Waste Disposal

Waste Disposal

(Private Members' Statements, 11 August 2022, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

Since the pandemic began, household garbage bins have been filling up at a much quicker rate and rubbish dumping on the streets has drastically risen.

The City of Sydney reports that its waste collection costs have increased by 16 per cent and bulky household collections rose by 75 per cent. The floods, COVID-19 associated leave and reduced migration have all disrupted collections, compounding the problem and making it visible on our city streets. While councils are working to address the rise in waste generation through education, recycling and collection and drop-off services, we urgently need to slow the generation of waste at the source by transitioning to a more circular economy.

A circular economy designs waste out of products from resources extraction, manufacturing and packaging to ensure that products last and packaging is minimal, with everything easily recyclable. It provides the only sustainable solution to a massive looming waste crisis. Sydney has only two landfills for red lid bins: Lucas Heights and Woodlawn. Lucas Heights will be full in six to eight years and Woodlawn in 14 years. We have known about this problem for a long time but have failed to make any real inroads. It is bleak to contemplate that the NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041, published last year, adopted the same 70 per cent waste diversion target for households as the 2021 strategy, published in 2014. In 2019 we were only at 43 per cent of household waste, lower than we were in 2010-2011, at 46.5 per cent.

I commend the Government for banning single-use plastic bags and a number of other items such as straws and introducing a container deposit scheme. But these moves should have occurred decades ago and we now need a more aggressive approach. Based on 2019 data, which is before the pandemic saw waste generation skyrocket, New South Wales generates 19.4 million tonnes of waste each year of which 6.8 million is landfilled and 2.2 million tonnes of that landfill comes from households. Plastic remains a priority problem. Australians generate around 2.4 megatonnes of plastic waste each year, of which households account for 47 per cent, with only about 12 per cent recycled. About 130,000 tonnes of Australian plastics end up in Australian waterways and oceans each year. So much packaging remains single-use plastic that is difficult to recycle. A 2021 World Wildlife Fund Australia survey of 82 popular supermarket foods found that only 16 per cent of products came in containers that could be recycled at home. Another 55 per cent could be recycled if taken to collection points, but these only attract very dedicated recyclers. Only a tiny percentage of soft plastics, for example, are recycled through REDcycle collection points.

The data only tells us about food but plastic is a massive part of almost every product, from make-up, to skincare, vitamins, cleaning products, utensils and electronics. We should have rules that require all packaging to be recyclable, reusable or compostable, with all products to display clear recycling instructions so people know what to do to reduce contamination of kerbside recycling. Contaminated items currently make up 13 per cent of kerbside recycling bins and often lead to recyclable items ending up in landfill. I have spoken in the House before about food waste and the Planning and Environment Committee, which I chair, is conducting a review into food security. Food waste and food scraps contribute significantly to landfill, making up 40 per cent of the contents in red lid bins. Food scraps provide significant potential for resource recovery as they can replenish soil nutrients and improve fertility. It is a shameful waste to landfill these resources.

Other problematic waste includes electronic waste. Australia produces 539,000 tonnes of electronic waste each year and despite councils' efforts to provide e-waste drop-off and collection services, only about 10 per cent is recycled. The rest is incinerated or landfilled, causing significant environmental impact and resource wastage. The vast majority of the 1.25 million mattresses trashed each year end up in landfill because of the cost associated with recycling them. Textiles are equally problematic with about 6,000 kilograms ending up in landfill every 10 minutes and a tiny recycling rate of only 7 per cent. We urgently need mandatory rules and targets with strong government investment at all levels to achieve a truly circular economy. A circular economy would help us better use our resources, reduce the need for damaging extraction practices and cut greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!