Plastic Forests founder and owner David Hodge said Australian’s are being lied to. Picture: 60 Minutes
Plastic Forests founder and owner David Hodge said Australian’s are being lied to. Picture: 60 Minutes

The shocking truth about recycling

WE all think we're doing something decent for the environment when we recycle - but the truth about where it ends up might shock you.

Most of Australia's plastic rubbish ends up being stockpiled in warehouses or shipped to South-East Asia to be illegally burned.

This means that, instead of being recycled, mountains of it is being dumped, buried or burned in illegal processing facilities and junkyards in Southeast Asia.

Sunday's night's episode of 60 Minutes explores the contentious practice and it argues it began when China closed its doors to Australia's plastic waste just over a year ago.

It argues that, for more than two decades, our plastic recycling industry was reliant on China - who we sold our mixed and often contaminated plastic waste, and they melted it down into new plastic goods to sell back to us and the rest of the world.

However, much of it is now just stacking up in the yards and warehouses of Australian recycling companies - as we don't have the facilities to reprocess it ourselves.

Tonnes of our recycling is sitting in Aussie warehouses or being shipped to Southeast Asia. Picture: 60 Minutes
Tonnes of our recycling is sitting in Aussie warehouses or being shipped to Southeast Asia. Picture: 60 Minutes

"I think most people in Australia feel lied to, I think they feel disappointed," Plastic Forests founder and owner David Hodge told 60 Minutes.

"Ninety per cent of people do want to recycle, and they need to be enabled to be able to do that."

Since China stopped buying our rubbish, India - which was the fourth biggest import for Australia's waste - followed suit last December.

As a result, Australia's recyclable rubbish is now being dumped in Indonesia, Vietnam and, in particular, Malaysia, which received more than 71,000 tonnes of our plastic in the last year alone.

Mr Hodge told the program the worrying trend has come about as a result of a lack of planning in Australia.

"We haven't built the infrastructure. We haven't thought ahead," he tells Bartlett.

"Now we're here and we're drowning in plastic."

Plastic Forests founder and owner David Hodge said Australian’s are being lied to. Picture: 60 Minutes
Plastic Forests founder and owner David Hodge said Australian’s are being lied to. Picture: 60 Minutes

Analysis of our waste exports commissioned by the Department of the Environment and Energy stated that several Asian countries, including Malaysia have proposed crackdowns on waste imports.

"If Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand enacted waste import bans similar to China's, Australia would need to find substitute domestic or export markets for approximately 1.29 million tonnes (or $530 million) of waste a year, based on 2017-18 export amounts," the analysis warned.

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) chief executive officer, Gayle Sloan, has taken aim at the Federal Government - saying it has done "done nothing" since China shut us off.

She told ABC, the 1.2 million tonnes of recyclable materials households are producing could be turned into jobs and investment if the circular economy can only take off.

"We've had meetings, we had more meetings, and then we've had more talk, and we had no action," she said.

Recycling companies hope the media exposure will be a wake-up call. Picture: 60 Minutes
Recycling companies hope the media exposure will be a wake-up call. Picture: 60 Minutes

Now, Mr Hodge's company is hoping the exposure of mainstream media coverage will make the government and the public take notice.

"Recycling only works when people, corporates and government buy products made with recycled content," the company wrote on its Facebook page this week.

"As we know, the options to send our waste or a misallocated resource overseas will come to an end."


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