Examination of the modern Australian lifestyle reveals very few activities which do not result in the generation of waste (ABS 2010b, 2013).
In the 10 years between 1997 and 2007, Australians doubled the amount of waste sent to landfill (Hyder Consulting 2009), and by 2010 the annual production of waste for the country was 53.7 million tonnes (ABS 2013). Driven by a variety of economic and demographic factors, the total volume of waste generated in Australia each year has been growing faster than the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and is estimated to be over 81 million tonnes in the year 2020-21 (Hyder Consulting 2009). As a country, Australians currently rank second (to the United States) world-wide as the highest producers of waste per capita in the world (Hyder Consulting 2009).
Coupled with a growing population, the issue of waste has become an increasingly costly social, environmental and health issue for the Australian authorities who hold the responsibility for its disposal (ABS 2010a). The recycling industry in Australia generates more jobs per tonne of waste than per tonne sent to landfill and as such, waste is now an economic opportunity, not just an environmental problem (Brulliard et. al. 2012).
However, with regard to dealing with waste in a sustainable manner (ie, the implementation of recycling and reclamation practices) regional areas are often impacted by a range of factors not present in metropolitan areas. This may include, but is not limited to, low population bases scattered across large geographic areas, low waste and recycling volumes, remote locations, transport limitations and high transport costs due to distance, limited resources and capacity to develop and expand waste management and resource recovery initiatives.
The term ‘waste’ covers a broad spectrum of materials, however, the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (QDNRM 2009) defines waste as ‘materials surplus to, or left-over, or unwanted by-products from domestic, commercial, industrial and other activities’. This definition includes waste in all forms of gas, liquid, solids and energy. Waste can be categorised in many ways according to its source, and/or level of toxicity at disposal (Miller and Spoolman 2012). Generally however, it is divided into the following two major streams:
- solid waste stream comprised of –
- Municipal solid waste (MSW) – household and council waste,
- commercial and industrial waste (C & I) – waste from business and government, and
- construction and demolition waste (C & D) – waste from construction and demolition activity in the commercial sectors
- hazardous waste which is mostly sourced from the industrial sector and includes toxic waste and involves highly specialised disposal methods (SCEW 2010b).