Four bins might help, but to solve our waste crisis we need a strong market for recycled products


Jenni Downes, Monash University

Australia is still grappling with what to do with the glut of recyclable material after China closed most of its market to our recycling in 2018.

Now the Victorian government has released the first major change to state recycling policy: a consistent kerbside four bin system by 2030, and a container deposit scheme.

So what’s the proposed new kerbside bin system, and will it help alleviate Australia’s recycling crisis? Here’s what you need to know about the extra bin coming your way.




Read more:
China’s recycling ‘ban’ throws Australia into a very messy waste crisis


The problems with our recycling system

There are two big problems – particularly since the China ban.

One is about supply. The quality of materials we have for recycling is quite poor, partly from the design of the products, and partly how we collect and sort waste items.

The other is demand. There’s not enough demand for recycled materials in new products or infrastructure, and so the commodity value of the materials, even high quality, is low.

And even though many of us think we’re good at recycling, many households aren’t getting recycling exactly right because they put things that don’t belong in the recycling bin, such as soft plastics.

One reason is because of the confusion about what can be recycled, where and when. A standardised system of collection (no matter how many bins) will go a long way to improving this, and the most exciting aspect of the Victorian announcement is the strong leadership towards consistency across the state.




Read more:
Don’t just blame government and business for the recycling crisis – it begins with us


This means by 2030, no matter where Victorians live or visit, they’ll have a consistent kerbside bin system.

But to boost our recycling capacity, we need consistency across the country. New South Wales, South Australian and Western Australian governments are already supporting combined food and garden organics bins, and other states are likely to follow as the evidence of the benefits continues to accumulate.

What will change?

Details are still being ironed out, but essentially, the new system expands the current two or three bins most Victorian houses have to four bins.

While paper, cardboard and plastic or metal containers will still go in the yellow bin, glass containers will now have their own separate purple bin (or crate). A green bin, which some Victorians already have for garden vegetation, will expand to collect food scraps.

Victoria’s 4 bin plans.
Adapted by author from vic.gov.au/four-bin-waste-and-recycling-system

The purple bin will come first, with the gradual roll-out starting next year as some Victorian councils’ existing collection contracts come to a close. The service is expected to be fully in place by 2027 (some remote areas may be exempt).

And the expanded green bin service accepting food scraps for composting will be rolled out by 2030, unless councils choose to move earlier (some are already doing so).

How extra bins will make a difference

A 2015 report on managing household waste in Europe showed separating our waste increases the quality of material collected. Some countries even have up to six bins (or crates, or sacks).

That’s because it’s easier for people to sort out the different materials than for machines, particularly food and the complex packaging we have today.

A separate bin for food (plus garden organics) will help recover Victoria’s share of the 2.5 million tonnes of food and scraps Australian households chuck out each year.




Read more:
Melbourne wastes 200 kg of food per person a year: it’s time to get serious


And a separate bin for glass will help with glass breaking in the yellow bin or collection truck, contaminating surrounding paper and cardboard with tiny glass shards that renders them unrecyclable. It should also boost how much glass gets recycled, according to Australia’s largest glass reprocesser.

Most Melbourne households have only two bins: one for mixed recycling and the other for general waste.
Shutterstock

What do they need to get right?

To make sure the transition to the new system is smooth, councils and the Victorian government must consider:

  • the space needed for four bins

Not everyone has enough space (inside or outside). This may require creative council and household solutions like those already found overseas (stackable crates and segregated bins).

  • the collection schedule

Does the new purple bin mean we’ll see a another truck, or perhaps a special multi-compartment recycling truck? And once councils have food waste in a weekly green bin, will the red bin collection go fortnightly? This actually makes sense because 3560% of the red bin is food scraps, which will be gone.

  • correct disposal of food waste

Many councils that have already added food waste to the green bin report contamination issues as people get their head around the transition, such as putting food wrappers in with the food scraps.

  • correct sorting of recycling

Putting the wrong thing in the recycling bin is a problem across the country, and taking glass out of the yellow bin won’t solve this issue. While this is already being tackled in government campaigns and council trials, we’ll likely need more government effort at both a systems and household level.

Five things never to put in a recycling bin.
Sustainability Victoria, sustainability.vic.gov.au/recycling

Better collection won’t mean much without demand

Collection is only one piece of the puzzle. Government support is needed to make sure all this recycling actually ends up somewhere. Efforts to improve the “supply-side” aspects of recycling can go to waste if there’s no demand for the recycled materials.

Environmental economists have long pointed out that without government intervention, free markets in most countries will not pay enough or use enough recycled material when new, or “virgin”, materials are so cheap.




Read more:
Only half of packaging waste is recycled – here’s how to do better


What’s great for Victoria is the new four bin system is only one pillar of the state’s new recycling policy.

It also includes many demand-side initiatives, from market development grants and infrastructure funding, to developing a Circular Economy Business Innovation Centre. The policy also deems waste management to be an “essential service” and has left space for strong procurement commitments. Today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged the importance of procurement when he announced an overhaul of the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines at the National Plastics Summit, to boost demand for recycled products.

Stepping up to the challenge

But to effectively combat Australia’s recycling crisis, more must be done. This includes reinvestment of landfill levies; standards for recycled materials, and at a federal level; clear strategies to improve product design ; and funding to support the waste and recycling industry to meet the export ban.




Read more:
A crisis too big to waste: China’s recycling ban calls for a long-term rethink in Australia


We also need regulation on the use of recycled material in products. For example, through mandated targets or fiscal policies like a tax on products made from virgin materials.

Since 2018 when China stopped taking most of our recycling, the level of industry, community and media interest has created a strong platform for policy change. It’s exciting to see Victoria responding to the challenge.The Conversation

Jenni Downes, Research Fellow, BehaviourWorks Australia (Monash Sustainable Development Institute), Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Logging is due to start in fire-ravaged forests this week. It’s the last thing our wildlife needs


David Lindenmayer, Australian National University and Doug Robinson, La Trobe University

New South Wales’ Forestry Corporation will this week start “selective timber harvesting” from two state forests ravaged by bushfire on the state’s south coast.

The state-owned company says the operations will be “strictly managed” and produce timber for power poles, bridges, flooring and decking.

Similarly, the Victorian government’s logging company VicForests recently celebrated the removal of sawlogs from burnt forests in East Gippsland.

VicForests says it did not cut down the trees – they were cut or pushed over by the army, firefighters or road crews because they blocked the rood or were dangerous. The company said it simply removed the logs to put them “to good use”.

However the science on the impacts of post-fire logging is clear: it can significantly impair the recovery of burned ecosystems, badly affect wildlife and, for some animal species, prevent recovery.

We acknowledge that for safety reasons, some standing and fallen burnt trees must be removed after a fire. But wherever possible, they should remain in place.

Damaging effects

Hollows in fire-damaged trees and logs provide critical habitat for animal species trying to survive in, or recolonise, burned forests.

Detailed studies around the world over the past 20 years, including in Australia, have demonstrated the damage caused by post-fire logging.

Indeed, the research shows post-fire logging is the most damaging form of logging. Logging large old trees after a fire may make the forests unsuitable habitat for many wildlife species for up to 200 years.




Read more:
Buzz off honey industry, our national parks shouldn’t be milked for money


Long-term monitoring data from extensive field surveys shows hollow-dependent mammals, such as the vulnerable greater glider, generally do not survive in areas burned and then logged. Research by the lead author, soon to be published, shows populations are declining rapidly in landscapes dominated by wood production.

Forests logged after a fire have the lowest bird biodiversity relative to other forests, including those that burned at high severity (but which remain unlogged). Critical plants such as tree ferns are all but eradicated from forests that have been burned and then logged.

Soils remain extensively altered for many decades after post-fire logging. This is a major concern because runoff into rivers and streams damages aquatic ecosystems and kills organisms such as fish.

A double disturbance

Fire badly disrupts forest ecosystems. Animals and plants then begin recovering, but most forests and the biota they support simply cannot deal with the second intense disturbance of logging so soon after a first one.

For example, young germinating plants are highly vulnerable to being flattened and destroyed by heavy logging machinery. And in an Australian context, post-fire logging makes no sense in the majority of eucalypt-dominated ecosystems where many tree species naturally resprout. This is an essential part of forest recovery.

Logs provide shade, moisture and shelter for plants, and rotting timber is food for insects – which in turn provide food for mammals and birds.




Read more:
Logged native forests mostly end up in landfill, not in buildings and furniture


Living and dead trees are also important for fungi — a food source for many animals, including bandicoots and potoroos which have been heavily impacted by the fires.

Similarly on burnt private land, removing damaged and fallen trees will only hinder natural recovery by removing important animal habitat and disturbing the soil. If left, fallen trees will provide refuge for surviving wildlife and enable the natural recovery of forests.

While the sight of burnt timber can be disheartening, landholders should resist the urge to “clean up”.

It doesn’t add up

Research in North America suggests debris such as tree heads, branches and other vegetation left by post-fire logging not only hinders forest regeneration, but can make forests more prone to fire.

And the economics of logging, particular after a fire, is dubious at best. Many native forest logging operations, such as in Victoria’s East Gippsland, are unprofitable, losing millions of taxpayer dollars annually.




Read more:
Yes, the Australian bush is recovering from bushfires – but it may never be the same


Timber is predominantly sold cheaply for use as woodchips and paper pulp and fire-damaged timber is of particularly poor quality. Even before the fires, 87% of all native forest logged in Victoria was for woodchips and paper pulp.

Post-fire logging certainly has no place in national parks. But for the reasons we’ve outlined, it should be avoided even in state forests and on private land. Million hectares of vegetation in Australia was damaged or destroyed this fire season. The last thing our forests need is yet more disturbance.


VicForests response: VicForests told The Conversation that timber currently being removed by VicForests, at the direction of the Chief Fire Officer, is from hazardous trees that were cut or knocked over to enable the Princes Highway to be re-opened.

It said the timber would be used for fence restoration, firewood and to support local mills “protecting jobs, incomes and families. It would otherwise be left in piles on the side of the highway”.

“Any further post-fire recovery harvesting will occur in consultation with government including biodiversity specialists and the conservation regulator, following careful assessment and protection of high conservation values,” VicForests said.

The company said post-fire recovery harvesting, particularly of fire-killed trees, does not increase fire risk.

“Sensitive harvesting including the retention of habitat trees and active re-seeding is more likely to result in a successfully regenerated forest and a supportive environment for threatened species. This regenerating forest will have the same fire risk as natural regeneration following bushfire.”


Forestry Corporation of NSW response: Forestry Corporation of NSW said in a statement that small-scale selective timber harvesting operation will begin on the south coast this week.

The company’s senior planning manager Dean Kearney said the Environment Protection Authority, with the input of scientific experts “has provided Forestry Corporation with site-specific conditions for selective timber harvesting operations in designated parts of Mogo and South Brooman State Forests. These areas were previously set aside for timber production this year but have now been impacted by fire.”

“Strictly-managed selective timber harvesting will help prevent the loss of some high-quality timber damaged by fire, including material that will be in high demand for rebuilding, while ensuring the right protections are in place for key environmental values, particularly wildlife habitat, as these forests begin regenerating,” he said.

“The harvesting conditions augment the already strict rule set in place for forest operations and include requirements to leave all unburnt forest untouched and establish even more stringent conditions to protect water quality, hollow-bearing trees and wildlife habitat.”The Conversation

David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University and Doug Robinson, Honorary Visiting Fellow, Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Want to help save wildlife after the fires? You can do it in your own backyard


Holly Kirk, RMIT University; Brendan Wintle, University of Melbourne; Casey Visintin, University of Melbourne; Freya Thomas, RMIT University; Georgia Garrard, RMIT University; Kirsten Parris, University of Melbourne; Kylie Soanes, University of Melbourne; Pia Lentini, University of Melbourne, and Sarah Bekessy, RMIT University

People living in cities far from the unprecedented bushfires this summer may feel they can do little more to help beyond donating to organisations that support affected wildlife. But this is not necessarily the case: ten of the 113 top-priority threatened animal species most affected by the fires have populations in and around Australian cities and towns. Conserving these populations is now even more critical for the survival of these species.

Here we provide various practical tips on things people can do in their own backyards and neighbourhoods to help some of the species hit hard by the fires.




Read more:
The 39 endangered species in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and other Australian cities


Wildlife may arrive in your neighbourhood in search of resources lost to fire or drought in their ranges. Cities can become ecological traps, as they draw animals towards sub-optimal habitats or even death from threats such as cats and cars. But by providing the right resources, removing threats and connecting your backyard to surrounding habitat, you can turn your property into a refuge, not a trap.

Images from Flickr by: Jarod Lyon (Macquarie perch), Doug Beckers (Giant burrowing frog), eyeweed (Giant barred frog), Catching The Eye (Southern water skink), Alan Couch (Broad-headed snake), Brian McCauley (Regent honeyeater), Ron Knight (Koala), Duncan PJ (Grey-headed flying fox), Tony Morris (Platypus) and Pierre Pouliquin (Tiger quoll).
Author provided

The fires killed an estimated 1 billion animals and Australia’s threatened species list is likely to expand dramatically. As is often the case, the impacts on invertebrates have been largely ignored so far.




Read more:
Conservation scientists are grieving after the bushfires — but we must not give up


Thinking outside the animal box

Despite the focus on animals, it is plants, making up 1,336 of the 1,790 species listed as threatened, that have been hit hardest. Early estimates are that the fires had severe impacts on 272 threatened plant species. Of these, 100 are thought to have had more than half of their remaining range burnt.

The impacts on individual plant species is profoundly saddening, but the impacts on whole ecosystems can be even more catastrophic. Repeated fires in quick succession in fire-sensitive ecosystems, such as alpine-ash forests, can lead to loss of the keystone tree species. These trees are unable to mature and set seed in less than 20 years.

Losing the dominant trees leads to radical changes that drive many other species to extinction in an extinction cascade. Other badly impacted ecosystems include relics of ancient rainforests, which might not survive the deadly combination of drought and fire.




Read more:
A season in hell: bushfires push at least 20 threatened species closer to extinction


It is difficult to know how best to “rescue” threatened plants, particularly when we know little about them. Seed banks and propagation of plants in home gardens can be a last resort for some species.

You can help by growing plants that are indigenous to your local area. Look for an indigenous nursery near you that can provide advice on their care. Advocate for mainstream nurseries, your council and schools to make indigenous plants available to buy and be grown in public areas.

Example of alpine ash (Eucalyptus delegatensis) forest in Victoria.
Holly Kirk

Providing for urban wildlife

Planting native species in your backyard is also the best way to provide food for visiting wildlife. Many species feed on flower nectar, or on the insects the vegetation attracts. Putting out dishes of fruit or bird feeders can be useful for some species, but the best way to provide extra food for all is by gardening.

Plants also provide shelter and nest sites, so think twice about removing vegetation, leaf litter and dead wood. Fire risk can be managed by selecting species that are fire-suppressing.

Urban gardens also provide water for many thirsty creatures. If you put out a container of water, place rocks and branches inside so small critters can escape if they fall in.




Read more:
You can leave water out for wildlife without attracting mosquitoes, if you take a few precautions


Backyard ponds can provide useful habitat for some frog species, particularly if you live near a stream or wetland. Please don’t add goldfish!

The best frog ponds have plants at the edges and emerging from the water, providing calling sites for males and shelter for all. Insecticides and herbicides harm frogs as well as insects and plants, so it’s best not to use these in your garden.

Piles of rocks in the garden form important shelters for lizards and small mammals.

Reducing threats

It’s important to consider threats too. Cats kill native wildlife in huge numbers. Keep your pet inside or in a purpose-built “catio”.


Read more: For whom the bell tolls: cats kill more than a million Australian birds every day

Read more: A hidden toll: Australia’s cats kill almost 650 million reptiles a year


When driving, think about killing your speed rather than wildlife – especially while populations are moving out of fire-affected areas in search of food. Slowing down can greatly reduce animal strikes.

With the loss of huge areas of forest, species like grey-headed flying foxes will need to supplement their diet with fruit from our backyards. Unfortunately, they risk being entangled in tree netting. If you have fruit trees, consider sharing with wildlife by removing nets, or using fine mesh bags to cover only select bunches or branches.




Read more:
Not in my backyard? How to live alongside flying-foxes in urban Australia


Living with the new visitors

People have different levels of knowledge about our native wildlife, and some will be more affected by new wildlife visitors than others. Some of these critters are small and quiet. Others are more conspicuous and may even be considered a nuisance.

Try to discuss what you are seeing and experiencing with your neighbours. When you can, provide information that might ease their concerns, but also be sympathetic if noisy or smelly residents move in. It is important to tolerate and co-exist with wildlife, by acknowledging they might not conform to neighbourly conventions.

Given the unprecedented extent and intensity of these fires, it is difficult for scientists to predict how wildlife will respond and what might show up where. This is especially the case for species, like the regent honeyeater, that migrate in response to changing resources. New data will be invaluable in helping us understand and plan for future events like these.

If you do see an animal that seems unusual, you can report it through citizen-science schemes such as iNaturalist. If an animal is injured or in distress it’s best to contact a wildlife rescue organisation such as Wildlife Victoria or WIRES (NSW).




Read more:
How you can help – not harm – wild animals recovering from bushfires


Our wildlife is under pressure now, but we can help many populations by ensuring safer cities for the species that share them with us.

Resources

How to help birds after the fires

Other threatened species in cities

Wildlife-friendly fencing

Find your local native nursery

Learn about platypus-safe yabby nets

Record your bird sightings

Record your frog sightings

Record other urban wildlifeThe Conversation

Holly Kirk, Postdoctoral Fellow, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group (ICON Science), RMIT University; Brendan Wintle, Professor in Conservation Ecology, School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne; Casey Visintin, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne; Freya Thomas, Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University; Georgia Garrard, Senior Research Fellow, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group, RMIT University; Kirsten Parris, Professor of Urban Ecology, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne; Kylie Soanes, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne; Pia Lentini, Research Fellow, School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne, and Sarah Bekessy, Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning, Leader, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group (ICON Science), RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why drought-busting rain depends on the tropical oceans


Andrew King, University of Melbourne; Andy Pitman, UNSW; Anna Ukkola, Australian National University; Ben Henley, University of Melbourne, and Josephine Brown, University of Melbourne

Recent helpful rains dampened fire grounds and gave many farmers a reason to cheer. But much of southeast Australia remains in severe drought.

Australia is no stranger to drought, but the current one stands out when looking at rainfall records over the past 120 years. This drought has been marked by three consecutive extremely dry winters in the Murray-Darling basin, which rank in the driest 10% of winters since 1900.

Despite recent rainfall the southeast of Australia remains in the grip of a multi-year drought.
Bureau of Meteorology

So what’s going on?

There has been much discussion on whether human-caused climate change is to blame. Our new study explores Australian droughts through a different lens.




Read more:
Rain has eased the dry, but more is needed to break the drought


Rather than focusing on what’s causing the dry conditions, we investigated why it’s been such a long time since we had widespread drought-breaking rain. And it’s got a lot to do with how the temperature varies in the Pacific and Indian Ocean.

Our findings suggest that while climate change does contribute to drought, blame can predominately be pointed at the absence of the Pacific Ocean’s La Niña and the negative Indian Ocean Dipole – climate drivers responsible for bringing wetter weather.

Understanding the Indian Ocean Dipole.

What’s the Indian Ocean Dipole?

As you may already know, the Pacific Ocean influences eastern Australia’s climate through El Niño conditions (associated with drier weather) and La Niña conditions (associated with wetter weather).

The lesser known cousin of El Niño and La Niña across the Indian Ocean is called the Indian Ocean Dipole. This refers to the difference in ocean temperature between the eastern and western sides of the Indian Ocean. It modulates winter and springtime rainfall in southeastern Australia.




Read more:
Dipole: the ‘Indian Niño’ that has brought devastating drought to East Africa


When the Indian Ocean Dipole is “negative”, there are warmer ocean temperatures in the east Indian Ocean, and we see more rain over much of Australia. The opposite is true for “positive” Indian Ocean Dipole events, which bring less rain.

The Murray-Darling Basin experiences high rainfall variability, with decade-long droughts common since observations began. The graph shows seasonal rainfall anomalies from a 1961-1990 average with major droughts marked.
Author provided

What does it mean for the drought?

When the drought started to take hold in 2017 and 2018, we didn’t experience an El Niño or strongly positive Indian Ocean Dipole event. These are two dry-weather conditions we might expect to see at the start of a drought.

Rather, conditions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans were near neutral, with little to suggest a drought would develop.

So why are we in severe, prolonged drought?

The problem is we haven’t had either a La Niña or a negative Indian Ocean Dipole event since winter 2016. Our study shows the lack of these events helps explain why eastern Australia is in drought.

For the southeast of Australia in particular, La Niña or negative Indian Ocean Dipole events provide the atmosphere with suitable conditions for persistent and widespread rainfall to occur. So while neither La Niña or a negative Indian Ocean Dipole guarantee heavy rainfall, they do increase the chances.

What about climate change?

While climate drivers are predominately causing this drought, climate change also contributes, though more work is needed to understand what role it specifically plays.

Drought is more complicated and multidimensional than simply “not much rain for a long time”. It can be measured with a raft of metrics beyond rainfall patterns, including metrics that look at humidity levels and evaporation rates.

What we do know is that climate change can exacerbate some of these metrics, which, in turn, can affect drought.




Read more:
Is Australia’s current drought caused by climate change? It’s complicated


Climate change might also influence climate drivers, though right now it’s hard to tell how. A 2015 study suggests that under climate change, La Niña events will become more extreme. Another study from earlier this month suggests climate change is driving more positive Indian Ocean Dipole events, bringing even more drought.

Unfortunately, regional-scale projections from climate models aren’t perfect and we can’t be sure how the ocean patterns that increase the chances of drought-breaking rains will change under global warming. What is clear is there’s a risk they will change, and strongly affect our rainfall.

Putting the drought in context

Long periods when a La Niña or a negative Indian Ocean Dipole event were absent characterised Australia’s past droughts. This includes two periods of more than three years that brought us the Second World War drought and the Millennium drought.

The longer the time without a La Niña or negative Indian Ocean Dipole event, the more likely the Murray-Darling Basin is in drought.

In the above graph, the longer each line continues before stopping, the longer the time since a La Niña or negative Indian Ocean Dipole event occurred. The lower the lines travel, the less rainfall was received in the Murray Darling basin during this period. This lets us compare the current drought to previous droughts.

During the current drought (black line) we see how the rainfall deficit continues for several years, almost identically to how the Millennium drought played out.

But then the deficit increases strongly in late 2019, when we had a strongly positive Indian Ocean Dipole.

So when will this drought break?

This is a hard question to answer. While recent rains have been helpful, we’ve developed a long-term rainfall deficit in the Murray-Darling Basin and elsewhere that will be hard to recover from without either a La Niña or negative Indian Ocean Dipole event.




Read more:
Weather bureau says hottest, driest year on record led to extreme bushfire season


The most recent seasonal forecasts don’t predict either a negative Indian Ocean Dipole or La Niña event forming in the next three months. However, accurate forecasts are difficult at this time of year as we approach the “autumn predictability barrier”.

This means, for the coming months, the drought probably won’t break. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. We can only hope conditions improve.The Conversation

Andrew King, ARC DECRA fellow, University of Melbourne; Andy Pitman, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, UNSW; Anna Ukkola, Research Fellow, Australian National University; Ben Henley, Research Fellow in Climate and Water Resources, University of Melbourne, and Josephine Brown, Lecturer, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.