Time to make fast fashion a problem for its makers, not charities



Textile waste a major source of landfill and pollution.
Swapan Photography/Shutterstock

Mark Liu, University of Technology Sydney

Returning our old clothes to big fashion chains – rather than taking them to charity stores – could make fast fashion companies pay for their waste and fuel vital recycling research. Even better if we all do it at once.

Public protests, such as Extinction Rebellion’s colourful catwalk that blocked roads in central London in April, have raised awareness yet done little to motivate governments to address the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry.

“The government is out of step with the public who are shocked by the fact that we are sending 300,000 tonnes of clothes a year to incineration or landfill,” remarked British MP Mary Creagh in June this year, after that country’s parliament rejected a proposed garment tax on the fashion industry. “Urgent action must be taken to change the fast fashion business model which produces cheap clothes that cost the earth.”

At last week’s G7 summit, French president and host Emmanuel Macron announced a fashion industry pact with 150 brands promising to reduce environmental impact.

Changes are not happening fast enough. Residual fashion waste averages 2.25 million tonnes per year in Australia, with an estimated clothing value of $500 million. By 2030, it is predicted that the fashion industry will use two Earths’ worth of resources, with the demand for clothing increasing by 63%. But consumers can act now to influence corporations.

If you’re not part of the solution…

Even those who don’t purchase “fast fashion” – a term used to describe clothes that reproduce the latest catwalk designs at high speed and low cost – bear the consequences as garment waste enters landfill, contaminates air, soil and water.

Fast fashion companies take looks from the catwalk to the shopping centre as quickly as possible.
www.shutterstock.com

While government and industry self-regulation have so far failed to make significant progress in this area, consumers have a role to play in protecting the environment.

Global Fashion Agenda’s Pulse 2019 report quotes research showing more than 50% of consumers would switch brands if offered an environmentally and socially friendly alternative. But that sustainability is a key purchasing criterion for just 7% of consumers, trailing high quality, looking successful and receiving good value for money.

There are already opportunities for consumers to engage with fast fashion companies on this issue. H&M and Zara have collection boxes instore to collect old clothing and recycle it into new garments. H&M will also donate 3c for every kilogram of clothing returning in this way to fund research into recycling technologies.

Investing in technology

Unfortunately, clothing recycling technology is in its infancy and the vast infrastructure to make recycling commercially viable does not exist. Many materials made from recycled material are blended with polyester or elastane to make materials that cannot be recycled again.

London’s Graduate Fashion Week this year featured garments made from recycled plastic.
Rob Sheppard/Shutterstock

At the University of Technology Sydney we are developing new fabrics made from microalgae. This deep technology research requires significant investment, time, and expertise without a guaranteed outcome. Such research is not attractive to investors looking for an instant return. But this knowledge development is our only hope of building a truly circular fashion industry.

H&M’s commitment of 3c a kilogram may seem small. But if this commitment was applied to the 6000 kilograms of fast fashion dumped in Australian landfill every 10 minutes, it could add up to $180 every 10 minutes and $25,900 every 24 hours.

If Australians redirected fast fashion waste back to where it belongs, they could raise the equivalent of H&M’s Global Change Award, which funds sustainable fashion ideas to the tune of $1 million euro (A$1.6 million) within 64 days. Imagine the potential to raise money for research and infrastructure in this way given the 300,000 tonnes of waste dumped in the UK each year and the 16 million tonnes in the US.

Charity stores in Australia are flooded with fast fashion garments that they simply cannot use and then have to discard. According to the National Association of Charitable and Recycling Organisations, last year Australian charities paid $13 million a year to dispose of 60,000 tonnes of unusable donations.

Sending cheap cast-offs back to their producers would force big chains to pay for the afterlife of their garments, making mass overproduction less profitable.

Coordinating outfits and efforts

Returning clothing is a way of sending a clear signal to shareholders in a way that affects the profits of the company. It nudges employees within fast fashion companies to justify to their superiors and shareholders the need to move towards more sustainable practices.

Consumers could stage mass protests by organising to return used clothing to companies in a single day of action, burying the stores in their own waste and showing the scale of the problem.

A scene from the ABC’s War on Waste.
ABC

A single change in behaviour has grand potential. Locally, 68% of those who watched the ABC’s War on Waste second series reported
that they’d changed their habits. The series triggered Woolworths supermarket’s decision to remove 3.2 billion single-use plastic bags a year from its checkouts, inspired cafes and customers to adopt reusable cups, and led to hospitality businesses eliminating
single-use plastic straws.

It is time to make corporations pay for their waste, fund research and change their business models. If they continue to disregard their environmental responsibilities, citizens have the power to bury their stores in their own waste.

We can return our old clothes to fast fashion companies and change the industry, one garment at a time.The Conversation

Mark Liu, Chancellors Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Fashion and Textiles Designer, University of Technology Sydney

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

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We create 20m tons of construction industry waste each year. Here’s how to stop it going to landfill



Building construction and demolition create enormous amounts of waste and much of it goes into landfill.
Sytilin Pavel/Shutterstock

Salman Shooshtarian, RMIT University; Malik Khalfan, RMIT University; Peter S.P. Wong, RMIT University; Rebecca Yang, RMIT University, and Tayyab Maqsood, RMIT University

The Australian construction industry has grown significantly in the past two decades. Population growth has led to the need for extensive property development, better public transport and improved infrastructure. This means there has been a substantial increase in waste produced by construction and demolition.

In 2017, the industry generated 20.4 million tons (or megatonnes, MT) of waste from construction and demolition, such as for road and rail maintenance and land excavation. Typically, the waste from these activities include bricks, concrete, metal, timber, plasterboard, asphalt, rock and soil.

Between 2016 and 2017, more than 6.7MT of this waste went into landfills across Australia. The rest is either recycled, illegally dumped, reused, reprocessed or stockpiled.

But with high social, economic and environmental costs, sending waste to landfill is the worst strategy to manage this waste.




Read more:
With the right tools, we can mine cities


What’s more, China introduced its “National Sword Policy” and restricted waste imports, banning certain foreign waste materials and setting stricter limits on contamination. So Australia’s need for solutions to landfill waste has become urgent.

China has long been the main end-market for recycling materials from Australia and other countries. In 2016 alone, China imported US$18 billion worth of recyclables.

Their new policy has mixed meanings for Australia’s waste and resource recovery industry. While it has closed China’s market to some of our waste, it encourages the development of an Australian domestic market for salvaged and recycled waste.

But there are several issues standing in the way of effective management of Australia’s construction and demolition waste.




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


The producers should take more responsibility

In Australia, the main strategy to reduce the waste sent to landfill is the use of levies. But the effectiveness of levies has been questioned in recent years by experts who argue for smarter strategies to manage waste from construction and demolition. They say that imposing a landfill levy has not achieved the intended goals, such as a reduction in waste disposal or an increase in waste recovery activities.

One effective strategy Australia should expand is extended producer responsibility (EPR).

The idea originated in Germany in 1991 as a result of a landfill shortage. At the time, packaging made up 30% by weight and 50% by volume of Germany’s total municipal waste stream.

To slow down the filling of landfills, Germany introduced “the German Packaging Ordinance”. This law made manufacturers responsible for their own packaging waste. They either had to take back their packaging from consumers and distributors or pay the national packaging waste management organisation to collect it.

Australia has no specific EPR-driven legal instrument for the construction and demolition waste stream, nor any nationally adopted EPR regulations.

Waste piled at a demolition site at Little A’Beckett Street in Melbourne in April 2019.
Salman Shooshtarian, Author provided

But some largely voluntary approaches have had an impact. These include the national Product Stewardship Act 2011, New South Wales’ Extended Producer Responsibility Priority Statement 2010 and Western Australia’s 2008 Policy Statement on Extended Producer Responsibility.

These schemes have provided an impetus for industry engagement in national integrated management of some types of waste, such as e-waste, oil, batteries and fluorescent lights. Voluntary industry programs also cover materials such as PVC, gypsum, waffle pod and carpet.




Read more:
Indonesia has sent Australia’s recycling home – it’s time to clean up our act


For instance, since 2002, the Vinyl Council of Australia has voluntarily agreed to apply EPR principles. Armstrong Australia, the world’s largest manufacturer of resilient PVC flooring products, collects the offcuts and end-of-life flooring materials for recycling and processing into a new product. These materials would otherwise have been sent to landfill.

In another example, CSR Gyprock uses a take-back scheme to collect offcuts and demolition materials. After installation, the fixing contractor arranges collection with CSR Gyprock’s recycling contractor who charges the builder a reasonable fee.

Connecting industries

But extending producer responsibility in a sustainable way comes with a few challenges.

Everyone in the supply chain should be included: those who produce and supply materials, those involved in construction and demolition, and those who recover, recycle and dispose of waste.

The goal of our work is to connect organisations and industries across the country so waste can be traded instead of sent to landfill.




Read more:
The 20th century saw a 23-fold increase in natural resources used for building


But the lack of an efficient supply chain system can discourage stakeholders from taking part in such schemes. An inefficient supply chain increases the costs associated with labour and admin staff at construction sites, transport, storage, separation of waste and insurance premiums.

All of these are not only seen as a financial burden but also add complexities to an already complicated system.

Australia needs a system with a balanced involvement of producers, consumers and delivery services to extend producer responsibility.

How can research and development help?

In our research, we’re seeking to develop a national economic approach to deal with the barriers preventing the effective management of construction and demolition waste in Australia, such as implementing an extended producer responsibility.

And a project aimed to find ways to integrate supply chain systems in the construction and demolition waste and resource recovery industry is supporting our efforts.

The goal is to ensure well-established connections between all parts in the construction supply chain. A more seamless system will boost markets for these materials, making waste recovery more economically viable. And that in turn will benefit society, economy and the environment.The Conversation

Salman Shooshtarian, Research Fellow, RMIT University; Malik Khalfan, Associate Professor, Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University; Peter S.P. Wong, Associate Professor and Associate Dean, School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University; Rebecca Yang, Senior Lecturer, Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University, and Tayyab Maqsood, Associate Professor in Project Management, RMIT University

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

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



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Almost all native forest logging in Victoria is for woodchips, pulp and pallets, which have short lifespans before going to landfill.
Janelle Lugge/Shutterstock

Chris Taylor, Australian National University and David Lindenmayer, Australian National University

Victoria has some of the most carbon-dense native forests in the world. Advocates for logging these forests often argue that wood products in buildings and furniture become long-term storage for carbon.

However, these claims are misleading. Most native trees cut down in Victoria become woodchips, pulp and pallets, which have short lifespans before going to landfill. In landfill, the wood breaks down and releases carbon back into the atmosphere.

On the other hand, our evolving carbon market means Australia’s native forests are extremely valuable as long-term carbon stores. It’s time to recognise logging for short-lived wood products is a poor use of native forests.




Read more:
Logging must stop in Melbourne’s biggest water supply catchment


The problem with logging native forests

Victoria has about 7.6 million hectares of native forests. The most carbon-dense areas are in ash forests, consisting of mountain ash, alpine ash and shining gum trees.

These forests can store up to 1,140 tonnes of carbon per hectare for centuries.

Only 14% of logs cut from Victorian native forests end up as timber products used in buildings and furniture.
Shutterstock

But around 1.82 million hectares of Victorian native forests are allocated to the government’s logging business, VicForests.

VicForests claims logging is the only market for the large area of native forest allocated to it. In other words, its forests are exclusively valued as timber asset, in the same way a wheat crop would be exclusively valued for wheat grain production.

In Victorian native forests, industrial scale clearfell logging removes around 40% of the forest biomass for logs fit for sale.

The remaining 60% is debris, which is either burned off or decomposes – becoming a major source of greenhouse gas emission.




Read more:
Logging burns conceal industrial pollution in the name of ‘community safety’


Myth one: storing carbon in wood products

The first myth we want to address is logging native forests is beneficial because the carbon is stored in wood products. This argument depends on the proportion of forest biomass ending up in wood products, and how long they last before ending up in landfill.

On average, logs suitable to be sawn into timber make up only an average 35% of total logs cut from Victorian native forests.

Of this 35%, sawmills convert less than 40% into sawn timber for building and furniture. Offcuts are woodchipped and pulped for paper manufacturing, along with sawdust sold to chicken broiler sheds for bedding.

Sawn timber equates to 14% of log volume cut from the forest. The remaining 84% of logs cut are used in short-lived and often disposable products like copy paper and pallets.




Read more:
Forest soil needs decades or centuries to recover from fires and logging


The lifespan of paper products is assumed to be three years. Although around 75% of paper and cardboard is recovered, recycling is growing more uncertain with recovered paper being sent to landfill.

The maximum lifespan of a timber pallet is seven years. At the end of their service, timber pallets are sent to landfill, chipped for particleboard, reused for landscape mulch or burnt for energy generation.

Longer-lived wood products, such as the small proportion of native timber used in building and furniture, have a lifespan of around 90 years. These wood products are used to justify logging native forests.

But at the end of their service life, the majority of these wood products also end up in landfill.

In fact, for the 500,000 tonnes of wood waste generated annually from building, demolition and other related commercial processes in Victoria, over two thirds end up in landfill, according to a Sustainability Victoria report.

Myth two: the need to log South East Asian rainforests

A second myth is using logs from Victorian native forests will prevent logging and degradation of rainforests across South East Asia, particularly for paper production.

This is patently absurd. The wood from the Victorian plantation sector – essentially timber farms, rather than trees growing “wild” in native forests – could replace native forest logs used for paper manufacturing in Victoria several times over.

In fact, in 2016-17 89% of logs used to make wood pulp (pulplogs) for paper production in Victoria came from plantation trees, with the majority of hardwood logs exported.

And Australia is a net exporter by volume of lower-value unprocessed logs and woodchips.




Read more:
Native forests can help hit emissions targets – if we leave them alone


Processing pulplogs from well managed plantations in Victoria instead of exporting them would give a much needed jobs boost for local economies.

With most of these plantations established on previously cleared farmland, they offer one of the most robust ways for the land use sector to off-set greenhouse gas emissions.

Next steps

The time is right for Australian governments to develop a long-term carbon storage plan that includes intact native forests.

Logging results in at least 94% of a forest’s stored carbon ending up in the atmosphere. A maximum of 6% of its carbon remains in sawn timber, for up to 90 years (but typically much shorter). This is patently counterproductive from a carbon-storage point of view.




Read more:
Native forest protections are deeply flawed, yet may be in place for another 20 years


State-owned forest management companies, such as VicForests, can transition away from the timber business and begin managing forests for carbon storage. Such a concept is not new – the federal government has already approved a way to value the carbon storage of plantations.

The same must now be developed to better protect native forests and the large amounts of carbon they can store.The Conversation

Chris Taylor, Research Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University and David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

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

Capturing the true wealth of Australia’s waste



File 20170823 13308 ce4edu
Methane is produced in landfill when organic waste decomposes.
Shutterstock

William Clarke, The University of Queensland and Bernadette McCabe, University of Southern Queensland

One of the byproducts of landfill is “landfill gas”, a mixture of mostly methane and carbon dioxide generated by decomposing organic material. Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, but it can be captured from landfill and used to generate clean electricity.

Methane capture is a valuable source of power but, more importantly, it can significantly reduce Australia’s methane emissions. However the opportunity to produce energy from waste is largely being squandered, as up to 80% of the potential methane in waste is not used.

If more councils were prepared to invest in better facilities, Australians would benefit from less waste in landfill and more energy in our grids. Even the by-product from using state-of-art processing methods can be used as a bio-fertiliser.


Read more: Explainer: how much landfill does Australia have?


And while these facilities are initially more expensive, Australians are generally very willing to recycle, compost and take advantage of community schemes to reduce waste. It’s reasonable to assume that a considerable percentage of our population would support updating landfill plants to reduce methane emissions.

Recycling in Australia

Australia may have a bad rap when it comes to waste recycling, but there are plenty of positives.

Australians produce approximately 600 kilograms of domestic waste per person, per year – no more than most northern European countries, which set the benchmark in sustainable waste management.

Looking at kerbside bins we, on average, recycle 30-35% of that waste, saving much of our paper, glass, aluminium and steel from landfill (which also saves and reduces emissions).

Although the household recycling rate in Australia is less than the best-performing EU recycling rates of 40-45%, this is primarily due to a lack of access to (or awareness of) schemes to recycle e-waste and metals. Data therefore suggests that at the community level, there is a willingness to minimise and recycle waste.


Read more:

Australia is still miles behind in recycling electronic products

Campaigns urging us to ‘care more’ about food waste miss the point


Between 55% and 60% of kerbside waste sent to landfill in Australia is organic material. Over 65% of this organic fraction is food waste, similar to the make-up of the EU organic waste stream, comprised of 68% of food waste.

Despite this large fraction, approximately half of the household organic we produce – mostly garden waste – is separately collected and disposed, again demonstrating high participation by the community in recycling when collection and disposal options are available.

Turning waste into energy

Energy recovery from waste is the conversion of non-recyclable material into useable heat, electricity, or fuel. Solid inorganic waste can be converted to energy by combustion, but organic waste like kitchen and and garden refuse has too much moisture to be treated this way.


Read more: Explainer: why we should be turning waste into fuel


Instead, when organic waste is sent to landfill it is broken down naturally by microorganisms. This process releases methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Around 130 landfills in Australia are capturing methane and using it to generate electricity. Based on installed power generation capacity and the amount of waste received, Australia’s largest landfills use 20-30% of the potential methane in waste for electricity generation.

Ravenhall in Melbourne processes 1.4 million tonnes of waste per year, and proposes to generate 8.8 megawatts (MW) of electricity by 2020. Roughly 461,000 tonnes of waste goes to Woodlawn in NSW, and in 2011 it generated 4MW of electrical power. Swanbank in Queensland receives 500,000 tonnes a year and generates 1.1MW.

The remainder of the methane is flared due to poor gas quality or insufficient transmission infrastructure, is oxidised as it migrates towards the surface of the landfill, or simply escapes. The methane generating capacity of waste is also diminished because organics begin composting as soon as they reach landfill.

But there are more efficient ways to capture methane using specialised anaerobic digestion tanks. The process is simple: an anaerobic (oxygen free) tank is filled with organic waste, which is broken down by bacteria to produce biogas. This is similar to the natural process that occurs in landfill, but is much more controlled and efficient in a tank.


Read more: Biogas: smells like a solution to our energy and waste problems


The biogas can be combusted to produce electricity and heat, or can be converted to pure biomethane to be used either in the mains gas grid, or as a renewable transport fuel. In contrast to landfills, 60-80% of the methane potential of waste is used to generate electricity in anaerobic digesters, with most of the remainder used to power waste handling and the digestion process.

The nutrient-rich sludge that remains after anaerobic digestion, called digestate, is also a valuable biofertiliser. It can support food production, and further reduce greenhouse gases by decreasing our reliance on energy-intensive manufactured fertilisers.

The use of food waste as a feedstock for anaerobic digestion is largely untapped in Australia but has huge potential. A site in Sydney’s geographic centre (Earth Power Technologies) and Richgro’s Jandakot facility near Perth are part of a handful that are converting food waste to energy using this technology.

The future of organic recycling

Local council recycling and waste infrastructure is typically not a priority election issue, except for those close to existing or proposed landfills.


Read more: Australian recycling plants have no incentive to improve


Ratepayers are generally not informed of the possibility of separately collecting food waste, either for industrial-scale composting or methane capture. We have the right to this information, with costs and benefits presented in the context of the costs we already pay for waste management, and relative to the environmental performance of landfill.

As an example, landfill operators often promote the number of homes they power by electricity generated from methane as a key measure of sustainability. But how does this compare to the electricity and heat that might be obtained from an anaerobic digester that processes the same waste?

The ConversationGiven the choice, the Australian community may have an appetite to extend organic recycling beyond well-established garden waste composting. They only have to be asked.

William Clarke, Professor of waste management, The University of Queensland and Bernadette McCabe, Associate Professor and Principal Scientist, University of Southern Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: how much landfill does Australia have?



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A compactor at work on Australian landfill.
via Wikimedia commons

Bernadette McCabe, University of Southern Queensland and William Clarke, The University of Queensland

Since Australia stopped incinerating rubbish in the middle of the 20th century, most of our solid waste has ended up in landfill. Some 20 million tonnes of garbage each year makes its way to hundreds of landfill sites, mostly clustered around our capital cities. This represents about 40% of total waste generation in Australia.

Surprisingly, we don’t know exactly how many landfills exist, where they all are, or how large they are. However, government data suggest that there are around 600 officially registered sites, and perhaps as many as 2,000 unregulated ones, most of them small.

Since the 1990s, the number of landfills in Australia has fallen but the average size has grown. These large sites are increasingly sophisticated and generally run by large private companies. Around 75% of landfilled waste in Australia goes to 38 sites.

What’s in landfill?

Waste in landfills falls into three major categories: household rubbish, commercial and industrial waste, and construction and demolition waste.

The average domestic bin contains 60% organic material, with the bulk coming from food (40%) and garden waste (20%). This is a primary source of landfill gas, mainly methane, which is produced when organic waste decomposes. The methane is collected and combusted using a flare or an electricity generation system. Flaring of landfill gas converts the methane to carbon dioxide, which has a significantly lower global warming potential than methane.

Of course, it’s better to reduce landfill gas in the first place. New technologies in composting and anaerobic digestion can help divert organics from landfill.

In 2013-14, the commercial sector generated 17 million tonnes of waste, representing just under a third of all waste in Australia. Around 7 million tonnes ended up in landfill. The major trends in commercial waste treatment include sourcing separated food and organics collection, and alternative waste treatment as levies and grants increase.

When water passes through toxic or hazardous waste it picks up contaminants and becomes leachate, which can contaminate the surrounding land and water.

Around 40% of Australia’s waste, or some 19 million tonnes a year, comes from construction and demolition. This typically includes timber, concrete, plastics, wood, metals, cardboard, asphalt and mixed site debris such as soil and rocks. However, only 8.5 million tonnes ended up in landfill, as levies in most states make it cheaper to recycle this material.

About 10.5 million tonnes, or 55%, was recovered and recycled in 2008-09 with recovery rates of greater than 75% being achieved by best performing jurisdictions.

How many landfills are in Australia, and where?

We calculate the number of landfills in Australia by looking at national databases like the National Pollution Inventory or the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme. However, while all operating landfills are licensed by their local councils, many regional sites fall below the size threshold where they’re required to report to these programs, or apply for environmental licenses. Therefore, we can’t say exactly how many landfills are in Australia – although someone could find out by calling every local council in the country.

The map below, from the National Waste Management Facilities Database, shows all known waste management, recycling and reprocessing facilities in Australia.

The National Waste Management Database. Click to see larger image.

Queensland reports the most sites, followed by New South Wales and Western Australia. Since lifting dumping levies, media reports estimate that 10% of Queensland’s landfill comes from interstate.

Victoria and Tasmania have a high proportion of large-to-medium sites, while NSW has the most large sites, matching its relatively large population. Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia have relatively high numbers of small sites, reflecting their highly dispersed populations.

The Northern Territory, the only other jurisdiction to not have a landfill levy, generates just 1% of Australia’s waste.

Reported numbers of Australian landfills by jurisdiction.
Analysis of landfill survey data 2013 © WMAA and Blue Environment

Most of Australia’s waste goes to a small number of large sites. However, the majority of Australia’s landfills are small, receiving less than 20,000 tonnes of waste per year. The lack of precise national data on these sites is a real problem, as small, unlined landfills can still have major localised impact.

Reported tonnes of waste deposited by landfill size class and jurisdiction.
Analysis of landfill survey data 2013 © WMAA and Blue Environment

Who’s in charge?

Local councils are responsible for landfills in their areas, but the largest sites in Australia are run by private companies. In jurisdictions with small populations, like Tasmania and the Northern Territory, no private companies operate.

The Woodlawn landfill, 240km southwest of Sydney, gets more waste than any other landfill in Australia.

The Rochedale landfill, 18km south east of Brisbane, was in the countryside when established in the early 1990s. Now surrounded by suburban houses, it highlights the importance of appropriate planning and management of these sites. This is why Adelaide’s largest landfill is located 90km north of the city.

The variety of jurisdictions and operators involved, and their different sizes, suggests that landfills are not consistently managed.

The National Resource Recovery targets encourage private operators to reclaim and divert some of the waste going to landfill. The diversion targets vary from state to state. South Australia and the ACT have the most ambitious targets and are most advanced in meeting them. Queensland, on the other hand, is the furthest from their targets – this is likely to be a consequence of not having a landfill levy.

National Resource Recovery Targets. MSW represents household waste, C&I represents commercial waste and C&D represents construction and demolition waste. Since 2014, Victoria has aimed to maximise diversion without a headline target.
MRA Consulting Group, October 2015

Landfills, however, can offer an average 50% methane gas capture during its life. The solid waste in landfills can also be an energy resource in its own right, though this has largely been untapped.

The future of landfills and resource recovery

So what lies ahead? Landfills will remain an integral part of the Australian waste cycle into the foreseeable future. Well managed, best practice landfills provide safe disposal of residual waste and the potential for resource recovery.

We have observed an increase in investment in resource recovery infrastructure, which is possibly driven by rises in landfill levies. But more is needed: the 2016 Infrastructure Australia report did not mention waste or recycling.

The ConversationIn order to provide key integrated infrastructure, governments need to recognise that waste (and its proper management) delivers essential services like electricity or water.

Bernadette McCabe, Associate Professor and Principal Scientist, University of Southern Queensland and William Clarke, Professor of waste management, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.