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AUSTRALIA GETTING WASTED? A fresh vision for Australian waste reform

A policy paper by The 2008 Sustainability Youth Forum Participants: Cameron, S., de Marco, O., Enting, N., Fitzpatrick, D., Hames, N., Porter, N., Westwood, T. & White, R

Vision Recognising the value of waste as a resource in Australian society through legislation, education and integration to change perceptions and behaviour.

Background In Australia, current consumption is based on a linear system, where we extract, refine, combine, consume and DUMP our resources. This is clearly an unsustainable management strategy, with diminishing resources and many other negative environmental impacts. Landfill has been a hidden subsidy to Australian business, until now. In Victoria, the Environmental Protection Authority has recently increased the landfill levy from $26 to $250 per tonne. This cost increase may bring behavioural changes to both businesses and individuals and may have a flow on educational effect as a market mechanism. Products may become more expensive to manufacture and may push markets off shore, not producing a net benefit. A way around this problem could be to implement a life-cycle labelling system. Currently, there is no way for consumers to know the impact of a product’s life cycle. For the purposes of this paper, our focus is material waste and does not cover resource use inefficiency. Policy makers are moving towards zero waste and the tagline, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has been incredibly useful in increasing recycling rates. The problem is the rates of consumption have increased. Uber-consumerism is a major characteristic of modern society. The activity of shopping has dominated popular culture, with movie stars and athletes providing their faces for advertising campaigns. Toys are given away with highly packaged fast food meals. The problem is intensified when we reflect on the idea that many products have a short life expectancy. The ‘disposable culture’ in which we live is exemplified by the fact that the cost of replacing appliance parts greatly exceeds the cost of replacing the whole product. The issue of climate change has slowly begun to penetrate the Australian psyche. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has become a social and political priority. Waste – or rather wastefulness contributes heavily to these emissions. Organic waste comprises 40% of all solid waste that goes to landfills annually.1 Composting should be undertaken at the household, community and business level. Various projects have started to deal with capturing the alternative energy derived from waste. Projects such as Tootgarook Waste Disposal where





electricity generation is carried out onsite, are important models on which to progress. However, we need to reduce our reliance on sourcing our resources in the first place.

Our Position Waste is currently an underutilised resource in Australia with just over 50% currently being recycled in some form.2 There are many benefits to better utilisation of waste. Some of these include increased employment opportunities, reduced landfill meaning reduced associated costs and also a reduction in the need to use virgin raw materials. Utilising waste can allow for greater creativity in product innovation such as the development of new fertilisers, and dealing with the issue of waste can produce instant gratification, as the results of new legislation can be realised in very short timeframes (as opposed to carbon reduction strategies).

A New Waste Paradigm Looking back through history, the concept of waste has gradually moved from people moving away from waste, to moving waste away from people. This shift has developed a significant ‘out of sight, out of mind’ philosophy when dealing with waste problems, with an associated lack of individual responsibility in dealing with waste (450,000 cigarette butts enter Port Phillip Bay daily!). However, successful campaigns such as Keep Australia Beautiful have proven that the Australian community can tackle waste issues on a broad scale. With diminishing natural resources, policy makers in Australia have a huge opportunity to change the way we think about waste. A new campaign is required to bring about a conscious change in perception to ‘stop wasting waste’ and realise that waste is actually an under-utilised resource. This campaign could build on current habits and trends of recycling in Australian households and industry, and encourage further commitment though rewards for creativity in re-using waste, giving incentives for greater commitment to zero waste and recognition of those ‘doing their bit’. Further to this, a successful campaign can change the way society perceives and feels about waste. There are many benefits of working with waste. Rather than seeing waste as a cost, we need to view it in more of a business savvy way. There is a strong economic rationale to consider improving waste management strategies. A good deal of money can be saved, and the case of recycling entrepreneurs such as Green Collect’s Darren Andrews, illustrate that there are financial rewards to be gained. Australia is well positioned to become a world leader in waste reduction and management. There is a responsibility for everyone to do their bit. We need to emphasise the need for individual responsibilities and the purchasing power that we all have. But how might consumers be better equipped?

GOODS LABELLING – THE WASTE STAR RATING The consumption of goods is the driver behind waste generation in Australia, each product requires inputs of various resources, requires transport and eventually requires disposal. Each of these stages

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generates waste, be it from the extraction or refinement of the resources used, the distance mode and packaging utilised for transport and ultimate disposal of the product once the consumer has finished with it. All products, regardless of intended use, target market, construction/growth will produce waste in this way. The differences between the ways that businesses carry out these various steps will have a big impact to the overall waste generated between similar available products (Eg. two brands of plasma TV). Where the company sources raw materials, (recycled, virgin from a well developed and regulated country, virgin from a poorer and corrupt country?), how the company ships the product (ship, plane, train, truck?), the distance that product has travelled, the environmental aims of the companies involved in the manufacture and shipping, the product’s construction (are the various components made of recyclable materials, can they be separated for recycling?), and finally, can the consumer easily recycle the product at the end of its useful life (does the company have a product stewardship program for E-waste?). Economic rationalists argue that the market will provide what the market is demanding, however if consumers who would like to ‘do the right thing’ are unable to select products that generate less waste/unrecoverable waste, due to a lack of knowledge of the product’s ‘waste potential’, then the market is ill informed and unable to provide more responsible products. To combat this issue we propose a waste star labelling scheme, similar to the energy rating labelling systems currently utilised for white goods. We acknowledge the incredible complexity of developing such a scale for these labels, and accessing the information required to accurately award stars could be very difficult.

TASK FORCE DEVELOPMENT This difficulty supports the formation of a waste panel/ taskforce and committee that drives integration throughout society: from business, to government, to community and beyond. The task of developing the criteria for waste stars would be the waste panel’s first job. We rely on the idea that government would make funding available for a pilot program open to all retailers/importers, and hope that consumers would then show trends towards the labelled products. The expense of gaining stars after this period of government sponsorship would mean only those products worth labelling would be labled, making products easily distinguishable simply by which has stars and which has not. This taskforce could also be responsible for increasing investment in education through partnerships (business and government), and to oversee innovation and to drive creative answers, including the use/trials of new technologies. They would also provide advisory support to legislative measures. This group supports increasing the watchdog capacity of taskforces, with a strict approach to compliance and fines, and for the careful control of minimum standards for waste disposal. All of these approaches demand that sufficient infrastructure is available to the community. We are mindful of the fact that Australian governments seem to shy away from controlling business especially in the past few decades we have seen a large shift towards economic rationalism in Australian politics and policy. Thankfully the one area to buck this trend has been safety management and especially workplace safety. This area has seen massive growth in regulation and funding. Whilst protecting people at


work is commendable, to let them suffer through war and uncertainty resulting from massive environmental degradation and a global squabble for resources, is folly.

ACTION IS NEEDED NOW This idea of conflict is not theory; resources have always been a major flash point for the world’s conflicts. In the future, as more of the planet’s population begin to share in what many Australians take for granted, the squeeze and tension caused by the natural limits to our resources are going to amplify and create yet more conflict. The natural systems that support our way of life, and life in whole on this planet, are reaching trigger points from which we cannot return. The emphasis here is on action and speed of action. As we accelerate our civilisation into uncharted waters, a new era of Government leadership is required to develop a holistic approach to waste management in Australia, so that we can help steer the world back on course. To emphasise the overarching vision of this paper, we as a nation need to recognise the value of waste as a resource in society, through legislation, education and integration to change perceptions and our behaviour. This is no longer for the children and grandchildren to deal with, the youth of Australia want to point out that if nothing is done, these issues are going to affect us all.

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SYF Position Paper - Waste  
SYF Position Paper - Waste  

Recognising the value of waste as a resource in Australian society through legislation, education and integration to change perceptions and...