The traditional linear ‘make, use, dispose’ economy drives economic growth but also creates waste in vast quantities. Western Australia’s (WA) waste production was estimated at over 2.4 tonnes per person in 2014-15. WA is not only a very high producer of waste on a per capita basis, we are also well below the national average when it comes to recycling waste.
Most waste produced in WA ends up in landfill, largely due to the perception that it is a relatively cheap disposal option. However, landfills also produce toxins that can leach into the soil and groundwater, and methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The damage this does to our environment means the real cost of landfill is far more than most of us realise.
Addressing this risk requires us to become better at avoiding waste production. Pay as you go programs, which provide financial incentives to decrease waste are emerging. These incentives will see us starting to treat waste as we do utilities like electricity and water.
WA also needs to become better at recycling waste products. Waste products often contain materials of commercial value that can be reused or processed and sold. A prime example is the use of construction and demolition waste to build roads, car parks and cycle paths.
Substantial markets for recycled waste products exist in many Australian states and overseas. However, in WA we face the challenge of isolation and long transport distances, along with the perception that landfilling is cheap. Growing the WA market will require both government and community support.
This audit showed that waste generation and recycling figures are trending in the right direction. However, they are still well short of the 2020 targets in the WA Government’s Waste Strategy: Creating the Right Environment.
The Waste Authority and the Department of Environment Regulation have a tough task in changing behaviours and practices. More effective coordination and cooperation will go some of the way to achieving desired outcomes. But what is really required, particularly as our population increases, is commitment by the entire community.