In an era where identity theft is on the rise, an investigation in Sydney in January 2013, commissioned by (NAID-ANZ the National Association for Information Destruction – ANZ), found that a high percentage of companies had confidential personal identification information easily, publicly accessible from rubbish bins on a random sample of businesses inspected:

  • 40% of bank branches
  • 25% of doctors offices
  • 18% of law offices

Surprisingly Government offices and accounting firms came out well on the day

to reduce the average for Sydney to 11% overall. Sampling the same cross section of businesses in Toronto, Madrid and London came up with an average greater than 40%, so on a different day, results in Sydney could have been markedly different.

While “Dumpster Diving” as they call it in the USA is an obvious and often too easy source of personal identity information, other electronic data stores need consideration for erasing or destruction before disposal. For example most modern photocopiers have internal disc storage of complete document scanning history for the life of the copier, so should be erased or destructed on disposal.

According to the Australian Crime Commission, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country. Many businesses are ignorant of their obligations under the changes to Australian Privacy Act 2012, including extended liability for online data disclosure to overseas recipients and requirements to actively maintain a Privacy Policy and ensure its compliance.

While the Security Destruction Services industry has higher costs of operation due to related destruction equipment and the need to provide proof of destruction documentation, at least this sector has its customers prepared to pay a higher premium price for services that in turn supports higher technology ranging from onsite shredding to an early adoptance of paperless moible tablet technology by collection companies.

In more general waste industry data, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) recently released thesestunning statistics:

In the last 15 years to 2012:

  • Population rose by 22%
  • Gross Value Added (to GDP) rose by 64%
  • Total Waste generation increased by 145%

So garbage is outgrowing population growth by more than 6 to 1

Does this imply we’ve too much affluence and can afford to throw so much away compared to third world countries or is it that cheaper, lower quality products have more built in obsolescence! They break too easily and are less-easy to disassemble for parts replacement or repair?

Australia is Suffering from Affluenza!

The book “Affluenza” by Clive Hamilton and Richard Dennies, published in 2005 is still very relevant today.  Affluenza describes a condition where we are confused and unable to distinguish between what we want and what we need. For instance, wanting a flat screen plasma or 3D TV to keep up with our neighbours when the old one hasn’t even worn out yet, is a want not a need.

“In rich countries today, consumption consists of people spending money they don’t have to buy gods they don’t need to impress people they don’t like!”

Affluenza defines waste as the difference between what we buy and what we use: An Australian survey in 2005 estimated that people spend $10.5 billion every year on goods they do not use (on food, clothes, shoes, blenders, CDs, exercise bikes, and even services like Gym membership). That’s more than total government spending on universities, pharmaceuticals or roads at that time!

Embarrassed by what we don’t use, we hoard and conceal them from ourselves and others, filling those extra cupboards and rooms we don’t need or supporting self-storage centres (out of sight is out of mind! for the avoidance of guilt)!.

The authors note that survey respondents were reluctant to admit the full extent of their wasteful spending.  In 2005, householders admitted to throwing out $4.6 billion of fresh food each year, yet audits of household garbage bins at that time suggested that the true figure was closer to $8 billion.

While governments urge us to reduce, reuse and recycle, marketers of consumer goods spend billions persuading us to do otherwise.  Laziness also helps us consume 10 to 15% on more household electricity than we’d actually need if we simply turned lights off or turned appliances off at the wall.

AFFLUENZA: When Too Much Is Never Enough! is an excellent read – grab a soft copy of it (Kindle edition) on Amazon.com.

A Global Review of Solid Waste management

In a knowledge paper funded by the World Bank Urban Development Unit, titled “What A Waste”,  by authors Daniel Hoornweg and Perinaz Bhada-Tata, produced in March 2012, it was noted that :

  • Waste composition is influenced by factors such as culture, economic development, climate and energy sources; composition also impacts how often waste is collected and how it is disposed.
  • Low-income countries have the highest proportion of organic waste.
  • Paper, plastics, and other inorganic materials make up the highest proportion of MSW in high income countries.
  • Low-income countries have an organic fraction of 64% compared to 28% in high-income countries.
  • MSW collection is an important aspect in maintaining public health in cities around the world.

Global MSW Collection by Income Comparisons

The What a Waste paper goes on to review how the percent of MSW collected varies by national income and by region: Higher income countries tend to have higher collection efficiency although less of the solid waste management budget goes towards collection.  In lower income countries a lower percentage of waste is actually collected – becoming a bigger ‘downstream’ health problem.

In low-income countries, collection services make up the bulk of a municipality’s SWM budget (as high as 80 to 90% in many cases), yet collection rates tend to be much lower, leading to lower collection frequency and efficiency.

In high-income countries, although collection costs can represent less than 10% of a municipality’s budget, collection rates are usually higher than 90% on average and collection methods tend to be mechanized, efficient, and frequent.

In cities like Buenos Aires, waste pickers tend to remove recyclables after the waste is placed curbside. The resulting scattered waste is more costly to collect: in some cases the value of recyclables are less than the extra costs associated with collecting the disturbed waste.

In some cities, largely because of culture and habituation, three-times per day residential collection frequency is offered (e.g. Shanghai).

Good waste collection programming requires an ongoing iterative approach between collection crews and generators (usually households). Therefore, waste generators should be aware of the true costs of collection, and ideally be charged for these directly.

The data from What a Waste shows that the average waste collection rates are directly related to income levels.  Low-income countries have low collection rates, around 41%, while high-income countries have higher collection rates averaging 98%.

ABS – Counting the Cost of Waste Management in Australia

The waste services industry in Australia according to the ABS as at 2010 is nearly a 10 billion dollar industry.

Only 16% of this income was from recycling services.

Of the 53.2 million tonnes generated annually, by income for services companies:

  • 31% is attributed to the construction industry
  • 25% to service industries,
  • 23% to households

Of the same 53.2 million tonnes by material type:

  • 37% is Masonry materials
  • 24% is Organic waste
  • 12% is Paper and cardboard

4 million tons of waste are exported:

* primarily metals comprise 2.5 million tonnes for nearly  $2 million, and

* cardboard/paper makes up 1.5 million tonnes for  $0.25 million dollars.

It’s interesting then, to see the percentage-by-material-type recycled.

… and even more interesting to see what type of activities the industry is spending its revenues on:

So it seems from these stats that a large portion of waste industry revenue is linked to transporting waste around from source to landfill or recycling depots.

NSW Transport Draft Waste Industry Reference Group Report

In a presentation at the Waste Contractors Association in Sydney late last year from the NSW Government Transport, it was noted that more waste tonnage is actually transported on Sydney roads than the whole tonnage processed through the Sydney’s main Port Botany container terminal! I wonder how long it will take that realisation to turn into some transport infrastructure tax similar to the temporary 3 cent per litre fuel levy?

It’s finally being recognised that waste transport has unique penetration requirements, needing to get to collect from every house and business at least once a week.

Levies intended divert materials from landfill are proving to be a sizeable source of revenue for NSW Government, estimated at $386 million for 2010-11. While alternate transport strategies (like Veolia’s Woodlawn Waste-by-Rail Transport project) have proved effective – future rail transport growth capacity is limited – given rail is already overloaded with priority being given to passenger and other rail freight requirements.

With the projected closures of most of the current landfill facilities within the Sydney Metropolitan Area over the next 5 to 10 years we can expect a lot of pressure for Local Government to identify and set aside “noxious” precincts for development of additional waste collection centres and expansion of the time windows for waste collection just to cope. At least one new heavy freight corridor and terminal in and out of Sydney should also be on the planning board.

With the increasing volume of GHGs that waste transporters also contribute to the environment, having them stuck in traffic for longer periods certainly doesn’t help!