What does it mean?
Whether it’s recycled or sent to landfill, our waste matters – and waste management is critical to protecting WA’s globally unique biodiversity. This is especially significant in the South West, one of only 34 global biodiversity hotspots in the world. Leading Australian scientific agencies like the CSIRO believe the solution is a circular economy, which encourages reducing, reusing and recycling before landfill.
There are so many ways to ‘close the loop’ and build up WA’s ability to rethink our waste management systems.
What are the waste management challenges for WA?
Larger populations correlate to higher waste generation. In WA, the population has grown from around 557,000 in 1950 to 2.69 million in 2022. In 2019/20 5.8 million tonnes of waste – municipal/household, commercial/industrial and construction waste – was generated across the state. Cheap single-use products and packaging have increased convenience and helped reduce costs for people and as such these purchase habits, although contributing significantly to our waste problem, can be difficult to transition away from.
In the past much of our recycling was shipped out of WA. However, in January 2021 Australian states and territories began a phased ban on the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres. Waste management is a key responsibility of local governments in WA – but we currently lack the recycling infrastructure to process many recyclable waste products in our state.
Of the waste that is put in the recycling bin, waste contamination is a significant problem for local councils. This often results in the contents of kirbside recycling bins ending up in one of WA’s landfills, many of which are soon to meet their lifespan and capacity limits. A single unrecyclable product placed inside the kerbside recycling bin deems the entire bin ‘contaminated’. The lack of consistent information and education about recycling in the community coupled with an often changing regulatory system makes it challenging for councils and householders to stay up to speed. From 2019-2020, just 4% of plastics were recycled from WA’s municipal waste streams.
Why is it important to take action?
Waste in landfill releases methane, one of the most lethal contributors to the climate crisis. In the past WA has been rated one of the highest waste volume contributors per capita (2.18 tonnes) and possesses one of the lowest waste recovery rates (39%) within Australia – which means we must take advantage of this opportunity to improve our waste management on the path to net-zero.
What action is being taken now?
The WA Waste Authority’s Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2030 is a policy designed to sort and manage waste into biodegradable, electrical, composite, hazardous and medical waste categories. Several programs support the Strategy, including the food organics, garden organics (FOGO) waste management system operating in 18 LGAs in the Perth and Peel regions and the Charitable Recyclers Rebate program, which is particularly important given that much of WA’s unwanted charity donations are sent to landfill in low-income countries. WA is also making some headway in minimising plastics – Keep Australia Beautiful ranks us #4 of eight Australian states and territories in the move to ban single-use plastics. More recently, the Kwinana and Rockingham Waste to Energy Plants are being established to divert up to 25 per cent of Perth’s non-recyclable material from landfill, instead using it to generate enough power for 90,000 homes.
What more needs to be done?
These initiatives are important, but there’s a lot more work to be done. Better collaboration is needed at the local government level to ensure more cohesive waste sorting procedures could streamline waste management efficiency and reduce the confusion that leads to waste contamination. More frequent community education campaigns are also essential to reducing contamination – we need clear, common guidelines across all of Western Australia.