4655.0.55.002 - Information Paper: Towards the Australian Environmental-Economic Accounts, 2013  
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The production and use of materials, goods and services have a range of environmental and economic consequences. The generation of waste is one byproduct of economic activity. Government, businesses and households are all involved in waste generation and waste management. Waste management includes the provision of waste services - such as the recovery of materials, recycling, disposal to landfill, and the waste management services industry(footnote 1) is the primary provider of these services. However, government, businesses and households all play an active role in reducing, reusing, recovering and recycling materials, or paying others to recover or dispose of unwanted materials.

Australia’s National Waste Policy was released in November 2009. The purpose of the policy was to set a “clear direction for Australia over the next 10 years, toward producing less waste for disposal, and managing waste as a resource to deliver economic, environmental and social benefits.”(footnote 2)

Aims of the policy include avoiding the generation of waste, reducing the amount of waste going to landfill (including hazardous waste), managing waste as a resource and ensuring that waste management, disposal, recovery and re-use are undertaken in a safe, scientific and environmentally sound manner.

These policies address economic, environmental and social issues, and are in synergy with other environmental themes such as climate change, water, energy efficiency and land productivity.

Waste Account, Australia, Experimental Estimates (WAAEE)

The ABS, in consultation with a range of stakeholders, has developed an experimental waste account within the SEEA framework. The results are experimental and are published in WAAEE (ABS cat. no. 4602.0.55.005).

The WAAEE allows the relationship between Australia’s economy and the environment to be further explored by integrating conventional socio-economic data with measures of environmental pressure.

In this chapter ‘waste’ includes ‘solid waste’ only and is defined as discarded materials that are no longer required by the owner or user. The unit discarding the material may or may not receive payment for it, but it excludes second hand products for which the product is used again for the same purpose for which it was conceived.

Figure 4.1 illustrates the cycle of waste through generation and management activities. Much of the waste management activities provide inputs to further production.

Figure 4.1 Waste generation and flow through the economy
This physical and monetary integration of waste data enables analysts to examine the economic and social drivers and pressures linked to physical changes. The WAAEE complements the National Waste Report(footnote 3) and assists in analysing the effectiveness and impact of waste policies, particularly from an economic perspective.

The rest of this chapter outlines the physical and monetary flows of waste in Australia in 2009-10.

Physical flows of waste

Waste supply and use tables in the account present aggregates of all available physical data (tonnes) in terms of the supply and use of solid waste. Figure 4.2 illustrates the physical flows of waste in Australia.

Figure 4.2 Physical flow of waste in Australia, 2009-10

Waste generation (supply)

Figure 4.2 shows that a total of 53.1 million tonnes of waste was generated in Australia in 2009-10, and a further 0.6 million tonnes was imported. The construction industry contributed the most waste to this total, at 16.5 million tonnes. Households were the next biggest contributor at 12.4 million tonnes, followed by services industries, generating 11.9 million tonnes.

Of this generated and imported waste, 24.9 million tonnes was disposed to landfill, while 25.2 million tonnes of waste was recovered domestically and 3.7 million tonnes was exported.

Figure 4.3 Total supply of waste (generated plus imports), by waste material, Australia, 2009-10
Masonry materials accounted for the largest volume of waste generated by the Australian economy in 2009-10 (37% or 19.8 million tonnes). Over 71% of this was generated by the construction industry, with a further 19% generated by the services industries. The next largest waste type generated by volume was organics (12.8 million tonnes in 2009-10). This includes food waste. Households are the single largest contributor to this waste type (46%), followed by services (26%), manufacturing (13.4%) and agriculture, forestry and fishing (13.7%)

Other major contributions to total waste generation were paper and cardboard (6.4 million tonnes) and metals (5.1 million tonnes). Households contributed 45% of the paper and cardboard waste stream, and manufacturing was responsible for nearly half (49%) of the total metals waste stream.

Figure 4.4 Total supply of waste (generated plus imports), by industry, government and households, Australia, 2009-10

The construction industry generated 16.5 million tonnes of waste in 2009-10, with 14.1 million tonnes of this being masonry waste. This includes both the waste from the construction of new structures, and the waste generated from pulling down, gutting or modifying existing structures. Households generated 12.4 million tonnes of waste in 2009-10, more than 70% of which was made up of organics (47%) and paper and cardboard waste (23%).

Services is a large and diverse group of industries, including accommodation, arts and recreation and finance and insurance. Masonry and organics are the top two waste types by tonnage, and they accounted for just under 60% of the total waste generated by the services group in 2009-10.

Waste management (use)
Figure 4.5 Amount of waste processed , by waste type, Australia, 2009-10
Different waste types showed very different profiles of use, or treatment.

The most recovered type of waste by weight was timber and wood products, 91% of which was recovered. Other waste types that were recovered included glass (67%); masonry (55%); organics (48%); and paper and cardboard (47%).

Some waste types are considered to be too costly or difficult to recover and this was especially evident with inseparable/unknown waste, with nearly all of it being sent to landfill in 2009-10. 501,000 tonnes (or 88%) of leather and textiles were sent to landfill, along with 3 million tonnes (86%) of hazardous waste and 1.1 million tonnes (77%) of plastic waste. While more than half of all masonry waste was recovered, 8.8 million tonnes (45%) of masonry waste was sent to landfill, the largest tonnage of all waste types.

A higher percentage of metals (36%) and paper and cardboard (23%) waste types were exported while masonry; electrical and electronic; leather and textiles; and timber and wood products waste were not exported at all.

Figure 4.6 Amount of waste processed  by Waste Management Services Industry and All other industries, excluding exports, Australia, 2009-10

The waste management services industry processes the majority of Australian waste (60%), but industries outside of the waste management services industry also played a major role, and were responsible for disposing or recovering 34% of Australia’s waste in 2009-10. The remaining 7% of waste was exported. Of the 25 million tonnes of waste recovered domestically, 46% was recovered by businesses outside the waste management services industry.

Those waste types more likely to be processed outside the waste management services industry were (by weight) metals (44%); timber and wood products (44%); glass (39%); paper and cardboard (38%); masonry (37%) and organics (36%).

Monetary flows

The above explores the physical supply (generation) of waste in Australia, and the use (management) of this waste. These physical flows also have accompanying monetary flows. A Waste Account for Australia also explores these related monetary flows, adding value to understanding the entire picture of waste generation and management in Australia.

In summary, monetary supply and use tables for waste show:
  • the supply of waste goods and services by industry ($m); and
  • the use of waste goods and services by industry, government and households ($m).

Businesses (and government) supply (provide) waste management services which are used (consumed) by other businesses, government and households. Waste management services include income from a range of services relating to waste management including collection, transport, recycling, treatment, processing or disposal of waste.

Monetary flows for waste are complicated by the fact that some waste has a positive value. When the owner/discarder of the waste material receives an income for the waste, these goods are termed a waste product. These waste products are also supplied to the economy.

Table 4.1 shows the value of both waste management services, and waste products, for Australia for 2009-10.

Table 4.1: Supply of Waste Goods and Services by Industry 2009-10, $m (industry output at basic prices, total supply at purchasers' prices)

Other Industries
Total supply at purchasers' prices
Waste Management Services(a)
Transport, Postal and Warehousing
All other service industries

Waste management services for:
6 424
7 539
1 238
1 981
Total waste services
7 662
(b)9 595
Total waste products(c)
2 232
(d)4 582

(a) Includes Public Trading Enterprises and Local Government Authorities.
(b) Includes $74m of "taxes less subsidies on products".
(c) Income from sales of recyclable/recovered material. This is entirely comprised of Trade and Transport Margins since these materials are considered to have been purchased at negligible cost.
(d) Includes $67m of imports.
In 2009-10, the supply of waste management services was valued at $9,595m. The waste management services industry (including local government authorities) provided the majority (81%) of these services (mostly for non-recyclables waste services (Figure 4.7)). The remaining 19% of waste management services were provided by other (non-waste management) industries. A large proportion of this (40% or $748m) was provided by the construction industry (Figure 4.8).

In contrast, of the total value of waste products (recyclable/recoverable material) supplied to the economy in 2009-10 ($4,582m), half of this amount was provided by non-waste management businesses (Figure 4.7).

Over 80% of waste products supplied by non-waste management businesses came from three industries - manufacturing ($723m); retail ($550m); and wholesale ($547m) (Figure 4.8).

Figure 4.7 Supply of waste management services and products, Australia 2009-10

Figure 4.8 Supply of waste management services and products, Other Industries, Australia 2009-10

Households spent $1.6 billion on waste management services which equates to $196 per household. Industry (including the waste management services industry) accounted for 83% of expenditure on waste management services in 2009-10 in Australia.

Figure 4.9 Expenditure on waste management services, by type of service, selected Australian industries*, 2009-10
In 2009-10 the construction industry spent $1.64 billion or 1.7% of its GVA, on waste management services. This compares with less than 1% spent by all other industry divisions. Mining spent the least at 0.05% of GVA, or $52 million (excluding mineral waste).

Overall, 70% of all expenditure on waste management services was spent on non-recyclable services, with the remaining 30% spent on recyclable services. The proportion spent on the two types of services varied by industry. The wholesale industry spent the highest proportion of their total waste management services expenditure (81%, $194 million) on non-recyclable services and the agriculture industry spent the highest proportion (60%, $34 million) on recyclable services.

1 The ABS defines the Waste Management Industry as those businesses whose primary activity is provision of waste services; some businesses with other primary activities (e.g. construction) also provide waste services <back
2 National Waste Policy 2010. Department of Sustainability Environment Water Population and Communities <back
3 Environment Protection and Heritage Council, 2010. National Waste Report. Online: http://www.ephc.gov.au/sites/default/files/WasteMgt_Nat_Waste_Report_FINAL_20_FullReport_201005_0.pdf <back