Solid waste generation and managementIndicator
The lack of comprehensive and consistent waste data, and high annual variations in waste produced, makes it difficult to assess the status of waste in the ACT. There are no apparent trends indicating long-term changes in the total amount of waste generated, recovered or landfilled. However, the annual resource recovery rate is generally good at around 70% to 75% of the total waste generated, although this has not improved over the last 10 years. Municipal solid waste accounts for the highest proportion of waste sent to landfill and its generation appears to be stable despite the annual population increase in the ACT.
Indicator assessment legend
Environmental condition is healthy across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have negligible impact on environmental condition/human health.
Environmental condition is neither positive or negative and may be variable across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have limited impact on environmental condition/human health.
Environmental condition is under significant stress, OR pressure likely to have significant impact on environmental condition/ human health.
Data is insufficient to make an assessment of status and trends.
Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Limited evidence or limited consensus
Evidence and consensus too low to make an assessment
Assessments of status, trends and data quality are not appropriate for the indicator
- Total waste generation and resource recovery
- Per capita waste generation and management
- Waste sent to landfill per capita
- Compliance with waste National Environment Protection Measures
The generation of waste places pressure on the environment, requiring land for its disposal, and ongoing management to prevent contamination and pollution. Waste can also have adverse impacts on human health and the liveability of our environment. Depending upon the way it is managed, waste can have a number of different environmental impacts including:
- land use change and pollution leading to the degradation of ecosystems and biodiversity loss
- increased greenhouse gas emissions
- contamination and pollution of soils, groundwater and waterways
- presence of hazardous substances
- impacts on human health and amenity, and
- increased demands on resources required to dispose of and recycle waste.
The amount of waste generated is not only determined by population, but also the level of consumption of material resources and manufactured goods. Increased consumption has significant consequences for the environment and for resource demand and depletion, particularly outside the ACT where goods and materials are sourced and manufactured. Waste is also highly influenced by the level of activity in the commercial, industrial, construction and demolition sectors. Waste is produced at all stages in the manufacture of products and services, as well as at the end of a product’s lifecycle.
When waste is not reused, recycled or used efficiently there is an opportunity lost, as the material can no longer be used to contribute to the economy. Recycling waste also reduces the demand for resource extraction, and conserves energy and water compared to manufacturing products from raw materials.
A large proportion of waste in the ACT comes from construction and demolition activities. Poor planning in design and assembly can lead to inefficient use of resources in manufacturing or construction, leading to unnecessary material waste. The management of such waste can be an economic burden which is passed on down the supply chain of products, increasing the price to the consumer. In the case of construction, poor design can not only create unnecessary material waste, but also a legacy of inefficiency throughout a building’s life.
Waste generated in Queanbeyan is processed at ACT recycling facilities and deposited in ACT landfills. Consequently, the waste data reported here includes both the ACT and Queanbeyan. Waste data also currently excludes waste taken to landfill outside the ACT. This means that the data reported understates the actual volume of waste sent to landfill. The waste activity management system that is currently being implemented by the ACT Government will capture this data which is expected to be available in the 2019–20 financial year.
Condition and trends
Total waste generation and resource recovery
The annual total waste generated in the ACT between 2009–10 and 2018–19 ranged from 816,000 to 1.2 million tonnes, with no consistent trend over time (Figure HS15). Waste to landfill ranged from 21% (256,000 tonnes) to 49% (511,000 tonnes), and resources recovered ranged from 51% (534,000 tonnes) to 79% (957,000 tonnes). Despite this variation, it is clear that resource recovery is generally much higher than waste sent to landfill with most years recording a resource recovery rate of 70% or higher.
Total waste generation, waste to landfill and resources recovered are highly variable in the ACT with changes mostly occurring in response to specific activity from the construction and demolition sector and increases in garden waste. These waste types are also responsible for most of the resource recovery in the ACT; for example in 2018–19 waste from these sources represented 85% of the total tonnes recovered.
The resource recovery rate in recent years has been impacted by the Mr Fluffy program which involves the buyback and demolition of houses containing loose fill asbestos. By 2018–19, the impact was lower than the previous three years, with the majority of the program completed.
Excluding waste from the Mr Fluffy program, resource recovery in the ACT has plateaued to around 70% to 75% of the total waste generated.
The highest percentage of resources recovered was 79% in 2018–19, due to an increase in construction and demolition materials as well as green waste. The lowest percentage of resource recovery occurred in 2016–17, with only 51% recovered. This low rate was the result of an increase in waste to landfill from asbestos-contaminated waste from the Currong apartments, and contaminated waste from a leachate dam excavation at Mugga lane landfill.
Figure HS15: Waste generation and management in the ACT, 2009–10 to 2018–19.
Per capita waste generation and management
Waste generation and management per person is an important measure for assessing trends in waste practices and behaviours. For example, results in per capita assessments can demonstrate improvements in recycling and consumer awareness, as well as improved industry standards in packaging practices. Such changes can be masked by total waste assessments which are more closely aligned to population increases.
Results for per capita resource recovery, landfill and total waste also show the same variation in response to specific activity from the construction and demolition sector. Landfill per capita ranged from 0.5 to 1.1 tonnes per person, resources recovered from 1.2 to 2 tonnes per person, and total waste between 2 and 2.6 tonnes per person with no consistent trend over time (Figure HS16).
Excluding the Mr Fluffy program, per capita waste to landfill has plateaued around 0.55 tonnes per person. The 2018–19 result is slightly lower than this trend at 0.52 tonnes per person due to lower commercial and industrial waste to landfill.
Over last few years the resource recovery tonnes per person has plateaued around 1.5 to 1.6 tonnes per person, except for 2016–17 which was only 1.2 tonnes per person. The 2016–17 result was affected by a reduction in the recycling of construction and demolition waste and the absence of data from a major recycler who declined to provide its data. If these impacts are excluded, the 2016–17 result is estimated to be around 1.5 tonnes per person.
The highest resources recovered per capita was in 2018–19 at around 2 tonnes per person. This is mainly the result of the increased activity in the construction and demolition sector and an increase in green waste recovered.
Figure HS16: Per capita waste generation and management in the ACT, 2009–10 to 2018–19.
Waste sent to landfill by sector
Changes in the methodology used to report waste in the ACT means that it is not possible to include long-term trends for waste by sector in the ACT. Consequently, it is only possible to report sector contributions from 2016–17.
Waste from the Mr Fluffy program accounted for 40% (202,000 tonnes) of the total waste sent to landfill in 2016–17. This declined to 26% (90,000 tonnes) in 2017–18 and 5% (12,000 tonnes) in 2018–19 with the majority of the program already completed.
Sector waste to landfill excluding the Mr Fluffy program is shown in Figure HS17. Municipal solid waste accounts for the highest proportion of the waste sent to landfill, closely followed by commercial and industrial waste. Over the three years of available data, municipal solid waste contributed between 39% and 49% of the waste sent to landfill; however, in terms of tonnes, there was little variation over the period. Commercial and industrial waste contributed between 35% and 47% of the total waste sent to landfill. Construction and demolition waste varied widely over the period, from 25% of the total waste sent to landfill in 2016–17 to only 6% and 9% in the following years. The high amount in 2016–17 was from asbestos-contaminated waste from the Currong apartments, and contaminated waste from a leachate dam excavation at Mugga lane landfill.
Given the short data period, it is not possible to determine any trends in sector contributions to landfill. However, municipal solid waste appears to be stable despite the annual population increase in the ACT. This may indicate improved recycling behaviours and/or changes in the consumption of goods and services leading to a decline in waste per person. Construction and demolition waste, and to a lesser degree, commercial and industrial waste, are more variable and are related to activity changes in those sectors.
Figure HS17: Waste sent to landfill by sector, 2016–17 to 2018–19.
Compliance with waste National Environment Protection Measures
There are two National Environment Protection Measures (NEPM) related to waste:
- Movement of Controlled Waste between States and Territories NEPM: provides a means of tracking the movement of controlled waste between states and territories to minimise the potential for adverse impacts associated with the movement of controlled waste on human health and the environment.
- Used Packaging Materials NEPM: aims to reduce environmental degradation arising from the disposal of used packaging and to conserve virgin materials.
The ACT must report compliance with these measures to the National Environment Protection Council. During the reporting period, ACT was found to comply with both waste NEPMs. National Environment Protection Council (NEPC), 2019, NEPC Annual Report 2017–2018, Canberra, (accessed 13/10/2019).
For the Used Packaging Materials NEPM, the ACT previously met this obligation under the Waste Minimisation (Used Packaging Materials Industry Waste Reduction Plan). This was repealed on 30 June 2017 when the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Act 2016 commenced. The Used Packaging Materials Industry Waste Reduction Plan was not replaced until 30 June 2019, when the used packaging material compliance measure was reinstated. Development is currently underway to ensure the ACT meets its obligations under the Used Packaging Materials NEPM.