The big fat recycling lie

THE public was told a big, fat lie about recycling and that should make us all cranky.

For more than a decade, we diligently separated our rubbish at home and work.

To start with, we had distinct compartments in our council-provided bins for paper products and other recyclables.

Then we were told we could lump the products deemed reusable all together in the bigger wheelie bin and they would be sorted later.

The message was about jobs creation, economic shifts and environmental good. It was all for the better, we were told.

We did as instructed and felt good that our weekly garbage pile reduced and our environmental impact shrank. Or so we thought.

It turns out it was rubbish.

What we weren't told was that this was a case of shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic. Australia was shipping the lion's share of its recyclable refuse offshore, making it China's problem and feeding Chinese industry.

Then China said no more, and we were faced with our own mountain of waste - reusable, but without sufficient industries to convert it into anything new.

What should have been being reused was reduced to rubbish again, but we blindly continued to think all was well until journalists dug around and revealed the truth.

It is simply not good enough and the governments that are meant to serve us let us down.

The plastic bag ban doesn’t go nearly far enough. (Pic: AAP)
The plastic bag ban doesn’t go nearly far enough. (Pic: AAP)

We must demand that they step up, and they have a lot of ground to regain.

The cold, hard truth is that while we are a nation of enthusiastic recyclers, our policy makers and legislators have let us lag when they should have been leading us with more than just lip service.

All along, they should have not just taken our recycling away. Where waste is concerned, there is no "away".

We are among the slowest in the world to see the reality of this.

This week a Senate inquiry report into our recycling crisis recommended that all single use plastics be banned nationally within five years. That includes takeaway containers, plastic-lined coffee cups and snack packets.

This makes a mockery of supermarket giants' hesitation to let us use our own reusable receptacles for our deli and meat purchases because of hygiene concerns. They do it in the UK and elsewhere.

Supermarkets need to be made to keep up with our environment's need and our desires in their practices, too.

Let us not forget that it is not goodwill that brought their bag ban about: the Queensland Government put the kybosh on them statewide from next week. Only NSW allows their use now.

The single use plastic bag ban in Queensland is currently patting itself so heartily on the back for what should be just the start.

The Senate inquiry report also recommends a national container deposit scheme be started pronto in a multipronged effort to stem the flow of recyclables being dumped by councils into landfill.

It is right in suggesting that while Australian governments seem to be obsessed with making us a part of a global market in every way, we desperately need a circular economy to be created in waste management - all materials used in Australia need to be recovered and reused here.

It just makes good sense.

Tony Khoury director at a recycling plant in Rydalmere, Sydney. Australia is facing a recycling crisis following restrictions placed on waste material exports to China in July last year. (Pic: James Croucher)
Tony Khoury director at a recycling plant in Rydalmere, Sydney. Australia is facing a recycling crisis following restrictions placed on waste material exports to China in July last year. (Pic: James Croucher)

For this to occur with the required speed, there must be more subsidies and greater incentives introduced - and fast.

It is not rocket science. It is not even radical: we will be playing catch-up with the rest of the developed world, and yet another area of environmental management we need change in.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy 2018 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard released this week ranks Australia 18th among the world's 25 largest energy users. We have slid two spots from two years ago.

Australia is behind many developing nations we sneer at on energy issues such as India, Indonesia and China.

Again, government inertia was partly fingered as the reason, and chief executive of Australia's Energy Efficiency Council Luke Menzel said this week clear guidance from government on efficiency measures was needed, with mandated requirements on consumer goods such as energy-efficient appliances and fuel-efficient cars constituting simple, solid steps in the right direction.

We want to do and be better on recyclables and energy efficiency and we must.

And we need rapid, real action instead of more talk.

Anything less would be a waste.

Dr Jane Fynes-Clinton is a journalist and University of the Sunshine Coast lecturer.



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