Q&A Wages War On Waste

Buy recyclable products, and only buy what you need.

It's the hot topic of today -- how can Australia become a more environmentally-friendly nation?

ABC's Q&A battled the issue head on with a panel featuring Craig Reucassel, host of War on Waste; Ronni Kahn, CEO & founder of OzHarvest; Jo Taranto, Director of Good for the Hood; David O'Loughlin, President of The Australian Local Government Association; and Gayle Sloan, CEO Waste Management Association of Australia.

Image: ABC
Look, Buy, Store, Cook

The panel pushed for individuals to make changes at home, starting with what they buy.

Kahn shared the horrifying statistic that one in five shopping bags is thrown out by households, equating to $3,800 a year, never mind the environmental cost.

She said that it was important that food waste is reduced, by eating all food that is bought and using left overs.

"Our new mantra is look, buy, store, cook. Look what's in your pantry, look what's in your cupboard before you go shopping. And buy what you need, then store it correctly," Kahn said.

O'Loughlin said that according to the The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), 90 per cent of Australians want to take participate in recycling, and added there was now a push for a national symbol that clearly shows products are recyclable.

Councils Failure To Recycle

A young audience member told of his frustration at local councils mixing recyclables into landfill rubbish, with the panel agreeing many were disillusioned by the process.

Taranto said the best way to fight this issue was to educate the public on what can be recycled to avoid decontamination.

"If the messaging isn't simple and if we don't understand what is allowed to go in the bin, the contamination rates we seesaw. The council will educate what can go in the bin," she said.

O'Loughlin added that the ALGA was pushing for a national system where standards would apply across the country. As it stands, what can be recycled varies across jurisdictions.

China, who used to buy 1.3 million tonnes of paper, plastic and some metals from Australia, stopped importing the waste after it lowered the contamination threshold to less than one per cent.

As O'Loughlin pointed out, this threshold was impossible to meet.

"So 100 countries were exporting some of their plastics, paper and some of their metals content into China who were hungry for it. By changing the down to that level, the world is now awash with plastics waste," he said.

Plastic Bag Ban

The issue of banning plastic bags in supermarkets despite a lack of State Government legislation was raised, with many on the panel scoffing at the eastern state's reaction to the bans.

"I was in Adelaide and they've been doing it since 2009 and we didn't realise they still had those bags over there. And we got over this in 2009. Everything will calm down, people. In a few weeks you will have figured it out and will be able to get your food home," joked Reucassel.

But on a more serious note, the panel threw their full support behind the plastic bag ban, and said that despite initial backflips, it was a good thing for the major supermarkets to do without the support of State Governments.

Image © 2018 AAP/Peter Rae
A customer getting on board with the ban
Image © 2018 AAP/Peter Rae
Burning Waste For Energy

Sloan said burning waste for energy was a "well-proven international technology", and was a safe way of re-using waster that would normally be headed to landfill.

But she admitted it was not the solution to the waste crisis, but has a role to play in waste management.

"Modern technology is very, very safe and the emissions are not an issue," Sloan said.

Reucassel, who has seen firsthand how Sweden burns 50 per cent of their waste for energy and heating, added that it was important in managing the CO2 emissions from waste burning.

"In Sweden they're quite good with their carbon emissions, so it's harder to be better. With Australia it could be a step forward but we have to do it properly," he said.

Waste incineration plant in Sweden. Image: Getty Images

The final message for the night -- "become food fighters, become waste warriors."