We all know that recycling is better than landfilling, but without strong sustainable supply chains and increased demand for construction waste derived materials in government funded infrastructure, these recycled material markets will struggle and eventually impact on our construction and demolition waste disposal costs.
The level of waste we generate per person each year has grown, with the average Australian responsible for well over 2.4 tonnes each year. Various state governments stepped in and increased the Landfill Levy (tax) to help generate consolidated revenue and fund recycling initiatives.
The cost of landfilling waste has increased in most states in Australia with only 25 per cent of this Landfill Levy being given back into recycling initiatives (hypothecated tax) in Western Australia and the rest going into the states consolidated revenue to help improve its credit rating since the mining cooldown.
Don’t get me wrong, I think we need to tax the unsustainable methods of construction and manufacturing that generate excessive waste streams and don’t recycle them. This helps create more recycling sector jobs, a healthy planet and a stronger economy.
However we also need to purchase more recycled products or suffer recycling market failure that could increase waste disposal costs mainly borne by the construction industry. Construction and demolition (C&D) waste represents the largest share of the three main types of waste streams at 55 per cent; closely followed by commercial and industrial (C&I) waste and then municipal solid waste (MSW) from our homes. In Western Australia, with our preference for building in double brick, we actually recycle more C&D waste each year than we generate in MSW from our homes.
Yes, construction uses the lion’s share of basic raw materials and minerals to build our cities, but the construction sector has wised up to this unsustainable practice and adopted various environmental accreditation processes to meet the growing demand from the property sector for more sustainable points of difference when selling or letting finished project to end users.
I’m advocating more recycled materials should be adopted by governments when purchasing infrastructure project materials. Often, the environmental awards won by these major projects focus on a combination of small environmental initiatives and not the largest and lowest hanging fruits.
For example it’s widely accepted as normal practice in the Eastern States to use C&D waste derived products like recycled sand, rock and concrete for recycled road base. This is not the case in Western Australia, where these sustainable supply chains are not supported by the major purchasers on government projects in turn impacting the civil specifications used by local government engineers and the land developers. The unsustainable Main Road WA engineering specification 501 and some organisations' general lack of desire to change with no forward planning on what to do when we run out of good quality virgin materials seem to be the normal process in a business as usual economy.
I look to government to join in, lead by example and follow the private sector’s proven sustainable outcomes, which provide long-term material security and valued environmental returns that might help these late adopters in our world accept some change.