Separation Anxiety

Out of sight and out of mind. The past solution to our growing waste woes has been to sweep it under the rug (or in this case landfill). That’s until we have to hand over money to the person that owns the hole. Furthermore to this expensive pollution justifier, the fees increase annually as we become more environmentally conscious as a society and implement tougher constraints to encourage sustainable living. Ultimately, we want to be filling holes with less and less waste but how can we possibly do this?


Firstly, let’s consider the statistics. According to the New South Wales EPA, “An average NSW household generated 5.1 kg of recyclable materials, 5.3 kg of organic waste and 11.7 kg of residual waste per week” (NSW Environment Protection Authority 2016). This equates to the total household waste of 22.1kg per week, every week, for 52 weeks per year and multiplied by the 8 million households we have in Australia! And let’s not forget that this data does not include commercial and industrial waste!

Secondly, let’s make sure this data is correct. The figures seem to be outlandishly high. However, we can roughly confirm the numbers by simply collecting, categorising and weighing our own waste and comparing it to the data published by the EPA. I live in a household of four people (three males and one female between the ages of 22 – 31). For this task, I was able to separate and collect bin waste produced by myself within 24hrs. The waste was then categorised into three types (general, recyclable and organic), multiplied by four people as well as seven days and compared with the data from the EPA survey.

POST A - Waste Data Graphic

Image 1 – Timeline recording of each item thrown in the bin.

Several interesting conclusions can be drawn from the data. However, the one element that stood out to me was the alarming amount of recyclable material I threw into the general waste bin. This included paper, cardboard, plastics and a large amount of organic material.

This data prompted me to reflect on why I would throw away highly recyclable materials. The answer was mostly due to a single item containing multiple materials which need separation. For example tea bags, which contain four common materials: tea, paper filter, cotton string and cardboard. At least three of these materials can be removed from my overall waste. However, it would take time to separate them which justifies my decision to throw the whole tea bag into the general waste bin.


Image 2 – Combined image showing all items disposed of grouped by area.

An interesting study conducted by the European Commission on Environment outlines the importance of waste separation at the point of collection and identified that: “Countries that have introduced mandatory separate collection of certain municipal waste fractions, e.g. waste paper, in addition to packaging waste, or mandatory separate collection of bio-waste, have high municipal waste recycling levels” (European Commission on Environment 2016).


In conclusion, we can see that although most people would endeavour to separate general waste from recyclable waste, a more thorough isolation of materials would significantly benefit not only the reduction of general waste but also greatly improve the quality of recyclable materials. Following this post, I will conduct research into how we can develop waste collection points that encourage material separation in our homes, industries and commercial institutions.




European Commission on Environment 2016, 2015 Assessment of separate collection schemes in the 28 capitals of the EU, p. 28, viewed 13 June 2106, <>.

NSW Environmental Protection Authority 2016, 2012-2013 NSW Local Government Waste and Resource Recovery Data Repot, EPA, p. 28, viewed 13 June 2016,  <>.


All images produced by the author


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