Experts have warned that we could be facing environmental and financial woes after Australian recycling was barred from China.
Australians produce about 67 million tonnes of waste a year, and once sent about 620,000 tonnes of recycling waste to China annually.
But in January 2018, China placed an import ban on 24 types of recyclable materials, sending the industry into crisis.
One of the reasons for the ban was quality-related.
“I’ve seen bales that are 40-50 per cent paper, the rest is shoes, leather and all these other organic materials inside the bales,” former SKM Recycling employee Colin Lynch said.
But with more and more recycling kept on Australian shores, Mr Lynch believes stockpiling bales is a huge fire and public safety risk.
“Could be an absolute catastrophe if it continues that way,” he said.
Two of SKM’s Victorian facilities have been banned from accepting waste, leaving many state councils with nowhere to take their recycling but the tip.
But recycling expert Trevor Thornton said the problem was not just restricted to Victoria.
“Other states are suffering the same sorts of things – they may not be dealing with recycling facilities being closed or change what they’re doing, but the potential is there because we’re not selling the materials,” he said.
He said failing to act now would not just impact the environment, but would also cost the community.
“The rates are going to go up again, and again, and again, to manage these types of issues we’re facing of recyclables going to landfill,” Mr Thornton said.
Researcher Professor Sankar Bhattacharya is trying to change the way Australians use waste.
At Monash University they have built a prototype processing plant that turns plastic and tyres into diesel fuel.
“It should be a reality and it could be a reality,” he said.
And in Craigieburn in Melbourne’s north, residents have made a recycled road out of plastic bags and glass bottles.
Waste Management and Resource Recovering Association CEO Gayle Sloan said the federal government needed to show leadership and work with the states on the issue.
But she said we all have a role to play, and families could use their purchasing power to create demand for recycled products.
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019