Most Australians believe household recycling sent to landfill, survey finds

Most Australians believe household recycling sent to landfill, survey finds

80% say they would pay up to $10 per week for better services

Two-thirds of Australians believe their household recycling is sent to landfill and 72% said they would recycle more if they knew that their household waste was reliably recycled, a survey has found.

But despite the desire for better recycling, the survey, released on Friday by the University of New South Wales, also found that only half of the respondents were prepared to pay more for better recycling services.

Of those who said they would be prepared to pay more, four out of five said they would only pay up to an additional $10 per week.

The survey of 2,116 people was conducted by polling company ReachTel in August, about 12 months after China announced that it would not accept imports of recyclables with contamination levels above 0.5% and left local governments in Australia scrambling to find an alternative way to manage recyclable waste.

Asked how they would prefer Australia manage its recyclable waste in the wake of that decision, 69.7% of respondents said that it should “invest in new technology to reform waste into high-value materials for re-use”, while 16.6% supported it be incinerated for electricity generation. Only 2.7% supported finding another country to take up the export trade, and 5.7% supported dumping it in landfill.

Four out of five respondents said they would support more government investment into waste management and recycling, and 77.4% said it was important for Australia to invest in “microfactories” to recycle and re-use the waste – an option that UNSW developed and is actively promoting.

It has an onsite microfactory that recycles e-waste to retrieve metal alloys and make new materials including plastic filaments used in 3D printing.

“We are quite different to Europe, they have huge population centres, they can afford to have large smelters in one central place and then everything goes to that one smelter,” Professor Veena Sahajwalla, director of the UNSW Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology, said.

“We know that if we are not going to be able to sustain mega-smelters then some of the smaller facilities or microfactories are a better option.”

Sahajwalla said that dissatisfaction with Australian recycling systems rose sharply following China’s refusal to take contaminated waste.

Prior to that, she said, many people just assumed that the contents of their yellow wheelie bins were recycled appropriately by their local council.

A 2011 government report found that between 50-60% of the 50m tonnes of waste generated in Australia each year was recycled. Most of that was sent offshore. Accurate national figures for the percentage of recycled waste that is actually fully recycled are not readily available.

“Now people are realising: even if I make the effort to sort my rubbish and put it in my yellow bin, it does not end up being recycled,” Sahajwalla said. “People still continue to do what they think is right … but they feel that a lot of their effort is being wasted.”