The report provides national, state and territory data on waste quantities, sources, and management for 2014-15. In addition, it presents the most reliable trend data on waste quantities that has been compiled in Australia, extending back to 2006-07. It also includes international comparisons, an account of current and emerging waste issues, and contributions from key industry associations the Waste Management Association of Australia, the Australian Landfill Owners Association, the Australian Council of Recycling, and the Australian Organics Recycling Association.
The data was mostly supplied by the states and territories with additional input from industry and national government sources. States and territories entered their data into a custom Excel workbook using an agreed framework that transparently converts and supplements their data to a nationally consistent presentation. A similar compilation method was applied to data from five other financial years to generate the trend. The 2014-15 workbook, including the trend data, was released simultaneously with the National Waste Report 2016 and is available at the same web address.
The report and workbook were prepared by Blue Environment and Randell Environmental Consulting under contract to the Department of the Environment and Energy.
Total waste quantities
In 2014-15, Australia produced about 64 million tonnes of waste, the equivalent of 2.7 tonnes per capita. The proportion recycled was 58%. Excluding fly ash, the total was about 53 million tonnes, or 2.2 tonnes per capita, with 61% recycled (Figure 1).
The figures for energy recovery are higher than those reported by the states and territories because the Australian government method considers the production of energy from landfill gas a type of recovery. The estimated quantities of waste that generated this energy are included under ‘energy recovery’, rather than disposal.
Figure 2 presents national quantity trends between 2006-07 and 2014-15, the upper chart including fly ash and the lower excluding it. In both figures, the overall quantity of waste increased and there is a trend towards more recycling and more energy recovery. However, energy recovery declined in the last year of the series due to a fall in the quantity of landfill gas collected. Including fly ash, the annual quantity of waste per capita declined slightly but excluding fly ash, waste per capita increased by an average of 0.8% per year.
The rates of increase shown differ significantly from some previous analyses. The ABS 2016 Australian Environmental-Economic Accounts estimate that waste quantities increased by an average of 7.7% per year between 1996-97 and 2013-14. We understand this estimate relied on sectoral estimates of ‘waste intensity’ per unit value added. The data in the National Waste Report 2016 covers a shorter period but is collected directly and is likely to be more accurate.
Waste quantities by source stream
Figure 3 shows that in 2014-15 Australia produced the equivalent of 565kg per capita of municipal waste, 831kg of construction and demolition waste, 459kg of fly ash, and 849kg of other commercial and industrial waste. The recovered proportion was more than half for MSW and almost two-thirds for C&D and C&I waste (excluding fly ash).
Figure 4 shows the trends in waste generation and fate by source stream. Generation of MSW changed little over the nine years despite increasing population. Generation of C&I and C&D waste increased on a total and per capita basis. The recovery rate rose across all three streams, albeit only marginally for C&D waste. The fall in MSW per capita is linked to a decline in use of glass packaging, lighter plastic packaging and falling newspaper circulations.
Waste quantities by material
Figure 5 shows waste generation and fate by material in 2014-15. Masonry material, organic wastes and fly ash were the largest waste streams, representing nearly two thirds of waste generated. The highest recovery rates were of metals, masonry materials and paper and cardboard. The lowest rates were for plastics, ‘other’ and fly ash. Trend analysis presented in the National Waste Report 2016 shows that some significant material streams – paper and cardboard, glass and fly ash – are declining. Waste metals, organics and plastics also appear to be reducing, at least on a per capita basis. Masonry materials from demolitions, on the other hand, are increasing.
Establishing the national waste data system
A robust system for collating waste data nationally has been sought since the 1990s. Various ‘one-off’ national collations were produced during the 2000s, but coverage and their compilation methods were not wholly consistent. In 2010, the Department of the Environment and Energy established a framework compilation method in consultation with the states and territories. This was transparently applied to generate the data for the original National Waste Report 2013, based on 2010-11 data. Afterwards, to improve transparency and consistency, the Department developed the workbook used for this new iteration of the report. This workbook was also applied to previous data sets back to 2006-07, again with the cooperation of the states and territories. As a result, for the first time, Australia now has:
- an agreed compilation method for national waste data that can readily be reused;
- a reasonable waste data trend extending back nine years; and
- the ability to maintain the data trend should methods or assumptions need to change in future.
Dr Joe Pickin is a director of the consultancy company Blue Environment. He co-authored and was primary data analyst for the National Waste Report 2016. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 0403 562 621.
This article was originally published in the August issue of Inside Waste and the National Waste Report 2016, which can be found here, was released on August 11.