Recycling bad habits costing Australia $324 million

Australia is squandering $324 million a year in value through a poor recycling system where even well-meaning households are forced to put glass, paper and plastic in one recycling bin to be picked up in kerbside collections.

A report by accounting firm EY and reported on by the Australian Financial Review found that Australia doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to ensure a proper closed loop recycling system and that household perceptions need a complete overhaul so that materials put in those recycling bins are viewed as a commodity with a market value.

EY partner Terence Jeyaretnam said incentives need to be put in place to make sure households are more diligent, but first there needs to be a consistent approach across all tiers of government so the right infrastructure is provided to allow for a world-class domestic recycling system.

EY estimates that only $4.2 million worth of recyclable materials is currently captured from Australia’s waste from the whopping 2.1 million tonnes of kerbside recycling collected by trucks annually. The report concluded that based on current commodity prices for cardboard, glass and plastic packaging, the nation is missing out on $324 million worth of recyclable materials that could eventually be used in manufacturing and construction if a better system was in place.

The heart of the problem is the system where one dedicated yellow-lid recycling bin is used to put glass, paper, cardboard and plastic in.

When the yellow-lid recycling bins are collected by trucks each week, glass often smashed as part of the tipping process into the truck leading to glass dust in paper, which in turn reduced the value of that paper.

Households needed to be re-educated so that what was put into recycling bins was viewed as a tradeable asset with a market value, similar to the way value was put on raw materials such as iron ore in the mining industry.“The recycling approach needs to change so that it incentivises households to recycle properly,” he said.

He said proper sorting of materials by households before they go in the recycling bin, better overall education and a different system where there were compartments in bins for the different types of materials, or separate bins for each of glass, plastic and paper, were all options.

The global recycling trade was disrupted early last year by an abrupt decision by Chinese authorities to dramatically toughen restrictions on the level of contamination they would accept in 24 types of recyclable waste from around the world.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state premiers at a Council of Australian Governments meeting last month resolved to set up a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, and to reduce the amount of wastage going to landfill.