brisbane is located on the South-Eastern coast of Queensland in the amorphous regional stricture known as South-East Queensland, in keeping with Channel 7 ordinance survey/demographic parameters. The state of Queensland contains just under 3.8 million Queenslanders (B.O.S.-2003) who are responsible for the generation of some 4.5 million tons of waste annually. This equates to 1.2 tons of waste generated per person per year. Of this, 65% is attributable to South-East Queensland. Around 2.8 million tons of this waste is landfilled, which works out to roughly 37% being recycled. For the individual this means that only 438 kg of the annual individual contribution of 1,182 kg of waste is recovered. Of the 4.5 million tons of annual waste figure including domestic, construction, green and commercial wastes, the domestic waste is the largest contributor at around 30% of the total volume of solid waste. Broken down further, the amount of domestic waste landfilled each year is 1.14 million tons or 300kg per person. Alarmingly, the amount of domestic waste recycled is only 41.7 kg or 17% per person on average in Queensland. By state standards, Brisbane City enjoys a more healthy figure of 66.8 kg recycled per person, which considering the access to the most of available services is only natural. Recyclers of rural Queensland, we salute you. As a consistent household recycler within the guidelines set down by Brisbane City Council for kerbside collection, these figures seemed a little off. Of course consumer habits vary from household to household, but the level of recyclable versus non-recyclable items seems comparable with the most cursory look at a weeks worth of solid household waste. Where does it go? It’s time to start asking questions. The honourable Desley Boyle MP would be a good start, (Minister for Environment, Local Government, Planning and Women) ELGPW@ministerial.qld.gov.au , but lets not bother Desley just yet. We have still more wondrous things to discover.
What we have here folks is a level of resource exploitation unprecedented in human history and recycling is one of the ways we can move towards a sustainable way of life, but it needs to be effective and the current system certainly ISN’T. Early recycling services involved private companies collecting items that were profitable. With increasing community demands for waste solutions, resulting in government reduction targets, the recovery rates for waste increased. This in turn led to recycling industry concerns placing tighter specifications on the items to be recycled, which increased the recovery rates even further, eventually forcing the buy-back prices down and lowering local council revenues. This situation saw the rise of publicly funded recycling where councils began to cover the deficit between collection cost and buy back prices. This evolved through a lack legislative contingency requiring the industry to meet any of these costs. According to the Industry Commission, Australian councils now subsidise kerbside recycling by $90 million per year. (Denlay;1997) Apart from anti competitive behaviour, it’s hardly surprising that Harry Debney is doing so well. This deferred industry responsibility also exists within the product producing industries. There needs to be more pressure on the product producer to assume responsibility for the correct disposal of the product at the end of its useful life. This may be in the form of incentives for industry to research and produce low waste products and packaging. Alternatively, duties or taxes payable by consumers would need to be placed upon products with greater recycling effort or costs required. Another option would be to introduce a unit price to households for the bulk of waste produced to encourage individual targets.
The most powerful allies you have for change are your fellow consumers. Consumer awareness cannot be over stressed, and with the internet providing an accessible medium for dialogue between companies and legislative bodies, a grass roots revolution is achievable. The Saints knew what they were on about in 1978. ‘Know Your Product’. Take product packaging with recyclable symbol 3. (You know the one with the arrows, like at the top of the page) This denotes a PVC product. PVC has the lowest recycling rate of any recyclable due to the degree of danger and difficulty in the process. It is a contaminant in other plastics recycling and so is labour intensive to extract. PVC recycling by-products include Yuschenko’s Curse or dioxins and pthalates that have been linked to kidney and liver disorders and foetal deformities. There are many websites and books available offering simple solutions to wasteful packaging, making your own cleaning products and household composting setups and should be utilised; but for a quick guide to strategies which can help you reduce your domestic load.

-Say NO to junkmail
-Choose unpackaged or bulk goods
-Use your own durables at shops for bulk items
-Be prepared to pay more for quality electricals with extended warranties
-Choose retread tyres
-Use both sides of the paper and if you are a student, get used to editing with your computer, don’t print every bloody thing
-Recycling your clothes and books
-Get on the web and find out about non-toxic, homemade cleaning product; you’d be surprised what vinegar and bi-carb can do
-Use a tea infuser
-Quit smoking (up to 50% of litter in cities)
-Get yourself composting (good for you, the garden and water consumption)
-Don’t forget your green bags down at the shops

The final word is yours. A few hours scouring the web will give you an insight into your global and local situation. Tell your friends. Tell your kids. Ask questions and if you’re not completely satisfied that you are getting enough support, tell someone who has to care.

Call Desley Boyle MP (07) 3227 8819 or,

Can-Do Campbell Newman (07) 34034400

Further Reading

Beyond Recycling – Kathy Stein

Further Surfing


provides simple remedies for reducing household waste


informative ‘recycling in crisis’ article with national relevance


list of environmentally friendly products


recycle co-op in Brisbane

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