There is no doubt that South Australia is ahead of the curve when it comes to dealing with waste. But there are some threats on the horizon that mean South Australians need to keep their vigilance.
Watching the hiccups as New South Wales tries to roll out a container deposit scheme (using predominantly machines rather than depots) has made me pine for the South Australian system.
Growing up in Adelaide and, returning recently, I noticed not only how clean the streets are as a result of container deposit, but also how much of a habit it has become for so many South Australians. This good habit will help protect South Australia from the looming threat to recycling rates across the country.
In an effort to improve their own environmental situation, the Chinese government has brought in new strict rules, which will ban a lot of plastics being sent to China for recycling, as much of Australia’s kerbside plastic recycling has been sent to China over the years. China’s move suddenly sees many councils and waste providers scrambling to find another way to recycle plastics. While SA is not unaffected by this change, the fact that container deposit gives a much cleaner, less contaminated waste stream means that SA will find it easier to sell this item for a higher price, or find a buyer who will recycle this in Australia.
While the 10c deposit containers are dealt with, this still leaves many plastic items that can’t be returned to the depot. Across Australia we need a system to make it clear just what can and can’t be recycled. Even after doing War on Waste I can spend considerable time standing next to my recycling bin pondering whether an item is recyclable. “Is this plastic soft enough to go into a recycle bin?” he says, scrunching a packet several times like a child trying to annoy their parents. And, “this is made of plastic but is covered in aluminium foil, will someone ever separate these to recycle?” The humble householder trying to do the right thing at their recycling bin shouldn’t need a degree in chemistry and an in-depth knowledge of the recycling markets.
Each company should have to clearly say whether their packaging can or can’t be recycled and where it should be placed. At the very least this would make us and the manufacturer realise if our packaging decisions are leading to landfill and prompt both to look at whether there are other alternatives.
But plastics are not the only challenge. One of the biggest footprints we leave is from food waste. Here South Australia’s habits may not be as well formed. Over a third of our landfill bins are generally made up of food waste. In landfill this breaks down and causes methane, which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Once again, South Australian councils are ahead of many places with a number already initiating food waste to be put in the green bin with garden waste. This is then commercially composted and can be bought for your gardens or agriculture. But unlike container deposit, which everyone I’ve spoken to is well and truly across, almost every South Australian, when I’ve asked them about their food waste, doesn’t seem to use the green bin. Improving this and making it a habit would have a big effect on reducing the amount of food that goes into landfill and reduce the environmental impact of that saggy, lonely piece of lettuce sitting at the back of our fridge!
In the end, the best habits are those that cut down food waste. Not only does this save money it avoids the waste. I know that in my house, where there are two working parents and three kids, somehow there is always one meal that manages to find a way to die in the back of the fridge. For the food that can’t go in my backyard compost I have no option except my bin, so knowing that South Australians have a better option but many aren’t using it is frustrating. Hopefully this can change so that SA can remain ahead of the rest of Australia when it comes to waste reduction.
Craig Reucassel is speaking at World Environment Fair, Saturday, June 2 and Sunday, June 3 at Adelaide Showground.
For tickets head to worldenvironmentfair.org.au