Waste & Landfill Statistics in Australia


January 9, 2024

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Australia is among the top developed countries when it comes to waste production. Not something to be proud of, is it?

Our waste production has been on the rise for the past few years, despite having multiple waste management and recycling schemes. That’s why we are here to inform you about the alarming situation with some waste and landfill statistics. We will also tell you about a few simple steps you can take to manage the problem at the ground level.

Waste statistics in Australia

  • Australia generated 76 million tonnes of waste in 2018-19, which is a 10% increase since 2016-17
  • $17 billion was spent on waste services in 2018-19, which is an 18% increase since 2016-17
  • The construction industry spent the most on waste services ($2 billion), which is a 35% increase since 2016-17
  • Exports remain steady since 2016-17 at 6% of total waste
  • Almost 20 million tonnes of waste was generated in Australia in 2018-19, with 56% of this waste being sent to landfill
  • In 2018-19, the recycling rate for all waste streams was 60%, with 32 million tonnes of waste being recovered
  • In 2018-19, the recycling rate for municipal solid waste was 56%, with 12.4 million tonnes of waste being recovered
  • In 2018-19, the recycling rate for commercial and industrial waste was 75%, with 19.6 million tonnes of waste being recovered
  • In 2018-19, the recycling rate for construction and demolition waste was 89%, with 20.3 million tonnes of waste being recovered
  • In 2018-19, the recycling rate for hazardous waste was 52%, with 1.1 million tonnes of waste being recovered

How much rubbish is in Australia?

  • Australia generated 76 million tonnes of waste in 2018-2019, which is a 10% increase since 2016-2017
  • In 2020-21, Australia generated an estimated 75.8 million tonnes of waste, equivalent to 2.95 tonnes per person
  • The largest waste categories were building and demolition materials (25.1 Mt), organics (14.4 Mt), ash (12.0 Mt), and hazardous waste (7.4 Mt)
  • Around half of all annual waste, 38.5 million tonnes, is being recycled
  • The recycling rate for all waste streams was 60%, with 32 million tonnes of waste being recovered in 2018-19
  • The recycling rate for municipal solid waste was 56%, with 12.4 million tonnes of waste being recovered in 2018-19
  • The recycling rate for commercial and industrial waste was 75%, with 19.6 million tonnes of waste being recovered in 2018-19
  • The recycling rate for construction and demolition waste was 89%, with 20.3 million tonnes of waste being recovered in 2018-19
  • The recycling rate for hazardous waste was 52%, with 1.1 million tonnes of waste being recovered in 2018-19

How Much Waste Does Australia Produce?

Before getting into the details of waste production and how much of it actually finds its way into the landfills, here’s a brief overview of the country’s waste production:

  • The municipal waste production (solid) is about 78 million tonnes per year
  • An average Aussie may produce up to 540 kg of waste (more than half a ton) per year
  • The waste production by an average household can reach up to 1.2 tonnes each year
  • The average household may generate food waste amounting to $3,000 per year
  • Each year, the country disposes of more than 1.75 million mattresses

Food waste statistics

  • Australia generates 7.6 million tonnes of food waste each year, which costs the Australian economy over $36.6 billion despite 70% of it being perfectly edible
  • Households generate the most food waste in Australia and are responsible for about 30% of the total, which equals around 2.5 million tonnes per year
  • One in three households is wasting the equivalent of a shopping bag full of food each week, despite food waste costing Australians more than $2,000 each year
  • Nearly 300kgs of food is wasted in Australia per person per year
  • Up to 25% of all vegetables produced in Australia never leave the farm, often because they are not shaped perfectly enough for supermarket shelves
  • Cutting global food waste in half by 2030 is one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals
  • Food waste generates 17.5 million tonnes of CO2 each year in Australia, which is equivalent to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions from food produced but wasted

Why Is Waste Production On The Rise In The Country?

The rise of waste produced in different sectors of the country can be traced to the developments in technology and modern living amenities. In fact, waste production saw a significant 13% hike from 2017 to 2019 (67 to 76 million tonnes). 

Furthermore, the country has produced about 76 million tonnes of waste, which accounts for a little less than 1.5 kg of waste per head per day. While households procured 20% of this waste, the construction and manufacturing industries generated a combined 25%. Half of this waste was sent for recycling, while about 23% (or 29%) ended up in landfills.

Today, the average Australian produces nearly 550 kg of waste annually, out of which 140 kg is plastic-related. Hence, they may end up producing more than 40,000 kg of waste in their lifetime. 

How Much Plastic Waste Is Produced In The Country?

It’s no surprise that plastic products are one of the biggest contributors to waste in Australia, with the annual average plastic waste production being about 3.5 million tonnes. And households produce just a little less than half (47%) of this amount.

But we were shocked to find out that approximately 130,000 tonnes of plastic waste find their way into the water bodies of the countries. This means that the oceans see about 1,300 kg of plastic being dumped per hour.

Moreover, Australians go through more than a billion coffee cups, bottles made from single-use plastic and thrice the amount of plastic straws, most of which are unrecyclable and are dumped in landfills. This is evident from the fact that only 12% of the total plastic waste generated in the country was recycled in 2020, while 81% of it was buried in landfills.

Some of our readers may know that plastic waste accounted for only 4% (or 3.5 million) of the total 78 million waste produced in Australia during 2018-2019. And although this may seem to be less, the several damaging effects of plastic on the environment make it nothing less than a severe hazard.

What Is The Average Daily Plastic Consumption In Australia?

Plastic bags are the most common form of plastic that Australians use in their daily lives, and this makes the country rank second behind the US in terms of plastic bag consumption. The total daily per capita plastic consumption in Australia is 10 million, making the annual plastic consumption touch the 3.5 million mark.

Australians also tend to throw away a staggering 15,000 plastic bottles and cans every minute or more than 21.5 million each day!

How Much Food Waste Does The Country Produce?

By now, you must have got a fair idea of just how much waste the average Australian is capable of producing in different sectors, and food waste is no exception. In 2019, the Australian population managed to generate over 9 million tonnes of food waste, which set back the economy by $20 billion.

As far as the annual food waste generation is concerned, Australians produce 3.3 million tonnes, out of which 2.6 million tonnes are from households alone. Long story short, more than 78% of the total food waste comes from Aussie households per year.

What About Textile And Mattress?

Textiles and mattresses, which easily rank among the most used commodities in the country, contribute significantly to the annual waste generation and subsequent landfills. If we talk about just a couple of years ago, Aussies were responsible for producing 250,000 tons of textile-related waste in the form of:

  • Clothes- 60%
  • Leather goods- 9%
  • Linen used in upholstery- 18%
  • Mattress- 3%

Furthermore, just a little more than 1/4th (or 26%) of the total textile waste produced in Australia qualifies for recycling. Similarly, the total mattress waste accounts for about 1.25 million, most of which have either an innerspring or foam construction.

Although mattresses can be recycled more easily, the process is pretty expensive, which is why they are dumped in landfills.

What Is The Waste Generation By The Different Sectors?

1. Manufacturing And Construction

The manufacturing and construction industries remain among the largest producers of solid waste, generating 32% or more than 25 million tonnes of the total waste in the country. This amount is nearly twice of household waste.

2. Household Waste

Talking about household waste, the average Australian household can produce close to 12.5 million tonnes of waste each year. 

3. Organic Waste

Organic waste, whether commercial, industrial, or residential, accounts for 20% tonnes of the annual waste dumped in landfills. Although 15.3 million tonnes of this waste can be sent for recycling or composting, only 42% of it is actually recycled, while 45% is dumped in landfills.

4. E-Waste

Perhaps, electronic waste (or e-waste) is the most neglected category when it comes to recycling. Only 10% or 53,000 tonnes of e-waste is recycled in the country, meaning 90% of it is either buried in landfills or burnt. Both these practices are extremely harmful as they can contaminate the environment.

Plus, there’s an overall loss of resources that could have been used to design and manufacture cost-effective commodities.

The Landfill Scenario- What Do The Numbers Say?

Landfills, albeit designed to prevent the waste from contaminating the environment, have their limitations. And it won’t be wrong for us to say that with the ever rising waste production in the country, there may be a need to quickly create many more landfills in the coming years.

In 2019, more than 20 million tonnes of waste were dumped in landfills across the country. Today, the landfills see:

  • Nearly 7 million tonnes of food waste
  • 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste
  • More than 4.5 million tonnes of waste categorised as hazardous

You may also be surprised to know that although recycling practices are becoming popular, only 12% of the total waste generated in 2019 was recycled, with more than 80% being directly sent to landfills. Additionally, 47% of the total plastic waste, which is a major component of the country-wide waste generation problem, is primarily produced in households.

Why Does Plastic End Up In Landfills?

One of the major reasons why plastic waste dominates landfills across the country is due to the fact that Australians have an “affinity” towards single-use plastic. Apart from the bottles, cans, and straws mentioned above, packaging material is a large source of single-use plastic. And almost 95% of it is discarded immediately.

What’s even more disappointing is that even after the Australian government spent close to 17 billion dollars on waste management in 2019, insufficient recycling remains a big problem.

How Much Waste Does The Country Export?

Although the waste export practices are currently banned, Australia could manage to export only 7% (or a little more than 5.3 million) of its annual waste production to China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam till early 2021.

What Can We Do To Reduce Waste Generation?

Waste generation can be successfully controlled by adopting the three principles of reducing, reusing and recycling. Here are a few ways that will help you minimise your waste generation:

  • Reduce the use of single-use plastic and opt for reusable materials
  • If possible, buy products with minimal single-use plastic packaging
  • Carry paper or cloth bags while shopping
  • Use eco-friendly and biodegradable building materials
  • Reuse glass containers at home
  • Donate old clothes to charity or use them at home
  • Use reusable glass containers, mugs, bottles and crockery for takeaways

Final Words

The scary insight into the waste and landfill scenario in the country should be a wake-up call.

At the same time, it’s important for the citizens to do their bit for effective waste management. For instance, you can talk with your local council to arrange for recycling facilities or check the nearest recycling facilities in your area.

Aside from that, ensure that you dump your waste only into the designated community bins to prevent any unwanted or harmful contamination. 

We will see you soon. Till then, keep recycling!

Read Also: strange Australian sleep statistics.