National Waste Policy
Australia’s environment ministers agreed to a new national policy on waste and resource
management in November 2009—the first since 1992. The National Waste Policy: Less Waste,
More Resources sets the agenda for waste and resource recovery in Australia over the next
10 years, and includes strategies to monitor and address organic waste.
Key strategies in the policy to address issues hoW much organic WaSte
associated with organic waste include: doeS auStralia produce?
• Continued government (particularly state and Approximately two thirds (62 per cent) of all waste
territory government) focus to reduce the amount landfilled is organic waste. In 2006–07, there were
of biodegradable material sent to landfill. approximately 20.06 million tonnes of organic waste
• Management of safety and health risks arising from generated in Australia. Of the 20.06 million tonnes,
landfill gas emissions. only around 6.4 million tonnes (32 per cent) was
• Development of a strategy for emissions from recovered (see Figure 1) and the remaining 13.6 million
landfills and other waste activities not covered tonnes was sent to landfill.
by the operation of a future Carbon Pollution
Of the organic waste landfilled in 2006–07:
• 7.1 million tonnes was from the municipal
What iS organic WaSte? • 5 million tonnes was from the commercial and
Organic wastes originate from plant or animal industrial stream, and
sources. Food scraps, garden waste, sewage, paper
• 1.6 million tonnes was from the construction and
and wood are examples of organic waste generated
by Australian households and industry.
Organic waste can be recycled. Compost, biochar,
soil conditioners and biogas are some of the products Figure 1: National organics recovery
that can be produced from recovered organic waste.
Most jurisdictions have policies and programs aimed
at reducing the amount of organic waste sent
Biochar is a type of charcoal which is produced
when natural organic materials, such as crop
waste, wood chips or manure, are heated in an
oxygen-limited environment. This process is
referred to as pyrolysis.
Biogas is the gas produced when organic matter
decomposes in the absence of oxygen.
Of the organic waste recycled in 2006–07, the captured can be transferred, flared, or used in energy
recovery rates by stream were: generation. As at 2007, there were 58 landfill gas
• 23 per cent recovery in municipal waste generation plants in Australia with a capacity totaling
165.3 MW. Australian landfills captured 26 per cent of
• 46 per cent recovery in commercial and industrial
landfill gases in 2005–06.
• 12 per cent recovery in construction and The Australian Government, in consultation with
demolition waste. state and territory governments, is considering
ways to improve the sustainability of organic waste
Over two million tonnes of paper and cardboard was
through the National Waste Policy. Options include:
recovered in 2006–07.
• the expansion of energy production from
organicS in landFill • taking action to address greenhouse gas
When organic waste decomposes in landfills it emissions from organic wastes, and
produces a gas known as landfill gas, which consists • standards and guidance for organic waste products
of about 55 per cent methane. Methane gas has a such as mulch, compost and soil conditioners to
global warming potential 25 times that of carbon increase their uptake in consumer markets.
dioxide, is odorous and highly flammable.
As well as reducing emissions of landfill gas, better
In 2008, emissions from the waste sector, including management of organics can produce additional
solid waste in landfill, were 2.5 per cent of Australia’s benefits. For example, a tonne of composted mulch
national emissions of greenhouse gases. Reducing the applied in agriculture can sequester 25 kg of carbon
amount of organic waste that ends up in landfill will in soil, and at the same time improve soil fertility and
assist in reducing greenhouse emissions. assist in water retention.
Most major urban landfill sites attempt to capture
landfill gas, although many small to medium sized Further inFormation
landfills do not have the capacity. Landfill gas, once
The National Waste Policy and the National Waste
Report are available from:
Information for households for reducing organic
waste and recycling organics can be found at:
Worms in compost pile, Lyneham, ACT (Dragi Markovic and the
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts).