Australia, The Fourth Biggest Producer Of Municipal Waste: Let’s Do Better!

Did you know the average Australian produces 647 kg of municipal waste every year?

According to a recent report, Australians are the fourth biggest producer of municipal waste in the world, only lagging behind Denmark, the US and Switzerland.

While not all that waste comes from rubbish bins at our homes (some of it represents municipal waste created by businesses), it is still a sad indicator of just how wasteful we are, especially when comparing our results to Estonia and Poland, which produce less than 300kg per person per year. Even in Japan, where (over)packaging is an art form, they only clock up 354kg of waste a year.

While wealthy countries tend to produce the most waste per person, it doesn’t have to be that way. Canadians, with similar wealth to Australians, only produce 403kg of waste each per year.

What We Recycle

On a slightly more positive note, Australians are doing an okay job of recycling. Of our 647kg of annual waste, 265kg  (41% of our waste) gets composted or recycled. That puts us in the same league as Germany and Austria. But unfortunately, the rest goes to landfill. Unlike most western European countries, very little of our waste is incinerated and used to produce energy.

And our recycling record is pretty patchy. We recycle 64% of our post-consumer packaging, with high rates for aluminium cans (68%) and paperboard (77%). Packaging plastic is growing well, up to 44%, but just 8% of non-packaging plastic gets recycled.

While that’s partly due to the longer product life of non-packaging plastic, it is also due to our recycling collection systems being geared towards packaging materials.

What We Still Need To Recycle To Improve

Among the 380kg of municipal waste that we each send to landfill each year, there are some pretty nasty items that could be easily recycled to avoid damaging our environment and water supplies.

Australia’s battery recycling rate is about 3%, which shows that we still have a long way to go. On top of that, as Australia’s leading fluorescent light bulb recycling company, we know we only receive a small fraction of the fluorescent lights that get discarded each year.

Unfortunately, most lighting waste (often containing mercury) ends up in landfill when it could be recycled.

Let’s Do Better

The reality is that modern consumer societies generate a lot of waste, but we can all reduce our individual impact by heeding the eight Rs:

  • Refuse – if you don’t really need it, don’t buy it. Or decline unnecessary carry bags.
  • Reduce – buy less and buy smarter. For example, Australians throw away about 30% of the food they purchase.
  • Reuse – take reusable bags when you go shopping or reuse ‘disposable’ bags.
  • Repair – don’t toss it, fix it. You may even save some money.
  • Repurpose – give an old item a new purpose and a new lease on life.
  • Resell (or donate) – if you no longer need it, someone else might have a use for it.
  • Recycle – when it finally fails and there is no other option, make sure it is recycled.
  • Rebuy – look for items that contain recycled materials to keep the system working.

Together we can work to really minimise our waste and make sure we’re reusing as much as possible, while leaving our environment in a much better condition for future generations.

What Can Businesses Do?

We can help you recycle lighting, batteries and e-waste. As Australia’s largest mercury recycler, we can also help with dental, medical and mining waste.

Call us on 1300 32 62 92, or fill out the form and one of our recycling specialists will be happy to design a recycling program specifically for you.


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