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1.3 Waste and recycling

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People and the Environment

1.3 Waste and recycling

Overall waste recycled in New South Wales climbed to 59% in 2008–09, an increase of 7% on 2006–07 levels. Recycling has improved in all regions of the state and for all three waste streams. Construction and demolition waste is close to achieving the 2014 target recycling rate of 76%.

Total waste disposed of in the Sydney Metropolitan Area and surrounding Extended Regulated Area fell 15% in the 12 years since 2000. This was driven by marked reductions in two waste streams – municipal waste and commercial and industrial waste – which fell 22% and 30%, respectively.

Several community programs have proved effective in tackling waste issues. The Household Chemical CleanOut program collected and safely treated almost one million kilograms of hazardous waste from householders in 2010–11, while the Western Sydney RID Squad, with the participation of seven local councils, investigated close to 5000 illegal dumping incidents and took follow-up action by issuing 93 clean-up notices and 733 penalty notices.

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NSW indicators

Indicator and status


Information availability

Total and per person solid waste disposal



Total and per person solid waste recycled



Notes: Terms and symbols used above are defined in About SoE 2012 at the front of the report.

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Waste is generally defined as any product or substance that has no further use and which is, or will be, discarded. It is what is thrown away because it is no longer needed or wanted and is a by-product of almost every human activity. Australia faces a significant challenge in managing its wastes, given a long-term national trend to increase the generation of solid waste. In 2008–09, a total of 46.8 million tonnes of waste was generated nationally with approximately 52% of this being recycled. However, despite steady increases in the rate of recovery, the waste generated between 2002–03 and 2008–09 grew by 40% while population increased 9.8% (ASoEC 2011, Box 2.1).

The generation and improper disposal of waste can cause air and water pollution, land contamination and the loss of land which is used for landfill sites. The extent and nature of environmental or health threats from waste depend on the type of waste and the way it is managed.

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Status and trends

NSW collects data and initiates programs to manage three distinct waste streams:

  • municipal waste, which includes household and other council waste and predominantly consists of putrescible materials, such as paper, and garden and kitchen waste
  • construction and demolition (C&D) waste, which is mostly inert materials such as timber, bricks, plaster off-cuts, concrete, rubble, steel and excavated earth
  • commercial and industrial (C&I) waste, which contains relatively higher proportions of metals, plastics and timber than other forms of waste.

Under the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2005 (section 4), waste disposal and resource recovery is regulated regionally across the state through the:

  • Sydney Metropolitan Area (SMA)
  • Extended Regulated Area (ERA), which comprises the Hunter, Central Coast and Illawarra regions
  • Regional Regulated Area (RRA), which comprises 21 coastal councils north of Port Stephens to the Queensland border, as well as the Blue Mountains, Wollondilly and Upper Hunter regions – this area was added to the regulated areas in 2009 and waste disposal and resource recovery data is not yet available
  • Non-Regulated Area (NRA), which compromises the remainder of the state – waste data is limited and therefore not discussed in detail in this report.

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Waste disposal rates and trends

In 2010–11, total waste disposed of in the SMA plus ERA was 15% lower than the 2000 base year shown in Figure 1.15. This decrease in waste disposal was driven by a reduction of 21% (986,500 tonnes) in waste disposed of in the SMA since 2000. While disposal tonnages of C&D waste remained stable over this period, there were marked reductions in waste disposal in the municipal and C&I streams: 22% and 30%, respectively. The overall decline in waste disposed of in the SMA, however, has been offset to some extent by a 14% (144,500 tonnes) increase in disposal in the ERA. This increase can be largely attributed to a doubling of C&D waste in the region. A more modest increase of 11% was also observed in the municipal sector. However, the disposal of C&I waste decreased considerably by 29% compared with 2000 figures.

Figure 1.15: Waste disposal rates by waste stream and waste disposal per person, SMA and ERA, 2000 to 2010–11

Figure 1.15

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Source: NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) data December 2011

The 2010–11 data shows that waste disposal per capita in the SMA has remained fairly stable since 2009–10 with a modest decrease of 2%. This is despite population growth of 2% in the region. There has been a continual trend downwards in per capita disposal in this region since 2007–08. A small decline of 7% in waste disposed per capita was observed in the ERA between 2009–10 and 2010–11.

Waste trends are published in financial years to allow comparison against significant socio-demographic and economic indicators which are available on a financial year basis. The 2000 calendar year is the base year against which the targets of the NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2007 (DECC 2007b) are measured.

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Hazardous waste

Hazardous waste is generated in relatively small quantities and cannot be disposed of to landfill untreated. It encompasses a broad range of material which presents potential threats to health and the environment, particularly if mishandled. Hazardous waste includes spent chemicals, processing residues, contaminated raw materials, soil contaminated with chemicals, by-products from manufacturing and waste treatment, and unwanted (expired or damaged) raw materials. The handling, transport, storage and treatment of hazardous waste are regulated by licensing. Movement of this waste off-site must be tracked under the Environment Protection Authority's on-line waste tracking system.

As a signatory to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal (the 'Basel Convention'), Australia has international obligations regarding hazardous waste. This includes ensuring that the generation of hazardous (and other) wastes within Australia is reduced to a minimum, taking into account social, technological and economic aspects. This commitment is reflected in the National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources (EPHC 2009a), which noted that the generation of hazardous waste (as defined under the Basel Convention) doubled from 0.64 million tonnes in 2002 to 1.19 million tonnes in 2006 (though now appears to have stabilised). Data on the generation of hazardous waste in NSW is not available. However, there is information regarding the collection and disposal of household hazardous waste in NSW.

The Household Chemical CleanOut program provides a free service to households to collect and safely treat a range of common household hazardous materials throughout the SMA and ERA. The program helps to reduce community and environmental exposure to chemicals and other hazardous materials in the waste stream (DECC 2009a). In 2010–11, this program collected and safely treated 982,751 kilograms of household hazardous waste in 43 collections attended by 26,690 householders. An analysis in 2010 indicated that it is the largest and most efficient program of this type in Australia.

Voluntary regional council waste groups are responsible for administering household chemical collections in rural and regional NSW. Between 2009 and 2011, over 253,292 kg of household chemical waste was collected and safely disposed of. The regional groups have also facilitated events for the collection of discarded televisions and computers from households across their regions, collecting over 1000 tonnes of e-waste for recycling over the same period.

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Recycling rates

Recycling is an important aspect of strategies to minimise waste and recover resources with a range of benefits that include conserving resources, reducing releases of greenhouse gases, and saving energy and water. Table 1.3 shows the net benefit of recycling one tonne of various waste materials.

Table 1.3: Net benefit of recycling one tonne of various waste materials


Global warming (tonnes CO2-e)

Energy gigajoules (low heating values)

Water (kilolitres)













Mixed plastics




Source: EPHC 2009b

The NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2007 (DECC 2007b) sets the following targets for increasing recycling in three regulated waste streams by 2014:

  • municipal waste from baseline 26% to 66%
  • C&I waste from 28% to 63%
  • C&D waste from 65% to 76%.

Of the 16.3 million tonnes of waste generated in 2008–09 in NSW, 59% (9.5 million tonnes) was recycled, up 7% on 2006–07 (DECCW 2010a). This was over 1.5 million tonnes more material recycled than in 2006–07. The greatest improvement was in the amount of C&I waste recycled, with an increase of 539,000 tonnes over the period. Municipal recycling also went up 381,000 tonnes and C&D recycling increased almost 613,000 tonnes.

Over this period, 44% of municipal waste, 52% of C&I waste and 73% of C&D waste was recycled. Thus NSW is tracking well towards its 2014 recycling target for C&D waste. This is because the materials involved are relatively easily separated at the source; markets for the recycled materials in civil construction are well established; and the Waste and Environment Levy provides significant cost incentives that discourage disposal.

Table 1.4 shows waste stream recycling performance for the SMA and ERA. In 2008–09, Sydney recycled 62% of its waste, compared with 54% in 2006–07. The rest (3.98 million tonnes) mainly went to landfill. In Sydney in 2008–09, 51% of the municipal waste generated was recycled, compared with 42% in 2006–07. On the same measure, recycling of C&I waste rose by 8% to 50% and C&D recycling also increased by 7% to 77%.

The ERA also improved its recycling performance. In 2008–09, these regions recycled 59% of their waste, up by 3% from 2006–07. C&I waste led the way with an increase of 12% in the recycling rate over this period to 60%. Recycling of municipal waste jumped 3% to 44%. However the overall improved recycling performance was offset by lower C&D waste recycling: just 68% in 2008–09 compared with 72% in 2006–07.

Table 1.4: Recycling performance by waste stream and recycling, SMA and ERA, selected years

Financial year


Waste recycling (tonnes/year)

Waste recycled (kg/person/year)

Waste recycled (% total waste from region)

Municipal waste

C&I waste

C&D waste





















































Source: OEH data November 2011

Recycling and disposal rates per person for key regions and the whole of NSW in 2006–07 and 2008–09 show that there was a greater proportion of waste being recycled, although more waste was generated across the state in 2008–09 than 2006–07.

For the rest of NSW, the total amount of waste recycled is estimated to have increased by 2% between 2006–07 and 2008–09 to 42% (DECCW 2010a). A decline in the amount of materials recovered per person from an estimated 0.66 tonnes per person in 2006–07 to about 0.58 tonnes per person in 2008–09 reflected a lower generation of waste per person.

Regional planning has facilitated regional recycling contracts, which are proving to be effective and efficient in expanding recycling services to remote areas of the state. From 2009 to 2011, the regional contracts resulted in:

  • recovery of over 47 tonnes of scrap metal and 673,500 farm drums
  • collection of 1.4 million litres of used oil
  • reprocessing of more than 543,400 cubic metres of organic waste.

Dry recyclables

Kerbside collections for dry recyclables, which include newsprint, cardboard, paper, and food and beverage containers, are provided by 152 councils across NSW. The overall quantity of dry recyclables collected continues to grow, up from 450,000 tonnes in 2000–01 to 704,000 tonnes in 2010–11, an increase of 57%. Mobile garbage bins are the most common collection system (with 50% of councils using them in 2001 rising to 94% in 2010–11). In 2010–11, the 103 councils offering a kerbside recycling system used the Government's preferred collection systems for dry recyclables (one 240-litre fully commingled mobile garbage bin or two 120-L mobile garbage bins, one for paper and one for containers).

In 2010–11, each person in the SMA on average set aside approximately 99.2 kilograms of material for recycling, compared with 81.3 kg in 2000–01 (Figure 1.16) (OEH in prep.[b]). The average per capita amount recycled in the ERA was a little higher than the SMA at 104.6 kg per person per year. These amounts are slightly down from the 2009–10 per capita figures, in the case of the SMA almost 2%. However, the per capita amount of waste disposed of to landfill through the kerbside system fell by 2.7% over the same period, indicating an overall decrease in waste generation rather than a decrease in the kerbside recycling rate.

Figure 1.16: Annual kerbside collections for dry recyclables, SMA and ERA, 2000–01 to 2010–11

Figure 1.16

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Source: OEH in prep.[b]

The per capita amount of dry recyclables collected from kerbside recycling in the ERA has increased by over 50% since 2000–01 (Figure 1.16), a reflection of the substantial increase in the provision of recycling services in this area. The total amount of dry recyclables has increased to 69% (OEH in prep.[b]).

On average in 2010–11, each NSW resident recycled:

  • 53.7 kilograms of paper and paper products
  • 26.2 kg of glass
  • 6.1 kg of plastic
  • 2.81 kg of steel cans
  • 0.6 kg of aluminium cans.

These figures are for recyclables after contaminants were removed.

Recycling of organics

Seventy-three per cent of garden organics ('green waste') across the SMA and ERA was collected and recycled in 2010–11 (Table 1.5).

Table 1.5: Amount of garden organics recycled in the SMA and ERA combined


Total generated (tonnes)

Total recycled (tonnes)

Total recycled (%)

























Source: DECC 2009a; EPA data May 2012

Other results relating to the recycling of organics include:

  • in 2010–11, 64 councils across NSW provided a garden organics collection service compared with 59 in 2008–09
  • in 2010–11, 34 out of 38 Sydney councils provided a garden organics kerbside service
  • across NSW a 25% increase in the amount of organic material recycled from kerbside collections between 2008–09 and 2010–11.

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Adverse impacts on public health and the environment can arise at many points in the life cycle of materials, including resource extraction, manufacture, use, resource recovery and disposal.

The link between economic growth and population demographics and the growth in per capita waste production is ongoing (see, for example, ABS 2007). In Australia, growth in waste generation per person is driven by population demographics and economic factors. Australians are tending to live in smaller household groups, with increases in both the ownership of more durable goods per person and the consumption of goods that have higher packaging-to-product ratios (ABS 2007). Municipal waste generation is mainly affected by population changes whereas C&D and C&I waste generation rates are strongly linked to economic conditions.

In addition to impacts on the environment associated with the consumption of resources and the generation of waste, there is growing recognition of the impacts of hazardous chemicals contained in products (see Land 3.2). The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) noted that over the past decades there has been a large increase in the number and diversity of products available in Australia, along with an increase in the diversity, toxicity and complexity of waste. Electronic goods, in particular, have been identified as posing challenges to resource recovery and waste management. This is because they have shorter life spans, ownership of them is increasing, they contain hazardous substances, and there is a lack of facilities to process these products at the end of their useful life (DECCW 2009a).

Additional pressures come from hazardous substances newly listed under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, such as certain brominated flame retardants which are present in small quantities in older consumer products like furniture and computers. The Convention requires persistent organic pollutants and objects containing them to be destroyed or treated prior to disposal. However, it is not clear whether the current practice of disposal to landfill meets these conditions or if this requirement can be met by other waste disposal facilities currently available in Australia (EPHC 2010). As the population of NSW grows, the consumption and disposal of products increases and, as additional hazardous chemicals are targeted for phase-out, the need for appropriate treatment and disposal facilities for chemical waste and products containing these substances will intensify.

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Established responses

NSW 2021: A plan to make NSW number one (NSW Government 2011), the Government's 10-year plan for NSW, includes initiatives aimed at increasing the efficiency of consumption (of electricity, for example) and further reducing waste outputs.

Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy

The NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2007 (DECC 2007b) is the main instrument used by the NSW Government to respond to the issues surrounding waste management. Reducing the generation of waste and turning it into recoverable resources are priorities for NSW. To meet this challenge, a number of programs have been established under the strategy, which also sets overall recycling targets for 2014 that are reinforced in NSW 2021.

In 2010, the Review of Waste Strategy and Policy in NSW (DECCW 2010b) examined the implementation of the Waste Strategy, focusing on progress in meeting the strategy's 2014 recycling targets. The review proposed 23 enhancements to waste policies and strategies to provide stronger drivers for achieving the targets. Following that review, an implementation strategy was developed: Reducing Waste: Implementation Strategy 2011–2015 (DECCW 2011b) refocuses efforts to achieve the targets in the Waste Strategy and beyond and identifies five areas for particular attention over the ensuing four years:

  • make it easier for households to separate and recover their waste
  • make it easier for businesses to separate and recover their waste
  • reduce or remove problem wastes to improve resource recovery and produce environmentally safe recyclable materials
  • facilitate investment in waste infrastructure
  • reduce litter and combat illegal dumping.

Goal 22 in NSW 2021 is to 'Increase opportunities for people to look after their own neighbourhoods and environments'. Targets listed to help achieve this goal include: 'By 2016, NSW will have the lowest litter count per capita in Australia' and 'Increase recycling to meet the 2014 NSW Waste Recycling Targets'.

Waste is regulated under the state's primary environment protection legislation, the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act), together with the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2001 and the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2005. These key statutes contain the requirements for managing, storing, transporting, processing, recovering and disposing of waste in NSW.

The POEO Act requires licensed waste facilities in NSW to pay a contribution for each tonne of waste received for disposal at the facility. The Waste and Environment Levy aims to reduce the amount of waste being disposed of and promote recycling and resource recovery. An independent review of the levy commenced in 2012, having been identified as a priority action under Goal 23 of NSW 2021. The review is canvassing stakeholder views on how the levy operates as well as ensuring that it continues to increase recycling and reduce the waste that goes to landfill.

Reducing and recycling municipal waste

The NSW Government continues to work closely with local councils to reduce municipal waste and increase recycling. Councils play an important role in managing waste in NSW. Not only do they manage the household waste stream, but councils have the potential to influence other sectors as well through, for example, community education.

The NSW Government supports local councils and improved management of household waste through various programs including those discussed below.

Improving resource recovery: The Local Council Waste and Sustainability Improvement Payments Program provides direct assistance to support the 72 councils in the regulated area to invest in new and enhanced projects and actions that will improve resource recovery and environmental sustainability outcomes within their local government area.

Voluntary regional waste groups: The NSW Government provides secretariat and funding support to Renew NSW, a forum of eight voluntary regional waste groups across 96 rural councils with a population of over 2 million people. As a result of the program, recycling from household kerbside services in 2010–11 in rural regional NSW stood at 42.5%, almost triple the 2002–03 recycling rate.

Love Food, Hate Waste: This program aims to significantly reduce the 1.1 million tonnes of food waste produced by households and businesses in NSW each year (see People and the Environment 1.6).

Support tools and information

The NSW Government continues to provide a range of tools and information to support councils to improve waste services including:

Reducing and recovering commercial and industrial waste

The NSW Government has a range of programs for tackling the commercial and industrial (C&I) waste stream. This includes programs aimed at individual businesses to help them change their practices by using fewer materials, avoiding the generation of waste, and taking up recycling. Other programs are aimed at the system level, at points of collection or reprocessing, to increase the recovery of useable materials. Further programs target potential users of recycled materials to build demand by demonstrating performance and cost-competitiveness. Key programs include those discussed below.

Business Recycling: Through a partnership with Planet Ark, the on-line recycling directory Business Recycling has proved very popular with businesses, with more than 400,000 website visits and 1.3 million page views since its launch in June 2010.

Growing markets for recycled organic material: Food and garden material accounts for around 51% of the waste that households throw away. It is also a major component of business waste. Government and industry aim to increase the collection and recycling of organic material and the development of markets for it. This program has been very successful in expanding markets for recycled organic material at a rate of 7% per year over the past 10 years and is a NSW success story with more than 40 organics recycling facilities now installed across the state.

Market development (timber, glass, plastics, paper and cardboard): These materials make up significant parts of the business waste stream. Programs target barriers to recycling, which may be different for each material. This includes investing in new market areas, such as crushed glass in roadmaking and shredded timber pallets for poultry bedding.

Working with communities

The NSW Government continues to work with local communities and key partners to support recycling and waste reduction and avoidance. For example, the Government is working with schools, teachers and students to promote recycling, waste avoidance and waste reduction through the Sustainable Schools NSW program. Bilingual educators of the Ethnic Communities Sustainable Living Project have worked with local community organisations and councils to help diverse communities with recycling and waste reduction, using in-language materials, field trips and demonstrations (see People and the Environment 1.6 for more information on these initiatives).

Tackling litter and illegal dumping

RID Squads: NSW 2021 identifies the RID Squad program as a key part of tackling illegal dumping. The RID Squads investigate incidents and take action against offenders, organise clean-ups, track down illegal landfills, identify changes and trends in illegal dumping across a regional area, and deter and educate community members about illegal dumping. Their strength is in ensuring illegal dumping issues are tackled across a region, rather than stopping at council boundaries.

For example, in 2010–11, the Western Sydney RID Squad (of seven local councils) investigated 4716 illegal dumping incidents involving approximately 226,000 tonnes of waste. Investigations resulted in the issue of 93 clean-up notices and 733 penalty notices. RID Squad activity led to around one-third of the illegally dumped waste being recycled.

The NSW Government has also worked with Aboriginal land councils and local government to support Aboriginal communities to clean up and deter illegal dumping and littering on community land as part of the Aboriginal Lands Clean-Up Program.

Litter programs: Tackling litter involves programs spanning community education, supporting local government to take action, and enforcement programs. The successful 'Don't be a tosser' litter campaign continues to be effective through kits available for councils and others that contain campaign materials targeting the community. The NSW Government has made it easy to report littering offences from vehicles through on-line reporting as well as via the Environment Line phone service. Community awareness is increased through warning letters and penalty infringement notices.

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Developing responses

National action on product stewardship is a key direction under the National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources (EPHC 2009a), agreed to by all Australian environment ministers in November 2009. Product stewardship and extended producer responsibility initiatives involve producers taking greater responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products throughout the product life cycle. This includes making choices of materials during product design and minimising the impacts of the product during use and at the product's end of life.

In 2011, the Commonwealth Product Stewardship Act 2011 commenced. This landmark legislation provides the opportunity to drive other national product stewardship arrangements for priority materials. It establishes for the first time a national framework for setting up product stewardship schemes, either voluntarily by industry or through regulation. The first products to be regulated under the Act are televisions and computers. As a result, a new national TV and computer collection and recycling scheme, run by industry, will commence in 2012. Industry will have to meet targets set under the regulations. The legislation is the result of national work over a number of years, including work on television and computer recycling led by NSW.

Other products where industry is working with government to develop or implement product stewardship schemes include used tyres and fluorescent lamps. The potential to deal with other priority waste products under the legislation is very real.

National state and territory collaboration is also dealing with other priorities under the National Waste Policy, including managing and reducing the toxicity of waste, increasing recovery of commercial and industrial waste, reducing organic material to landfill and improving the collection and consistency of data across Australia.

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Future opportunities

The recommendations of the independent review of the waste levy in 2012 will provide focus and direction for waste priorities going forward. A new Waste Strategy will be developed, built on the significant progress so far to springboard NSW to the next level of outcomes for waste.

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