For many years, Australia exported a large portion of recyclable material to China.
Items like cardboard and plastic bottles would be baled and shipped – but bales usually contained “contaminants”, that is, items like plastic bags and pieces of packaging like labels or lids that are made of different materials, plus other general rubbish.
At the beginning of 2018, China changed its policy to reduce the acceptable contamination levels to a maximum of 0.5%. This all but halted global imports, allowing China to focus on its own waste issues.
Australia’s reliance on the Chinese market has meant our domestic market for these materials has not been developed, nor much of our recycling infrastructure upgraded.
The Chinese restrictions impact
526 thousand tonnes
of Australia’s kerbside recyclables which comprises:
of paper & cardboard collected from
Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, Market Impact Assessment Report Chinese
Import Restrictions for Packaging In Australia, March 2018
The restrictions affect another 722 thousand tonnes of Australia’s commercial and industrial, and construction and demolition waste streams.(1)
The 1,248 thousand tonnes previously exported to China makes up about 3% of Australia’s total materials recycled (35 million tonnes).(2)
(1) Blue Environment, Data on exports of recyclables from Australia to China – Version 2, May 2018
(2) Blue Environment, AustralianNational Waste Report 2016
There is an oversupply of recyclable waste on the global market meaning commodity prices for materials like mixed plastic and paper have crashed. Local councils have gone from receiving revenue for recycling to paying a price.
Not Willing at All
Other countries in Asia have absorbed some of the volume that was going to China but there
are fears that those countries will also introduce their own waste ‘bans’. A proportion is being
stockpiled in Australia whilst new markets are found. Unfortunately, a proportion may end up
China’s new waste policy is both a challenge AND an opportunity to reboot Australian recycling and manufacturing and promote a circular economy.
Check out Opportunities of a circular economy.
What happens to the recyclables put in kerbside bins
General recycling enquiries
COUNCILS ALSO SAW THE BIGGEST DEMAND FOR WASTE SERVICES IN THESE AREAS:
Planet Ark commissioned research by Pollinate for National Recycling Week 2018
Planet Ark Council Survey for National Recycling Week 2018
NB: Councils provided their top three answers so percentages above won’t add up to 100%