China’s Ban on Foreign Waste Remind Australia: It’s Time to Transform Recycling!

After China bans the import of waste, how can Australia cope with the problem of garbage?

Roadside garbage bin. Photo by Fangxi Liu.

Are you familiar with these things?

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Milk bottles, plastic bags and pizza boxes. Yes, these are garbage that we make in everyday life. After we dump garbage into the trash, have you ever thought about how the garbage will be handled?

The answer is that most of them were sent into China before January 1, 2018!

Since the beginning of this year, China has issued a new policy. They announced that they no longer import foreign waste, and ban 24 categories of solid waste to protect the environment and public health.

Now all of these enormous amounts of rubbish can no longer be exported to China, and more than one billion trash requires a new home. Therefore, it is time for Australia to no longer rely on the export of waste, but rather to focus on improving the recycling of waste in the country.

China-the World‘s largest waste importer

China has imported foreign waste for decades and is currently the world’s largest waste importer. It receives more than 30 million tons of garbage every year from all over the world!

However, a documentary called Plastics China revealed that the coastal villages in China had become a diseased village due to the import of a significant amount of foreign waste.


IDFA 2016 | Trailer | Plastic China World premiere at IDFA 2016 Yi Jie and her family live next to a primitive recycling plant. Her world consists of mountains of plastic waste from Europe, the United States and Asia.

In this waste disposal documentary, we can see that a vast amount of untreated plastic waste enters China, and spreads across more than 30 cities and towns from north to south. Finally, in the small workshops, the rough classification work was done manually by the almost undefended workers.


Source:Plastic China

Next, the wastewater from cleaning plastic waste is directly discharged into the river, and the waste that cannot be recovered is burned on farmland. The black smoke is full of pungent odours. In these villages, groundwater is no longer drinkable, and more and more young people are beginning to develop cancer.

Source:Plastic China

How much of our exports?

Before the ban, Australia sent an average of 619,000 tons of recycled waste to China each year – almost 12 times the weight of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Estimates recently commissioned by the federal government show that in 2017, Australia exported 3.5% (about 1,248 million tons) of China’s total recycling to households, businesses and industries.

1,248,000 tons = 920,000 tons of paper and cardboard + 203,000 tones of metal + 125,000 tones of plastic

  • 920,000 tons of paper and cardboard spliced together can cover up to 22,255 square kilometres of land area, almost equal to twice the Sydney land areas (Sydney’s land area is 12,368 square kilometres).
  • 203,000 tons of metal is equivalent to 13.6 billion aluminium beverage cans.
  • 125,000 tons of plastic is equivalent to 2.9 billion litres of milk bottles.

Better garbage classification

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2012, 98% of Australian families are involved in some form of recycling or reuse of various household items. Almost 97% of households are recycled, and 73% have at least one reuse. The data from the National Waste Report also shows that from 2006 to 2015, the total production of recycled waste in Australia is on the rise.

Source:Australian National Waste Report 2016

These figures seem great, but in fact, Australia’s recycling rate is only about 51%, which is about the average of developed economies.

Source:Australian National Waste Report 2016

A survey by Planet Ark found that 48% of Australians are confused about the correct classification of waste. It is difficult for them to correctly distinguish which garbage should be placed in what colour bins.

Is your daily waste classification correct?

Try this small game and drag the trash into the correct colour bin!

glass bottles
plastic bottle
red bin

yellow bin

green bin

blue bin

Some tips  you may not know about proper recycling

  1. Soft plastic cannot be put into the bin with household garbage.

Many families prefer to use plastic bags as rubbish bags and pack them with rubbish into containers. However, this is wrong. Soft plastics, such as plastic bags, tend to cause the machine to jam when entering a sorting and recycling machine. The correct handling of plastic bags should be placed in the supermarket’s REDrecycle bin.

  1. Separate beverage bottle and cap.

The bottle cap is too small to be picked up by the factory sorter. And in the process of compressing and packing garbage, plastic bottles with caps are prone to explosion due to pressure.

  1. Electronic waste needs to be placed in a special place.

Australians produce more than 140,000 tons of electronic waste each year, most of which ends up in landfills. In addition to exerting greater pressure on limited landfill capacity, e-waste also contains toxic substances and may, therefore, be dangerous. Electronic waste such as batteries, electronic waste products needs special recycling. Every quarter of Sydney, there is an electronic garbage collection day. Specific information can be obtained through the Garbage Guru.

Australasian Recycling Label

 “It is imperative to reduce contamination. Contamination refers to those things that be placed in recyclable bins but should not be there”.

Paul klymenko, the CEO of Planet Ark

Source:Planet Ark

He also pointed out that people’s confusion about garbage collection may be caused by misleading or incorrect labels on the packaging.

To better solve this problem, in addition to educating the public, Planet Ark has also cooperated with the Australian Packaging Convention Organisation (APCO) to launch a new Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) system. ARL is designed to help everyone understand better. It shows how best to handle each package. With these tags, it is easier to distinguish which are recyclable and which are not.

Reduce one-time use

In addition to improving recycling, we should also reduce the use of disposable products.

Woolworth Supermarkets will stop offering free-of-charge plastic bags to shoppers in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia on June 20 this year. Woolworth supplies more than 3.2 billion plastic bags each year, and this ban is undoubtedly a significant step towards reducing plastic pollution.

Planet Ark expressed its support for this move, and Paul Klymenko said “The experience of the United Kingdom and Ireland can tell us that shoppers can replace plastic bags with reusable alternatives such as reusable shopping bags, which can reduce the use of plastic bags by 85%. We Australia can do this too. ”

Focus on e-waste

Of the 15.7 million computers that reached its “end of life” in Australia in 2007-08, only 1.5 million were recycled – that’s only 10%. In 2011-12, an estimated 29 million televisions and computers reached their retirement time. It is expected that by 2027-28, the cumulative useful life of TVs and computers will reach 181,000 tons, or 44 million units (Australian Bureau of Statistics).

The annual output of electronic waste in Australia is huge, and many families have paid little attention to the disposal of electronic waste. Therefore, we must improve the recycling of e-waste while also strengthening the technology of reusing e-waste.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla , founder and director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology at the University of New South Wales (SMaRT), launched the world’s first micro-factory to convert e-waste into 3D printed materials. Her new invention is a small factory that can recycle electronic waste, such as cell phones and laptops, making it a material that can be used to supply 3D printers.

Besides, Planet Ark also has successfully partnered with Brother, Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, Konica Minolta and Kyocera to collect and return ink cartridges for remanufacturing and recycling – so they will not be landfilled.

What can YOU do?

Reducing garbage pollution and improving recycling efficiency have never been just the work of governments and environmental organisations. Everyone on earth has a responsibility to contribute to sustainable development.

Jo Taranto from North Ryde, a housewife, successfully reduced the size of her family’s “red lid” bin from 140 litres to 80 litres by using cloth nappies that can be washed and reused.

Do you have any small tricks in life to reduce waste and improve recycling?

Share and discuss with everyone in the comment area!


About Fangxi Liu 3 Articles
Hi, I am graduate student at the University of Sydney and major in digital communication and culture. Love life, love writing, love travel. Willing to communicate with you, if you like, contact me via the button below!

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