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RECYCLING : is it a farce in Australia?


Not quite the full picture. As outlined above, poor quality (contaminated) recovered recycled materials have no current market which is main problem. If the recyclables were uncontaminated, they are of high value and desirable by industry. If they are contaminated, they have a negative value as no one wants them. Those who use recycling bin inappropriately cause the contamination.

The community as a whole is to blame for the quality of the recyclables the waste stream produces. If ‘we’ were concerned about future generations, recycling would be done properly. It appears that many Australian’s don’t care about recycling, and their actions impacts those who try and do the right thing and the ability for creation of a valuable recovered product.

Edit. If the third photograph is SKM materials, Victorians have a long way to go to clean up their recycling practices. These bales appear to be highly contaminated with mixed hard and soft plastics…which currently has a negative market value. These types of bales are some of thoses rejected recently by other countries.

While I have been critical of how the container deposit schemes have been rolled out in Queensland and NSW, one advantage of these schemes is they can produce a high value, uncontaminated (providing lidsnare removed) recovered product which has a high value within the market.


Again; we are the market. Markets consist of both supply and demand. If there’s too little demand for what we supply, then we are responsible. One way or another, we pay the price for what we supply.


Yes it does, but when there is a supply but no demand, there is no market. Therefore there can’t be a market failure, the only failure is there is no market.

The only real current option for contaminated mixed plastics and papers/card , other than cleaning up the stream to ensure isn’t contaminated, (noting that contaminated streams have no market in Australia) is for the regulatory hurdles at all levels of government and community barriers to be overcome to allow waste to energy facilities to recover the calorific value of the plastics/paper (burn to generate heat and produce electricity). If such was allowed in Australia, the value of fhe materials would still be negative, but nearer to zero. The diversion to waste to energy would however be cheaper than landfilling. This would create a local market of such materials which currently does jot exist.


In a way, you have a point. Market Capitalism got us into this mess, so it isn’t likely to be part of the solution.

The way I see it, we have a job that needs doing (protecting the environment from our waste) and high underemployment. One might prove part of the solution to the other, but the private sector hasn’t put them together. Market Capitalism has failed, so we need to look elsewhere for solutions.

Similar to calls for declaration of a climate emergency and going on a war footing, the waste issue seems to be beyond economics. In war, we account for resources: do we have enough steel, rubber, fuel, etc. After the last battle, we might look at money issues. Or we might decide that money isn’t so important after all.


No not market capitalism. Hope is what caused the current problems.

There was hope that the contaminated recovered materials from collected recycled streams would have a market. There was hope that the contaminated streams could be sent overseas so that cheap labour could ‘reverse’ the poor behaviour of recyclers in Australia. There was hope that if the contaminated recovered materials were collected and stockpiled, that some how miraculously a new market for the material would appear which could handle and process the materials. There was hope that the contamination problem would go away.

Unfortunately hope doesn’t solve problems, action does. If the recovered material stream could not be cleaned up (such that it couldn’t wouldn’t be contaminated at the source), then real questions should have been aked why the community was paying for its collection when no market existed.

This false hope results in solutions which no one wishes to deal with.


I’d put it down to faith. Faith that market mechanisms will solve all problems.

The mere fact that there is no demand for what the market (the market being us) has produced is market failure. The mere fact that the product (contaminated waste) exists is market failure.

I’d say the most pertinent question is why the waste (contaminated or otherwise) was produced in the first place. I believe you’ll find that the answer involves markets.

Which might be significant if the focus is money.

Does burning do that job better than landfill? Is there a more effective solution?


The market is both the supplier and the consumer. One does not exist without the other. If the supplier produces a good that is not recyclable and the consumer uses it both have a responsibility for the fact it isn’t recyclable. If a supplier provides goods that are recyclable and we fail to recycle the onus sits with the consumer UNLESS there is no means or the industry needed to recycle.

Some of the reason we have failed in our recycling is that we are not properly educated on how to recycle. Japan seems to have a great system, it involves the community being responsible about knowing what to put where. How did Japan get there, by educating the community.

The other reason is that many suppliers now provide goods in throw away but not necessarily recyclable packaging and content and an over abundance of the packaging. Who has opened a new box of as an example a TV, how many pieces including the remote are wrapped in plastic film, polystyrene, polypropylene fabric sheets on the screen, then cardboard, then more plastic tape, staples, glue. While some is necessary, a lot of overuse is certainly occurring.

When it comes to disposing of the old TV, how much is recovered? My guess would be very little, all that heavy metal, plastics not fit for recycle purposes, glass…all that is just smashed, burned and/or buried. While we treat things as infinite in supply the need to reduce, reuse and recycle is not an imperative. We need to understand it is a finite supply and some of it comes already with a cost to the World that in itself is not sustainable to our life or our environment.


No it isn’t market failure. If the material was uncontaminated, there would be a market for each of the varying plastic types and paper product streams. A market failure did not cause the contamination. A market failure did not cause Australians to contaminate the recycled material stream. A market failure did not create an environment where contaminated materials have no value as they have no post collection use.

The failure has been the behaviour of Australian who chose, either knowingly or unknowingly, to cause the contamination of the recycled material stream.

If this behaviour/failure can be overcome (which the industry and government has spent significant amounts of money on over the past few decades to try an rectify…while the problem only has become worse), then there would be a market for the individual recycled material streams which currently are contaminate.

Blaming the market, industry, local government, state government etc is not correct. The weakest link in existing recycling programs is those who use domestic and public (e.g. public places, shopping centres, events etc) recycling bins.

Technically yes. The decomposition of carbon based compounds in an anaerobic landfill produces methane which in the short term, contributes to global warming. Methane eCO2 is about 23 times that of CO2. Burning in theory produces one unit of eCO2, water, CO, ash etc (and other potentially toxic pollutants if not done at very high temperatures). Landfill methane would produce about 22 more units of eCO2.

Burning waste such as those created from fossil fuels is also not renewable, it just defers the combustion of the material with an alternative interim use (plastic packing for example).

This is 100% correct. I use the Japanese example in my lectures and discuss the drivers which makes Japan different to Australia. While the Japanese system is not perfect (namely, they have problems with a mixed colour glass stream), their drivers are different.

Japan has limited land and disposal is not an effective solution. In Australia, historically we have a lot of land and disposal has been the cheapest option. Up until quite recently, domestically have a culture of everything goes into a bin (with exception of some minor paper collection and recycling). We also don’t want to be responsible for our waste.

We have been educated that recycling is good and we feel that we should be recycling everything, even if the material can’t be recycled. So Australian’s place a lot of non-recyclable materials in the hope (another hope from above) that it can be recycled, as putting the non-recycled materials in the bin makes them feel good.

Other problems include local collection systems have discouraged waste disposal, either through higher waste disposal charges or reducing ability to dispose of waste (such as making waste bins smaller).

This pushes some individuals to place on-recyclables into their recycling bins when the waste bins become full.

In some places in Japan, extreme recycling is carried out (I recall mentioning it another post in this forum). The recycling is extreme as every recycling stream is recycled separately at a local facility…that being there are collection bins for each stream which locals use to place recyclable materials at the facility. There are consequences (and shaming) of those who don’t follow this extreme scheme or contaminate one of the collection bins. Such systems have proven only to work in small communities where there is general good will and a close by local facility.

It is a tragedy in Australian that perfectly good and recyclable materials have been contaminated by bad behaviour of some individuals. This diminishes the whole if the recycling schemes/programs and results in the hard efforts of those doing the right thing, being wasted.

Yes, the more complex the item, the higher the cost to recover valuable materials. The cost of recovered materials very much exceeds the cost of using virgin materials…which means that the products often are not recycked but end up in landfill.

The problem is exacerbated by consumers desire to keep up with the latest technologies, where often a technology becomes redundant to a consumer before its end of life. This then creates multiplying waste factors…perfectly good products being sidelined (and human nature means often stored in homes as most are reluctant to get rid of something that still works) and replaced by new products. Such practices have been discussed in many threads including recently changes in TV broadcast signals which has made some functionality of older new generation TV components redundant.

As there is acceleration of technological development through AI, driverless cars etc etc, the opportunity for waste generation increases as consumers stop using one technology in preference to using a new one. Such technologies also create more and more complex products which are more challenging to recover materials from.

Such aspects are not discussed for new technologies, the impact on ecological systems through winning and processing of specialist materials in more and more sensitive areas, as a result of technological advancement. Currently advancement seems to override any ethical or environmental consequences of such decisions.

We seem to fail to realise that we have a small planet with limited/finite resources and there are direct and indirect consequences of every decision made.


Is it really a consumer desire to keep up with the latest technologies?

Or is the technological change thrust upon us?

I don’t recollect consumers clamouring for digital TV, or for Quad HD screens and 7 channel surrounded sound. Most of us had no idea they even existed until they appeared in a store or add somewhere.

It might be naive then, to blame consumers thinking they endlessly pressure manufacturers to better today’s product because they are so woefully inadequate at performing the task of the day. Boiling water, toasting bread, heating a saucepan, stopping food burning, and do it goes on. How did anyone survive the 50’s or 60’s or even last year without a $5,000 automated coffee maker and $2,000 Thermomix?

It is the manufacturers who make the calls. Totally!

99.9% of us do quite well with what we have had for some number of years, in general the newer tech adds little of value to survival. It simply sucks wealth out of the consumer for no other purpose than to increase the wealth of the large manufacturers. (Cynicism or fact, your choice.)

There are many tricks to ensure the turnover/churn accelerates. From marketing garbage that best equates to ‘on trend’ playing on the need for fulfilment and acceptance, to ensuring products are produced with a finite non repairable design life.

For a better future, I’ll happily separate our household recycling into 5,6 or 7 streams at home.

The biggest challenge then is the inability of our lame duck recycling system to pick up separate streams, or provide a convenient collection point. Preferably at the front of Woolies and Coles next to the trolley pick up.

Such a response simply needs governments at all levels to change how the system functions. Consumer education and market forces are no excuse for not changing the system.

P.s. some of us would be many hundreds of dollars better off if we had no recycle bins and could simply drop off our recycling at the door of the source of most of it!


Don’t take this as disagreement with what you have said as I do agree.

Consumers need educating on how to properly recycle goods so that waste material doesn’t get mixed together inappropriately. Sure Govt needs to change step but just changing step is not enough if you don’t get the populace to follow the change. If it’s not spelt out in a proper way some/a lot will think they are doing it right when in fact it is just contaminating the resultant streams.

What we get now in our particular City/Town is some stickers they put on a bin that is somehow meant to tell us what we put in there, this material put in the bin then goes to a recycle facility that I would guess has to dump most of it because of the wrong stuff contaminating it all. Break it down into this plastic goes here, this glass goes here, this metal goes here, this tech goes here. I agree have local hubs where it is easy to do the putting and separating…maybe even make it a get something back in return system eg like the cans and bottle return system, put the $s on every item rather than a select few…why aren’t milk or wine or beer bottles included now? Do we want to recycle plastic then recycle all plastic, want to recycle glass then recycle all glass, put a value on it to encourage the return and recycling. I know some items are hard to recycle…make it so they are worth recycling or returning to a facility.


Japan also has a radically different culture. That, I believe, is the fundamental difference. It’s probably why education has such limited success in Australia.

Which is our basic disagreement, I guess. To me, the market has failed repeatedly, for example:

  • the expectation of material of a quality that they aren’t going to get;
  • inadequate processes to deal with what they do get.

Let’s just say that, every assertion that you make in that paragraph, I disagree with. What you say is not market failure, I say is.

The supply is of a certain quality. The market failed to deal with that reality.

Which doesn’t cover plastics and the like. Compostable organics should be composted, not burnt.

Our problem seems to be that we live in a society that’s rapidly approaching Totalitarian Capitalism. Capitalism has only one measure of value - money.


The USA looks to robots to do the job that Americans won’t ( or shouldn’t ).


The previous comment I made also related to paper/card streams contaminated with a significant amount of non-paper/card materials. Such materials breakdown quickly in anerobic landfills to produce methane.

Thse other contaminated stream is mixed plastics. Plastics such as that used in single use drink bottles, which is a carbon compound, has been estimated to take up to or more than 700 years to decompose. There has been some research indicating that there is very slow microbial breakdown of such plastics…but there is more research required to determine the success of the breakdown pathway and also confirm time for decomposition. Over a 700 year period or more (I expect it to be more as most plastics are highly resilient to decomposition in an anerobic environment devoid of light), if the landfill remains anerobic, methane will be released as the carbon chains are broken down into simplier compounds. This process will be very slow compared to the rapid decomposition of putrescible materials in the general waste stream.

I have seen the contents of a couple of 40+ year closed landfills which contained plastics, and many of these plastics looked in a similar condition to that on their disposal.

I do disagree with the hypothesis that it is market failure.

If there is no local avenue for a contaminated product, this is not market failure but possibly…the failure of public or government policy. Such policies allow the collection of materials which are contaminated and have no value when collected and sorted. It is likely that government had good intentions at the rollout of local recycling schemes, thinking the materials would be clean and have a market.

I recall when younger that most houses had paper/card bins for collection with a separate geberal waste bin. These were dropped in favour of a split bin with one side paper, the other being other recyclables. The split bin was dropped when the collection trucks nor housholds were separating recyclables to prevent cross contamination. This contsmination was not only of the paper stream with soft plstics and other wastes (disposable nappies, food and vegetation wastes, etc), but also the mixed plastic streams.

Unfortunately the contaminated stream, as a result of the behaviour of many Australians, removed any opportunity to find a market for its reuse or recycling.

Government and industry have known for some time that this is the case but persisted with its collection and stockpiling. Some has been exported to Asian countries for hand sorting picking out some plastic types, but such avenues for contaminated materials are closing.

Why has government persisted with such policies…possibly hoping that the collection of such materials may result in a local recycling or reuse market being developed…which has proven not to occur. They may also have gained such impression from the waste industry.

Government, where such poor quality products exist, should have either given up on its collection or looked at the lowest accepted use on waste hierarchy for the material (waste to energy). The only state which has come close to a waste to energy plant is WA, which has government approvals but has also been fraught with obtaining financial backing…which I understand is close to be achieved. I am not aware they have approval to burn contaminated mixed plastic streams, but assume that it would be the case.

Maybe other states should also resist contrarian pressures and also allow the development of waste to energy facilities to process such materials. I personally would not like to live near one, but sometimes there is a necessary evil required to overcome another problem,

The problem won’t go away and a solution must be found if contaminated waste streams are collected at MURFs. Otherwise they will become landfill like that which is to occur in Victoria.

Landfilling such wastes also poses a reputation risk of the Victorian waste industry and could impact other valuable recyclable streams. It is possibke the community, when they know some of their ‘recyclables’ are landfilled, they may think why waste the effort in recycling when it makes no difference. This is why removing the stream may be better than continuing with its collection and then landfilling.


Robots replacing manual sorting…sounds great expect for the jobs they might replace. The article indicates that they sort at about twice the rate of a human worker manual sorting.

In Australia, it is mainly plastics which are manually sorted after paper and metals are removed. It is worth going to a MURF to see how the stream is sorted both manually and automatically by different techniques (such as screens, beds and polarisation of aluminium cans which kicks them out of a stream)

There has also been technologies talked about in the waste industry for some time such as light/laser/optical sorting of different glass and plastic types and alternative sorting techniques such as water baths and wind tunnels.

While these have initially been promoted as saviours to the industry…by improving the value of collected and sorted recyclables, they haven’t taken off. My understanding from contacts in the waste industry is while the technologies work well in a clean waste stream of materials to be sorted (i.e. near lab conditions), they tend to be less effective when dealing with contaminated materials and also very large continuous volumes of materials experienced in city MURFs.

Again, a key aspect seems to be contamination. It is something which needs to somehow be addressed if we wish to maximising our recycling potential. Alternatively, we could wait and hope that technologies are developed to allow the effective separation of contaminants from the stream.


Given the US record of waged slavery, probably a good outcome. Could Australia do better, given our high underemployment?

Paper and cardboard can be composted. Contaminants that haven’t broken down can then be separated out with a simple sieve.

I agree that government does need to strictly control the market and step in when markets fail. And yes, it is market failure, for which government must compensate.

Landfill is a poor solution; I’m not at all convinced that incineration isn’t worse, from an environmental perspective. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.


For plastic, there is some evidence indicating that more carbon dioxide is released through incineration than other plastic handling techniques, e.g. recycling or reuse (not rocket science). There are also some nasty byproducts of combustion should a high temperature not be achieved.

I also don’t agree that incineration is the perfect solution, but no solution is perfect and the impacts of each solution should be assessed in balance, when making decisions.

Plastic and paper/card has a calorific value which could be exploited rather than the material going to landfill. Not ideal, but possible. It is better than cutting down vegetation to burn…another complexity as most incinerators the primary feed stock is biomass.

In theory yes, in practice no.

It only works if the plastic components are greater than the particle sizing of the compost. In the waste stream, a lot of the contamination is from small plastics which go through trommel or vibrating screens with the compost/ decomposed product and end up in the final product. Plastic in a compost/soil/product kills off many customers due to the unsightly plastic contamination. Notwithstanding it adds plastic to the environment which has the potential to mobilise to areas where impacts are greater…namely rivers and oceans.


If anyone is interested, the Waste Management Resource Recovery Association of Australia (formerly WMAA) has a online magazine which includes the resource recovery/recycling sector. The magazine can be found here:

I have been receiving the hard copy of the magazine for about 15 years and find is a useful resource. It has articles on emerging issues and provides an industry perspective to challenges facing the industry as a whole.

split this topic #260

A post was merged into an existing topic: Fast Food Store Responsibility for scattered litter


As you said:

A sieve is only one potential separation mechanism. There are countless others.

The question then becomes one of whether adding solid polymers to soil and water is preferable to adding combustion products to the air.

“Could”, perhaps. “Should”? That’s an economic argument.
For generating power, we have far, far better options than burning stuff. We do need to find non-polluting ways to destroy petroleum-based plastics tough.


Monash Council in Victoria has announced a new recycling depot for plastics. Somerton factory is using wind energy!
Monash also has its own recycling depot in Notting Hill. Now there are moves to allow food wast to be collected that will be attached somehow to the green waste bin!!