12 min read

Learning to tread lightly - Reducing our ecological footprint

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Australia’s ecological footprint is roughly more than eight global hectares per person. It should be more like 1.8 hectares. We are one of the world’s worst performing nations, a throwaway society.

You don’t need to be a ‘greeny’ to see the need to improve our performance .

A Waste Hierarchy model is an effective tool for assessing and improving an organisations resource responsible footprint and initiating good environmental practices

A typical Waste Hierarchy is best described as first reduce, then reuse, and then recycle and can be further devolved to include avoidance, repair/maintain and re-buy before resorting to landfill.

  • Reducing is cutting back on the amount of waste we generate. Also consider avoiding the need to use where practical.

  • Reusing is finding a new way to use a product to avoid it being thrown out and before it is recycled. Also consider repair in this process.

  • Recycling is using what would otherwise be landfill waste to remake new goods that can be sold again.

The full lifecycle of avoid / reduce / reuse / repair / recycle conserves natural resources, landfill space and energy. Waste to landfill is the last resort.

Facts that might motivate thinking more environmentally conscious:

  1. One tree is needed for every 17 reams of paper used

  2. Recycling 1 tonne of paper/cardboard saves 13 trees and 2.8 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions

  3. The energy saved by recycling one glass bottle would light up a 100 watt light globe for 4 hours.

  4. Recycling 1 aluminium can will power a TV for 3 hours.

Frequently asked questions and debated facts/fiction?

Question: Can coffee cups and pizza boxes be recycled?

  • Empty pizza boxes can be recycled with cardboard

  • Unwaxed coffee cups can be put in the compost bins or paper bins

Question: What happens to the contents of recycled trucks once its collected?

  • The content is taken to a sorting facility, where the glass, plastics, metal and paper are separated and bundled to be taken to reprocessing facilities.

  • Re-processors then buy the material from the collection contractors to be manufactured into new products.

Fact or fiction? The amount of fuel used in trucks that pick up recycling counters any good recycling does. We're just using up fuel and pumping more exhaust fumes into the atmosphere.

In the Life Cycle Assessment report carried out by three Australian Universities the environmental savings from recycling also considered the negative effect of truck fuel usage and found these to be insignificant. According to www.sustainability.vic.gov.au

Fact or fiction? Most recycling gets exported overseas in ships that are bad for the environment

An estimated 90% of waste collected is reprocessed locally.

Fact or fiction? Regardless of how we segregate and recycle our waste, it all gets thrown into one truck and ends up in landfill.

  • Recycling contractors use different collection systems, including 'split' trucks that are divided on the inside to keep materials separated.

  • While signs on some trucks suggest only rubbish is collected, some contractors use these trucks.

NOTE: All of the above FAQs and facts/fictions were derived from the following govt websites: