Summary

Man and woman graphic

Per person waste generation

Green Down

6%

reduction since 2012–13, to 2.37 tonnes per year

Waste truck graphic

Total waste generation

Green Down

4%

reduction from its 2010–11 peak, down to 16.5 million tonnes

Person using bin graphic

Litter volume down by

Green Down

37%

against the 2013–14 benchmark

Recycling graphic

Recycling

63%

of waste is diverted for recycling (2014–15 data)

In 2014–15, total waste generated in NSW continued to fall, since it peaked in 2010–11 at over 17 million tonnes. Between 2013–14 and 2017–18, the volume of litter in NSW decreased by 37%, but new interim data reported in December 2018 indicates a decrease of 48%.

In 2014–15 (the latest available data) the proportion of waste diverted for recycling was 63%, compared to 62.5% reported in 2012–13.

The NSW Government’s $802 million Waste Less, Recycle More initiative provides funding to improve business recycling, manage problem wastes, construct new waste infrastructure and develop programs to tackle illegal dumping and litter.

The NSW EPA's Don’t be a Tosser! anti-litter campaign has helped change attitudes to litter and litterers, and rubbish in NSW is reducing. The NSW Premier has set a target of reducing the volume of litter by 40% by 2020.

The Return and Earn container deposit scheme for drink containers began on 1 December 2017 and is significantly reducing drink container rubbish, which makes up nearly half of NSW’s litter. In the first 12 months of the scheme more than 1 billion containers had been returned to return points. An additional 710 million drink containers were collected in kerbside recycling (yellow-lid bins) between December 2017 and September 2018. Eligible drink container litter volume was down 44 per cent.

Future releases of data on recycling performance and waste generation in NSW are expected to be enhanced by improved methods of collection and analysis.

Related topics: Population | Economic activity and the environment

NSW Indicators

* You may need to scroll to the right to see the full content, or switch to landscape orientation.

Indicator and status Environmental 
trend
Information 
reliability
Total waste generation
statusMODERATE

Getting better

✔✔
Per person waste generation
statusMODERATE

Getting better

✔✔
Total and per person solid waste disposal
statusGOOD

Getting better

✔✔
Total and per person solid waste recycled
statusGOOD

Stable  

✔✔✔
Litter items per 1000 m2
statusGOOD

Getting better  

✔✔✔

 

Notes:

Terms and symbols used above are defined in How to use this report.

Context

Government education initiatives and frequent media coverage have contributed to the wider community becoming more knowledgeable about how waste is managed, and more interested in recycling and re-using waste. Issues of particular interest include reducing single use plastics, excessive packaging, e-waste and food waste (IPSOS 2016).

Public recognition of the impacts that waste and littering can have on the community, the environment and the economy has increased.

  • Poorly run waste management facilities can cause dust, offensive odours and noise.
  • Littering and illegal dumping can reduce the amenity of public spaces, harm plants and animals, and be expensive for councils, state government and private land holders to clean up.
  • Poor waste disposal, especially of hazardous wastes, can result in harmful chemicals leaching into soil, groundwater and surface water, becoming a risk to human health and the environment.
  • Poor waste management practices can result in the loss of valuable resources from the productive economy.

Growing community awareness around these issues has increased demand for, and supply of, effective waste reduction, re-use and recycling programs.

Pressures

Waste generation is affected by both population growth and economic activity. An increase in population tends to result in more municipal waste, while an increase in economic activity tends to result in more waste from construction and demolition, commerce and industry. The population of NSW is expected to grow to around 8.3 million by 2021 (DPE 2018), and at the same time the economy of NSW is projected to grow by between 2–3% each year (NSW Treasury 2017).

These factors will increase the amount of waste that the NSW Government will need to manage. By 2021, it is expected nearly 20 million tonnes of waste will need to be processed a year (EPA 2017c). 

Problem wastes can be hazardous to human health or the environment, so cannot be safely or efficiently managed through the waste management system. They include unwanted paints, chemicals, treated timber, gas bottles, batteries, tyres, e-waste and plastic films.

The effective management of problem wastes requires enough suitable infrastructure to collect and treat them and community awareness of this infrastructure, which in turn needs to be easily accessible by the public.

This infrastructure can be provided by local or state government, or through product stewardship schemes which involve producers of problem wastes being more responsible for managing the environmental impact of their products throughout their life cycle.

Some problem wastes cannot be collected or treated once they have been generated, such as microbeads. These are tiny, often microscopic, pieces of plastic that are added to a range of products including rinse-off cosmetics, and personal care and cleaning products. Once in the water, microbeads can harm the environment and human health due to their composition, ability to attract toxins and transfer up the food chain and harm aquatic animals and fish. Microbeads persist in the environment as they do not readily biodegrade and are almost impossible to remove due to their miniscule size. The best way to reduce their impact is to prevent them from entering the environment (see the Responses section below).

Since the 2012 repeal of the waste levy in Queensland, an increasing volume of waste has been transported out of NSW for disposal. This waste is primarily construction and demolition waste that contains many reusable and recyclable materials. The unnecessary long-distance transport of waste for disposal can generate adverse health and environmental impacts and is inconsistent with best practice management which prioritises re-use and recycling over disposal.

The proximity principle offence can reduce these impacts but is difficult to enforce. The EPA continues to use and consider other tools to minimise the environmental, human health and resource recovery impacts of the long-distance transport of waste for disposal.

The reintroduction of the waste levy in Queensland in 2019 may reduce the long-distance transport of waste for disposal and its associated impacts. However, given the cross-jurisdictional nature of this issue, a coordinated national regulatory response is the most effective long-term solution. The NSW Government is currently advocating for a coordinated approach in the appropriate forums.

Consumer behaviour strongly influences the success of waste avoidance and recovery. For example:

  • if people place recyclables in the wrong bin, they can be disposed of to landfill rather than being recycled
  • householders putting plastic bags and other non-recyclable items in the recycling bin can interfere with recycling equipment and contaminate outputs
  • consumers’ preferences or prejudices about recycled products can influence their market demand and value, which can affect the commercial viability of recycling facilities.

Research has shown that the amount of food waste is increased by:

  • a lack of meal planning
  • a tendency to over-cater
  • incorrect food storage (EPA 2016b).

Research has also found that people are more likely to litter in places where others have already littered or where they think they will not be caught (EPA 2017b).

Behaviours such as littering and illegal dumping result in recyclable materials being unnecessarily lost from the economy, and cause pollution in public places that is expensive to clean up. A 2016 survey of NSW local councils, public and private land managers and community groups found that more than $180 million was spent each year on managing and cleaning up litter (EPA 2016a).

Until recently, China was the largest importer of recyclable material in the world, accepting and processing significant quantities of recyclable material from NSW and other parts of Australia and the world. China is now stringently enforcing its ‘National Sword’ policy, which forbids the importation of 24 types of waste and introduces strict contamination limits for other forms of waste. The NSW recycling industry cannot currently meet these stringent requirements and needs additional processing or alternative markets for recyclables such as paper, cardboard, plastics and metal.

Responses

Updates to NSW Waste Regulatory Framework

Over the past three years, updates to the waste regulatory framework have continued to drive further resource recovery, improve waste management practices and protect human health and the environment. Some of these updates build on the 2014 reforms to the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation. Updates that commenced in October 2015 included:

  • implementing the Waste Locate system for tracking the transport of used tyres and asbestos waste
  • implementing the Waste and Resource Reporting Portal, which is an online tool that allows waste facilities to fulfil their reporting duties under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act.

More recent reforms that came into effect in late-2018 included:

  • draft minimum standards for managing construction waste at construction and demolition waste facilities, including mandatory minimum inspection, sorting and storage requirements
  • improving landfill and asbestos handling practices, prohibiting the exhumation of waste from landfills, and increasing waste monitoring at licensed facilities
  • increased on the spot penalties of up to $7,500 for individuals and $15,000 for corporations.

These reforms help to ensure waste is appropriately managed so the community’s risk of exposure to contaminated material (including asbestos contaminated waste) is reduced.

Return and Earn – container deposit scheme

Implementing a container deposit scheme was identified as a future opportunity in SoE 2015 (EPA 2015). The NSW Government introduced Return and Earn on 1 December 2017 to reduce drink container litter. Return and Earn is the largest litter reduction initiative introduced in NSW and is helping to meet the NSW Premier's Priority goal of reducing the volume of litter in the state by 40% by 2020.

The scheme provides an incentive to consumers to:

  • hold on to their empty container after finishing their drink and return it for a 10 cent refund
  • pick up littered containers and obtain the refund for their efforts.

When fully rolled out, the scheme will provide at least:

  • 270 sites across the Greater Sydney Region
  • one collection point for each remote town with more than 500 people
  • one collection point for each regional town with more than 1,000 people
  • an additional collection point for every additional 20,000 people in larger regional towns.

In the first week of December 2018, the one year anniversary of Return and Earn, around 680 collection points had been established and more than one billion containers had been collected, reducing the number of containers discarded in streets or thrown into waterways.

Collection points have been established at various convenient locations such as:

  • supermarket car parks, shops and train stations in the form of automated reverse vending machines
  • over-the-counter collection points, for example, in shops
  • automated depots where customers take their used containers in bulk and receive a refund.

Over the next 20 years, Return and Earn is expected to result in:

  • 6 billion fewer beverage containers littered in NSW
  • almost 11 billion fewer beverage containers ending up in landfill
  • 6 billion more beverage containers being recycled.

NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2014–21

Waste management in NSW continues to be guided by the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery (WARR) Strategy 2014-21 (EPA 2014). The strategy sets ambitious targets to:

  • reduce the rate of waste generation per person
  • increase recycling rates for all recyclable materials
  • increase the amount of waste diverted from landfill
  • establish drop-off facilities to manage problem household wastes
  • reduce the number of litter items to ensure NSW has the lowest litter count in Australia
  • reduce illegal dumping across the state.

Draft NSW Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Strategy 2017–21

The adoption of an infrastructure strategy was identified as a future opportunity in the SoE 2015 Report. Since then, the NSW Government has developed the draft NSW Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan 2017–2021 to help the waste industry to understand the expected increase in waste, and plan enough infrastructure to process this increased volume.

Consultation on the draft plan closed in November 2017. The EPA is using the draft strategy and consultation submissions to inform the development of a broader long-term waste strategy to plan beyond 2021.

Waste Less, Recycle More Education Strategy 2016–21

In partnership with local government, industry, government agencies, community organisations and members of the public, the NSW Government has developed an education strategy called Changing Behaviour Together: NSW Waste Less, Recycle More Education Strategy 2016–21 (EPA 2017a). The strategy aims to increase knowledge and skills, promote positive behaviour change and improve environment and community wellbeing, focusing on six objectives:

  • develop and use consistent messaging
  • integrate education methods
  • build capacity to promote change
  • promote excellence
  • provide resources and tools
  • work with and support stakeholders.

Waste Less, Recycle More

Waste Less, Recycle More is a nine-year funding package that invests $802.5 million in achieving the strategy’s targets.

As at June 2018, Waste Less, Recycle More had:

  • diverted an extra 2.39 million tonnes of waste from landfill each year by investing $407 million in increasing recycling and preventing littering and illegal dumping
  • stimulated an additional $345 million in public and private sector investment in waste and recycling in NSW
  • supported new kerbside collections for food and garden waste in 42 council areas
  • supported 106 new community recycling services for problem wastes
  • funded free Bin Trim waste assessments and support for over 22,000 small to medium businesses
  • established five illegal dumping squads and enhanced the illegal dumping program by providing $10.4 million
  • supported 200 litter prevention projects through $8.3 million in funding
  • awarded $53.5 million to constructing 17 new major resource recovery facilities
  • awarded $16 million to expanding and enhancing 34 resource recovery facilities
  • awarded $1.6 million to 54 food waste projects through the Love Food, Hate Waste program
  • awarded $4.5 million to 33 food donation projects to keep more than 7,400 tonnes of good food out of landfill and provide an additional 280,000 meals each week to people in need
  • awarded $4.8 million to 32 projects to improve the demand for compost in new and innovative markets
  • provided $78.55 million to local councils to develop their waste and recycling initiatives
  • commenced implementation of the Aboriginal Communities Waste Management program and provided initial funding to 14 Aboriginal communities for development of waste management plans
  • provided over $20 million to regional waste groups to develop and implement 14 regional waste strategies, and waste and resource recovery projects.

Illegal Dumping Strategy 2017–21

In February 2018, the updated NSW Illegal Dumping Strategy 2017–21 (EPA 2018a) was released.

It focuses on all forms of illegal dumping and all offenders, but particularly targets problem wastes including asbestos waste, construction and demolition waste, household waste, used tyres and green waste.

The NSW Government has committed $123 million over nine years until 2021 to combat and prevent illegal dumping. This is by bringing public land managers, local government, charities and community groups together to achieve a 30% reduction in illegal dumping by 2020.

Some key achievements of the strategy as at June 2018 were:

  • establishing five Regional Illegal Dumping (RID) squads and programs covering 33 council areas
  • funding local councils and public land managers to raise awareness of illegal dumping through media campaigns and educational material, including 133 projects to clean up and prevent dumping in local hotspots, in some cases eliminating the problem entirely
  • cleaning up over 4,640 tonnes of illegally dumped waste and funding the installation of 554 signs, 217 surveillance cameras, 317 gates and over 4.1km of fencing
  • launching the RIDonline reporting portal and database which allows the public to report dumping anywhere in NSW at any time
  • the EPA running strategic campaigns to detect illegal dumping through aerial surveillance, focusing on priority issues such as repeat offenders, asbestos waste from demolition sites and illegal landfilling on private lands
  • the EPA installing GPS tracking devices on vehicles transporting waste. 

Litter prevention programs

Several programs are under way to deliver the Premier’s Priority to reduce litter by 40% by 2020:

  • a Consultation Draft NSW Litter Prevention Strategy (EPA 2017b) was released for public feedback in 2017
  • the Hey Tosser! anti-littering campaign was revitalised to ensure it continued to help transform community attitudes to littering. It was taken up by many business and government partners including at fast-food restaurants, on public transport, on main roads signage, at government service sites and on social media sites
  • Litter Prevention Grants targeted local litter hotspots though better infrastructure such as more bins, community engagement and enforcement, achieving an average reduction in litter of 60%
  • hundreds of Local Litter Checks using a new diagnostic tool have helped councils and community groups to understand their litter problems, design solutions and measure results
  • in 2017, a new Cigarette Butt Litter Check and a Roadside Litter Check targeted specific litter problems
  • since February 2015, community members have reported littering from vehicles to the EPA, resulting in 43,246 incidents being reported as at June 2018 and 29,635 fines being issued based on those reports, a significant increase from previous enforcement activity.

Response to China’s National Sword Policy

To ensure the sustainability of the recycling industry, the NSW Government has established an inter-governmental taskforce to find a long-term response to China’s policy in partnership with industry and councils. The NSW Government released for public consultation a draft Circular Economy Policy (EPA 2018b) in October 2018 which outlines the principles and ideas that can help to shape our approach to resource use and waste management in NSW.

As the taskforce is focused on long-term actions, one key response is to develop a circular economy policy for NSW and support the development of national circular economy principles. A circular economy values resources by keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible.

The taskforce is also working with the Commonwealth Government and other states and territories to find national solutions to strengthen local recycling industries and develop local markets.

On 20 March 2018 the NSW Minister for the Environment announced a one-off package of up to $47 million to support local government and industry to ensure kerbside recycling continues and to promote industry innovation.

Changes in the recycling market present an opportunity to strengthen local markets for recycled materials, create local employment and improve the way the NSW community manages waste.

Phase out of microbeads

Addressing emerging issues such as marine microplastics was identified as a future opportunity in the SoE 2015 (EPA 2015). Since then, the EPA and Commonwealth Government have been working with the industry association, Accord, to coordinate a voluntary phase out of microbeads in cosmetic and personal hygiene products.

An independent assessment of the sale of products containing microbeads from supermarkets and pharmacies undertaken at the end of 2017 demonstrated that 94% of cosmetic and personal care products did not contain microbeads. At the Meeting of Environment Ministers in April 2017, Ministers stated their commitment to eliminating the final 6% and to examining options to broaden the phase out to other products. NSW, Victoria and the Commonwealth will report back to Environment Ministers in 2019 with a proposal outlining options to achieve these outcomes. 

Waste Crime Task Force

In recognition of criminal waste activities becoming more organised and sophisticated, in October 2017 the EPA established a Waste Crime Taskforce of dedicated investigators, operations officers, and legal and intelligence staff to deal with organised criminal behaviour in the waste industry. The Taskforce aims to prevent waste crime through:

  • intelligence-led investigation of high-profile, serious or complex waste matters with a view to prosecution
  • disrupting illegal activities and business models through instituting civil proceedings, administrative action and legislative reform; and collaborating with other government agencies
  • working closely with the NSW Police Force and other law enforcement activities.

Long-term waste strategy

The NSW Government acknowledges the importance of developing a long-term waste and resource recovery strategy and the EPA has started work to plan a 20 year waste strategy beyond the current timeframe of the Waste Less, Recycle More initiative which runs until 2021.

National level

NSW is seeking to build consensus with other states and the Commonwealth Government, including through the National Waste Policy, to develop a robust and coordinated regulatory response to the long-distance transport of waste for disposal, and promote consistent waste management standards across Australia that minimise the risk of harm to human health and the environment.

A cross-jurisdictional working group has been established to update the National Waste Policy, and NSW is actively working with the other states and territories to achieve this goal. As part of public consultation during 2018, the NSW Government lodged a submission on the updated Policy. NSW is committed to working with the Commonwealth Government and other stakeholders to complete this work.

Asbestos

Within NSW, the Draft Asbestos Waste Strategy 2018-22 (EPA 2018c) was released for consultation in October 2018 putting forward six enhanced approaches for reducing unlawful and unsafe disposal of asbestos waste. These encompass increasing the convenience of disposing of bonded asbestos, improving asbestos regulations, reducing the costs of disposing of bonded asbestos, increasing awareness around asbestos handling and disposal, improving the upfront controls on asbestos and increasing the chance of getting caught if asbestos is disposed illegally.

References

DPE 2018, Population projections – 2016 NSW population and household projections, Department of Planning and Environment, Sydney [www.planning.nsw.gov.au/Research-and-Demography/Demography/Population-projections]

EPA 2014, NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2014–2021, Environment Protection Authority, Sydney [www.epa.nsw.gov.au/publications/wastestrategy/140876-warr-strategy-14–21]

EPA 2015, NSW State of the Environment 2015, Environment Protection Authority, Sydney [www.epa.nsw.gov.au/about-us/publications-and-reports/state-of-the-environment/state-of-the-environment-2015]

EPA 2016a, NSW food waste tracking survey 2015–16, Environment Protection Authority, Sydney [www.lovefoodhatewaste.nsw.gov.au/Portals]

EPA 2016b, Litter Costs to the NSW Economy: A Preliminary Report, unpublished report

EPA 2017a, NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy Progress Report 2014–15, Environment Protection Authority, Sydney [www.epa.nsw.gov.au/publications/wastestrategy/17p0083-warr-progress-report-2014-15]

EPA 2017b, Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Strategy 2017–21 – Draft for consultation, Environment Protection Authority, Sydney [www.epa.nsw.gov.au/your-environment/recycling-and-reuse/warr-strategy/draft-nsw-warr-infrastructure-strategy-2017–2021]

EPA 2017c, NSW Litter Prevention Strategy 2017–20 Consultation Draft, Environment Protection Authority, Sydney [www.epa.nsw.gov.au/publications/wastestrategy/litter-prevention-strategy-2017-20-draft-160253]

EPA 2017d, Changing Behaviour Together: NSW Waste Less, Recycle More education strategy 2016–21, Environment Protection Authority, Sydney [www.epa.nsw.gov.au/publications/recyclereuse/changing-behaviour-together-waste-less-education-strategy-170171]

EPA 2018a, NSW Illegal Dumping Strategy 2017–21, Environment Protection Authority, Sydney [www.epa.nsw.gov.au/publications/illegaldumping/17p0158-epa-illegal-dumping-strategy]

EPA 2018b, NSW Circular Economy Policy Statement: Too Good to Waste, October 2018, Environment Protection Authority, Sydney [engage.environment.nsw.gov.au/38561/documents/88956]

EPA 2018c, NSW Asbestos Waste Strategy 2018–22: Draft for consultation, Environment Protection Authority, Sydney [www.epa.nsw.gov.au/publications/waste/18p1228-draft-asbestos-waste-strategy-2018-22]

IPSOS 2016, Household waste and recycling research report, prepared for NSW Environment Protection Authority 2016, IPSOS Market Research, North Sydney [https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/publications/waste/ipsos-waste-and-recycling]

NSW Treasury 2017, NSW Budget 2017–18 Half-Yearly Review, NSW Treasury, Sydney [www.budget.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/budget-2017-12/2017-18%20Half-Yearly%20Budget%20Review_0.pdf (PDF 1MB)]