THE things we consume and the waste we generate are costing us the earth.
Australians are one of the highest waste generators on the planet.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, on average, every man, woman and child produces about 550kilograms of waste each year, with nearly half being organic waste and almost a quarter paper and cardboard waste.
And this is only the waste that finds its way into the official rubbish collections.
The bureau has estimated that in Australia we recycle just over half the waste we generate.
Obviously, we can recycle more.
In Newcastle, in the last six months of 2013, more than 7600tonnes of recyclables were recovered from our yellow-lidded bins: about 61per cent was paper, 30per cent glass, 5.5per cent plastic, 2.3per cent steel and 0.5per cent aluminium.
Sadly, a sizeable amount of our waste does not make it to the official rubbish collections and is littered throughout our natural environment.
Last Sunday, on Clean Up Australia Day, 6500 tonnes of litter was recovered from across NSW through the good work of more than 230,000 volunteers.
This is similar to the amount collected last year and reinforces other data that shows there has been little change in the amount of litter ending up in our environment. This must change.
Almost 80per cent of the material recovered was plastic, glass, paper or metals; more than 40per cent of this was beverage containers.
Across the country, it has been estimated that Australians throw away 10billion drink containers every year.
This is why former Australian of the Year and Clean Up Australia campaigner Ian Kiernan has got behind the call for a national container-deposit scheme.
Some of us would remember taking bottles and cans back to the local shop to get the refundable deposit for pocket money. Why isn’t that scheme still running?
For the past 10 years, the Boomerang Alliance of 27 of Australia’s leading community and environment groups has been campaigning for increased recycling and a national container-deposit scheme.
South Australia introduced its container-deposit scheme in 1977 and has achieved an 84per cent recycling rate on all beverage containers used.
This is the highest recycling rate in Australia. Container-deposit schemes do work.
With their scheme in place, South Australian beverage containers now make up only 2.2per cent of litter.
The Northern Territory introduced a container-deposit scheme and a ban on lightweight plastic bags in 2012.
The Territorians have achieved a 46per cent container return rate (almost 70million containers returned in the 2012-13 year) and a 63per cent reduction in the number of lightweight plastic bags found in the litter stream.
Australia needs a national container-deposit scheme that puts a 10¢ returnable deposit on all drink bottles, cans and cartons.
Such a scheme would decrease litter, increase recycling and divert resources from landfill.
It has also been estimated that introducing a national scheme would create 3000 jobs, result in $500million in sustainable investment and reduce national greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 1.3million tonnes, the equivalent of switching 197,000 homes to renewable energy.
The Council of Australian Governments Standing Council on Environment and Water released a regulatory impact statement on a national container-deposit scheme in late 2011 and found that the scheme would have a minuscule impact on beverage prices of about 0.1¢ per container by 2020 and that councils and ratepayers would benefit by about $2billion over 20 years from reduced litter, transport and landfill costs.
The statement also found that a fund worth almost $1.8billion could be established using the estimated unredeemed deposits in the early years of the scheme to support increased recycling and reprocessing, public education on litter and council initiatives.
A national container-deposit scheme would be a great opportunity for charities.
I urge everyone to get behind the Boomerang Alliance push for a national container-deposit scheme.
The things we consume and the waste we generate are contributing to the degradation of our land and water and creating a bigger problem for our children and grandchildren.
For a sustainable future, we need to reduce our waste.
Michael Osborne is a Greens councillor on Newcastle City Council.