The ‘disposable society’, driven by the rampant consumerism of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, must give way to ‘closed loop’ system of resource use and management, if society is to evolve and prosper.
Efficient resource use and ‘waste’ management will ensure society’s ongoing equitable access to key resources.
It will also have significant climate change benefits, by reducing the ‘draw through effect’ engendered by current ‘cheap’ landfill disposal practices.
This will reduce embedded energy and greenhouse gas generation associated with the current stream of ‘single use, throw away’ consumables.
Improved waste management is often sheeted home to the ‘consumer’, who, of course, is a key stakeholder.
Whilst some community engagement around domestic recycling practices has occurred, the consumer has effectively been excluded from the ‘bigger picture’ which has, to date, been controlled by vested commercial interests, both on the ‘product’ side and the ‘waste industry’ side.
The often quoted axiom “by the time it gets to the consumer, it’s too late” is a direct appeal to product designers and manufacturers to offer consumer products that are part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
The significant financial and legal resources brought to bear by major beverage firms in recent court actions aimed at avoiding basic producer responsibilities is evidence of where the true challenges in this area lie.
The other major stakeholder is, of course, local government, on whose shoulders much of the current ‘back end’ responsibility for current ‘waste management’ falls.
Indeed, the resistance of some of the state’s major local governments to basic building blocks of improved resource management practice, including container deposit schemes and landfill disposal levies is a matter that requires immediate focus and resolution.
The solution to this entrenched impediment is effective regulation which is the responsibility of government.
Unfortunately, Queensland is currently lagging well behind even what would be considered ‘modern day’ practice, having been held back over the last decade by cheap landfill, political expediency and indifference to and ignorance of, whole of life cycle impacts associated with improper practices.
The recent State Government ‘industry led’ waste strategy was roundly criticized by most key stakeholders as manifestly inadequate, in terms of performance targets and implementation mechanisms and requires substantial revision.
Queensland’s journey to sustainable resource management must start with a number of key, ‘modern day’ practices including, as priorities:
- Diversion and beneficial reuse of organic materials from the waste stream.
- Well-resourced consumer awareness, education and support.
- Effective producer responsibility arrangements (e.g. container deposit scheme).
- Removal of perverse economic disincentives (e.g. need for an effective levy on landfill disposal).
- Improvement in recycling rates, with particular emphasis on the commercial and construction sectors.
- Support for product design that engenders effective and efficient resource use.
- Effective management of legacy facilities, including carbon liabilities (e.g. methane gas capture and beneficial use at all landfill disposal sites).
- An effective regulatory framework that favours sustainable practices over ‘product’ side and ‘waste industry’ side vested commercial interests where these are counter to sustainability objectives.