Waste Odyssey: Discovering the Multifaceted Challenges in Australia’s Landscape

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Waste Odyssey: Discovering the Multifaceted Challenges in Australia’s Landscape

April 2, 2024


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Australia is not an exception to the complicated problem that waste management poses globally. The nation deals with diverse aspects of waste management, from handling food waste and plastic waste to managing e-waste disposal and recycling initiatives. Challenges persist in the way of resolving these problems due to a lack of adequate infrastructure and environmental awareness. In this feature, we explore the multifaceted landscape of waste management, magnifying the key challenges that Australia is currently facing.

As the population of the country increases, consumption and production will likewise increase. But the challenge lies in reducing the food waste that the economy is generating. According to the National Food Waste Report Strategy, households dispose of 3.1 million tonnes of edible food each year, costing the Australian economy an estimated $20 billion.

Additionally, C&I sectors put 2.2 million tonnes of food to waste, adding significant expenses and costs to businesses. There’s a pressing challenge on the part of businesses and consumers to minimise these figures because of the underlying issues of overconsumption, supply chain disruption, and proper food waste management.

Aside from the detrimental economic impact of food waste, there’s also a crisis in handling this type of waste that puts health and safety at risk. Food waste can cause unnecessary odour, vermin infestations, leaching, and probable sources of contamination, infections, and diseases.

In addressing food waste, it’s also important to account for the environmental factor. Natural disasters, such as drought and flooding, affect production and disrupt the supply chain, resulting in food insecurity and food waste. Thus, disposing of this food waste in landfills contributes about 3% of greenhouse gas emissions annually, placing collective effort on improving food waste management.

With Australia facing its own battle against food waste, there’s also a growing challenge emerging from plastic waste. The National Plastics Plan mentioned that the country generates 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, and only 13% is recovered; the rest is sent to landfills. This could translate to the nation’s lack of innovative technology and the infrastructure necessary to process large volumes of waste resources.

“The waste needs to be dealt with within the communities, and because this is such a vast continent with long lead times and long transportation ways, there is not enough infrastructure within the community to deal with these types of plastics…” (Geoff Spinks, Senior Professor and Head of School of Mechanical, Materials, Mechatronic and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Wollongong (UOW))

Given the inadequate facilities, plastic waste can also be a threat to coastal areas and marine life. Microplastics present a greater risk for marine life because these living creatures could ingest them and lead to mortality. Plastic pollution is everywhere, from inland waterways to the soil. Research has shown that marine plastics in the Australian water system could potentially be the result of passing ship traffic or logistics from other nations.

The challenge of plastic waste management is not only dependent on initiatives and programs from the federal government and environmental advocates. As consumers and businesses, aiming to minimise the use of single-use plastics and soft plastics is a combined effort from all industries locally and globally.

Apart from the growing concern over plastic waste, the increasing trend in e-waste can cause significant environmental and economic challenges. Figures have shown that 88% of the total computers and TVs purchased every year-end up in landfills—approximately 140,000+ tonnes of electronic waste produced annually. The problem doesn’t end there.

As technology rapidly advances, individuals and businesses have a large appetite for new electronic devices and products, leading to an increase in the production of e-waste. Furthermore, companies may intend to shorten the life cycle of a product to encourage the consumer to buy a new product – this is called planned obsolescence. Thus, the consumption of e-waste is now outperforming the capacity of the economy to properly recycle and manage these waste resources.

Such overconsumption without proper disposal also makes the public vulnerable to harmful gases and chemicals. E-waste is responsible for 70% of toxic chemicals found in landfills that greatly affect not just health and safety but also the water system, ecosystems, and soil. This is now detrimental to our economy and environment rather than making our lives convenient. And it’s not getting easier.

The Australian waste landscape also faces an increasing trend in construction and demolition waste. Currently, the industry is relatively thriving due to population growth and technological innovation, leading to commercial expansions, land developments, and urbanisation. These activities contribute to the increasing volume of C&D waste.

The National Waste Report identified building and demolition materials as the leading waste materials generated in 2020–2021, amounting to 25.2 million tonnes of waste. The report also mentioned that these resources are heavily influenced by major activities like the development of transportation infrastructure.

In managing C&D waste, you can’t factor out the possibility of contamination. Thus, asbestos contamination is also a vital concern in managing C&D resources, which challenges the government to provide an efficient solution to minimise the risk of contamination. The challenge also arises for businesses and industries to adopt a sustainable and complementary approach that prioritises the conservation of natural resources and recycling of C&D waste materials.

Waste management in Australia is further strained by limited infrastructure and recycling inefficiency. Although the nation’s recycling facilities are capable of handling current volumes of waste, the problem lies in the limited capacity of collection and recycling services to process specific waste types. The analysis also shows that MRFs lack the technical capacity to sort co-mingled, highly contaminated MSW into specific types that have low levels of contamination.

Addressing the Australian waste narrative requires a comprehensive strategy comprised of sustainable policies, infrastructure investment, and innovative equipment. With the intervention of the government, businesses and industries should be able to integrate technological solutions and cost-efficient equipment that can help them optimise their operations.

Wastech Engineering leads the way in providing sustainable waste management solutions custom-built to the standards of the market and tailored to your specific requirements. We offer an extensive range of equipment suitable for every waste application.

Discover more about Wastech solutions and innovative equipment that can help you navigate your waste management challenges.

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