Recycling in Australia Sucks

Recycling in Australia Sucks

May 23, 2023Jonathan Englert

Recycling in Australia sucks.

That’s no exaggeration – less than 10% (just 9.4%) of plastics are recycled, and of that frighteningly-low amount, over half is sent overseas for reprocessing. Shipping waste out to be recycled has a carbon impact of its own. 

The reality is – as the WWF notes – that we’ve yet to develop the capacity for recycling at scale in Australia. What’s more, for years now we’ve known that many city councils have been simply sending recyclable collections straight to landfill. We just don’t have the capacity to do anything else about it.

And that’s just plastics recycling. When it comes to things that aren’t as easily recycled – technology equipment e-waste, aerosol cans, batteries, gas bottles and the like – things get even worse.

So, yes, recycling in Australia sucks, and that’s why we all need to do something about this ourselves. At least until governments and city councils can get on top of the problem. 

Thankfully, there’s actually a lot that can be done, and it will have an immediate impact.

      1. Use your local community recycling centres

Across most parts of Australia, there are community recycling centres, where you can bring those more problematic batteries, metals and aerosol cans to dispose of them safely. These will then be recycled carefully and without impact on the environment, which is a far better alternative to having them wind up in landfill. 

      2. Take advantage of direct-to-manufacturer recycling

Technology and white goods companies are especially good at this. You could toss a broken phone into the trash, but a far better option would be to contact the manufacturer and find out what e-recycling programme they have available. Rather than leave the broken fridge on the curb for pickup, most white goods manufacturers offer the ability to pick up and recycle old machines when delivering new ones. 

      3. Take up composting

If you’ve got a garden, composting is a vastly superior alternative to fertiliser. Pick yourself up a simple composting bin, and research how to use it for organic waste. Organic waste that ends up in landfill has a massive impact on carbon emissions. Organic waste that ends up in your garden produces beautiful trees and flowers. 

      4. Repurpose and recycle at home

Cut-off plastic bottles make an excellent planter for the herb garden. Broken plates can become a new hobby – just look at Japanese kintsugi. It’s not that hard to learn the basics of this, and you can fill your home with distinctive plates, bowls and pieces of art. 

And, if you can’t recycle something yourself, see if there’s anyone in your community that can make use of it. Local Facebook groups and other community organisations can be a great way to offload unwanted or damaged items that would otherwise go to landfill.

      5. Reduce the amount of waste you produce

We all produce more waste than we probably need to. There’s an incredible story of a couple in the UK that went 14 months without needing to put their waste bin out, they were that good at their personal waste management.

It might not be possible to get quite to that point, but if you sit back and actually consider how much waste you bring into the house, there is a lot that can be done. Swapping out the garbage backs and packaging from the supermarket for fresh produce delivered (in a fully recyclable box) from Good and Fugly means no waste generated at all, for example.


Finally, keep putting the pressure on! Let your state and federal MPs know that you’re aware of the recycling crisis we have in this country. Participate in local council meetings. Too often the pressing need for better recycling is lost among the other conversations on sustainability, and it’s important to get it back on the agenda. 

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