Pollution and waste

In 2008–09, Australians generated 46.8 million tonnes of rubbish, of which only 52 per cent was recycled.

Recycling and waste disposal

The generation and careless disposal of waste can cause air and water pollution, land contamination and the loss of land that is used for landfill sites. While huge gains have been made through recycling programs, in 2008–09, Australians generated 46.8 million tonnes of rubbish, of which only 52 per cent was recycled. 

New South Wales, as the nation’s most populous state, is responsible for about one third of the national total. While recycling rates are rising, total waste volumes continue to soar, outstripping increases in the population by four to one. The waste generated between 2002–03 and 2008–09 grew by 40 per cent, while the population increased by just 9.8 per cent. Such waste of scarce resources is clearly unsustainable.

Boomerang alliance

That’s why we are part of the Boomerang Alliance, a coalition of 27 of the nation’s leading environmental groups, who are campaigning for a zero-waste society. The alliance has successfully lobbied for a national electronic waste recycling program and has mounted a sustained campaign targeting packaging, especially drink containers.

Australians throw away a staggering 10 billion drinks containers every year, yet only 40 per cent are recycled. The other six billion either bloat our landfill or foul our environment. This is a scandalous waste of resources, a big source of climate changing emissions and a significant problem for marine wildlife and birds. We are campaigning through the Boomerang Alliance for an container deposit system that would provide a 10-cent refund on bottles and cans. These schemes have a proven track record and would dramatically reduce litter and double recycling rates across Australia.

Our campaign is starting to bite. The NSW Environment Minister has committed to a full appraisal of the scheme, despite the vigorous opposition of powerful industry interests. The Boomerang Alliance is also campaigning to improve tyre recycling, end illegal tyre dumping and improve e-waste and battery recycling. Learn more about the Boomerang Alliance.

Regulating polluting industries

An accidental toxic gas release by chemical giant Orica in Newcastle in 2011 prompted us to take a closer look at the ways polluting industries were regulated in New South Wales. What we found was a disturbing. The Orica facility had breached its licence every year since 2000 except 2004, with a total of 131 breaches. Despite these licence violations, the company was not issued with a single prevention, clean-up or prohibition notice between 2000-2011.

Each year, industrial facilities across New South Wales release hundreds of millions of kilograms of pollution into our air, water and soil. Over the past decade, industrial facilities have self-reported thousands of breaches of pollution licences, and compliance audits conducted by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) routinely revealed unreported breaches.

The revelations surrounding the Orica incident and other examples made it clear to us the ways the NSW Government was managing polluting industries was inadequate. That’s why we commissioned a report by the Environmental Defenders Office of NSW, titled Clearing the Air: Opportunities for improved regulation of pollution in New South Wales,  that sets out a clear agenda for legislative and operational reform to restore public confidence in the state’s pollution control systems. 

Reducing your own waste

The average NSW household wastes $1036 worth of food each year, totalling to $2.5 billion. NSW households throw away more than 800,000 tonnes of food each year, and 38% of the average kerbside bin is food waste.  By discarding food you are wasting the water, energy and natural resources used in its production and are contributing to landfill methane gas emissions- a potent greenhouse gas. And the worst part? Most of this food waste can be avoided.


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