Urban environmental efficiency: Waste generation and recovery

2016

Urban environmental efficiency refers to how well the built environment encourages the efficient use of natural resources—land, energy and water—and the reuse and/or recovery of waste. In this section, the changing ‘efficiency’ or ‘intensity’ over time is analysed, providing some context to the Increased consumption section.

Waste generation and recovery

Between 2006–07 and 2010–11, Australia continued to generate more waste, with waste generation increasing from around 44 megatonnes to around 48 megatonnes per year—an increase of just over 9 per cent. Population increased by just over 7 per cent during this period, suggesting that, up until 2010–11, waste continued to be generated at a faster rate than population growth. In 2010–11, this averaged around 2.1 tonnes per person per year (DoEE n.d.[a], ABS 2016a).

Despite an overall increase in waste generation, Australia’s total disposal tonnage decreased from about 21.5 megatonnes to about 19.5 megatonnes (about 9.5 per cent) between 2006–07 and 2010–11. During this period, the resource recovery rate in Australia increased from 51 per cent to 60 per cent. The quantity of material recycled increased significantly from 21.4 megatonnes to 27.3 megatonnes per year, or by about 27 per cent. The total proportion of Australian households recycling during this period remained fairly constant (97 per cent in 2012); however, the proportion of households recycling certain household items showed increases. Between 2006 and 2012, there was an increase in the proportion of households recycling cans (from 85 to 91 per cent), and smaller increases in the proportion of households recycling paper, cardboard, newspapers, and plastic bottles or containers. Also, in 2012, nearly one-quarter of Australian households recycled electronic equipment (e-waste recycling data were not previously collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics) (ABS 2009, 2012b).

Overall, the amount of waste recycled increased from around 1.0 to around 1.2 tonnes per person per year between 2006–07 and 2010–11 (DoEE n.d.[a]).

The quantity of waste generated per person in Australian jurisdictions shows a general increase that correlates with income per person and with the level of urbanisation (DoEE n.d.[a]; Figure BLT47).

Waste used for energy recovery also increased between 2006–07 and 2010–11, from about 1.32 megatonnes to 1.52 megatonnes (DoEE n.d.[a]).

In its Waste account, Australia, 2010–11 (ABS 2014b), the Australian Bureau of Statistics presented waste generation by material, and by who generated this waste. Within the built environment, the construction industry produced the largest volume of waste by weight (14.5 million tonnes; Table BLT16), largely because of the large quantities of masonry generated. Households generated slightly less at 14.3 million tonnes. Just under half of this (47 per cent; 6.7 million tonnes) was organic material. Degradation of organics in landfill generates the potent greenhouse gas methane and potentially polluting leachate (DoEE n.d.[a]), so it is a priority waste type to be managed for recovery and for movement out of landfills. In 2010–11, just under 50 per cent of organics waste was recovered.

Manufacturing generated 9.6 million tonnes of waste, with nearly 30 per cent of this metal waste, most of which is recovered.

These data show that overall recovery rates increased and landfill disposal decreased in the years up to 2010–11. However, current, consistent and comprehensive data are needed to help us to further understand which materials from which sources are being managed effectively and efficiently by Australian governments.

Table BLT16 Waste generated by the built environment, by waste material, 2010–11

Waste material

Manufacturing

(’000 t)

Electricity, gas, water services

(’000 t)

Construction

(’000 t)

Public administration

(’000 t)

All other industries

(’000 t)

Households

(’000 t)

Paper and cardboard

2,231

22

195

79

1,077

1,358

Glass

186

0

19

1

59

799

Plastics

491

9

359

10

350

988

Metals

2,807

56

1,215

10

450

1,050

Organics

2,051

3

14

13

3,186

6,741

Masonry

206

557

10,890

513

3,038

845

Electrical and electronic

36

7

24

2

94

72

Solid hazardous waste

889

53

297

7

1,094

293

Leather and textiles

187

2

25

8

222

299

Tyres and other rubber

72

2

79

37

77

28

Timber and wood products

386

4

1,347

0

150

114

Inseparable/unknown

50

9

26

9

150

1,703

Total

9,593

724

14,491

690

9,948

14,269

‘000 t = thousand tonnes

Note: Data do not include mining and agriculture.

Source: ABS (2014b)

Coleman S (2016). Built environment: Urban environmental efficiency: Waste generation and recovery. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/built-environment/topic/2016/urban-environmental-efficiency-waste-generation-and-recovery, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65a5037ed8