Australia's Rubbish 'Crisis' Means Your Recycling May Be Going To Landfill

Sorting out your recycling on the weekly bin night isn't doing nearly as much good as we might hope.

Separating your plastics from your cardboard might feel good, but your recycling is likely sitting in an Australian warehouse -- or worse, going to landfill.

Despite Australians dutifully separating their recycling from their rubbish, Australia is in the midst of a full-blown waste crisis.

We produce 67 million tonnes of rubbish each year. That includes 2.5 million tonnes of plastic, or 102 kilograms per person.

However, just 12 percent of that plastic is actually recycled.

In Melbourne, a warehouse almost the size of the MCG was until recently stacked high with kerbside waste Australians thought was being recycled. Instead, it's headed for landfill.

Waleed Aly stands inside mountains of recycled waste. Photo: The Project.

It's one of five warehouses used for stockpiling by recycling company SKM, which collected waste for more than 30 Victorian councils -- until it went belly up, two months ago.

So how did we get here?

Our recycling industry was sent into a tailspin about 18 months ago when China stopped purchasing a large bulk of recycled products from around the world, including Australia.

Until last year, China had been purchasing an estimated 3.5 percent (1.23 million tonnes) of our recycled goods, including about 29 percent (920,000 tonnes) of all paper and 36 percent (125,000 tonnes) of plastics.

However, in January 2018, it effectively banned the importation of 24 streams of recyclable material.

"China and other countries were actually demanding that material and willing to pay a good price for it," Jenni Downes, a researcher at Monash University's Sustainable Development Institute, told The Project.

Jenni Downes on The Project.

"They're now reaching a point where they're actually generating that sort of materials in large quantities in their own countries, and now wanting to look at using their own waste to recycle back into products."

Unlike China, Australia simply does not have the facilities or the market for household recyclables like paper, plastic and glass. And since local recycling companies could no longer sell to China, the money they can make from kerbside recycling is less than the cost of providing the service.

"It means that we basically need to transform how we deal with our waste here in Australia," Downes said.

Tune in to The Project tonight at 6.30pm to get to the bottom of Australia's recycling crisis -- and what's being done to get us out of it.

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