Waste is much more than just the rubbish or garbage found in a bin. Anything no longer used or wanted and is discarded is waste.
All societies produce waste. In ancient times, waste could have been animal bones or broken tools; today it could be a plastic bag or a mobile phone. Archaeologists and other scientists can learn a lot about earlier civilisations by studying the waste left behind.
In the early 20th century, waste was dumped in the bush, in wetlands and in creeks and gullies; in some cities, waste was loaded onto boats and dumped at sea. In 1900, rats attracted to piles of garbage helped spread an outbreak of bubonic plague in Sydney.
Today, most of the waste we produce ends up in specially designed dumps, called landfills, where it can be safely contained and managed to prevent impacts on the environment and human health. However, landfills are expensive to build and manage and with Australians creating more and more waste, we need to find ways to reduce the amount of waste we produce.
Australia is producing much more waste than it was 50 years ago. This increase is due to a number of technological and lifestyle changes including:
Every week, each household on the Gold Coast places around 22 kilograms of waste materials into the recycling or waste wheelie bin for kerbside collection.
Waste audits carried out on the Gold Coast in 2010 (an audit sorts, classifies and weighs the waste from households) reveals exactly how much, and what type of waste, people produce. The information below shows the proportions of the waste placed into household garbage bins each week.
There are two active landfills on the Gold Coast - at Reedy Creek and Stapylton. All the waste from household wheelie bins goes to the Stapylton Landfill; Reedy Creek Landfill takes commercial and other non-putrescible wastes.
Gold Coast landfills are designed and managed under guidelines set down by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science. Landfills are lined with clay and special materials called geotextiles to prevent leachate (liquid made up of rainwater and fluids from decomposing materials) leaking into the surrounding environment.
Once buried, waste breaks down anaerobically (without oxygen) and produces gas. Landfill gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases prevent some of the sun's heat escaping into space and help to keep our planet warm. Many scientists believe that increased production of greenhouse gases is making the earth hotter - global warming.
Even though the waste that goes to landfill cannot be recycled, it can be beneficial to the environment by producing renewable energy. Waste in landfills decomposes or rots and produces biogas - which is mostly methane. The biogas is captured in pipes placed in the landfill, cleaned and then burned. The energy produced when the gas is burned turns a turbine that produces electricity.
City of Gold Coast and Energex are extracting and converting biogas from two active landfills (Stapylton and Reedy Creek) and two closed landfills (Suntown and Molendinar). Between 2004 and 2008, gas recovered from these landfills produced approximately 66,000 megawatt hours of power - enough electricity to power nearly 7,300 homes for a year. Using electricity from landfill gas prevents the gases from escaping into the atmosphere and reduces the need to burn coal or other fossil fuels that produce more greenhouse gases.
We need to produce less waste; recycling is a good start, but we can all do more. One of the best ways is to shop smarter by remembering the three R's - reduce, reuse and recycle. You can practice the three R's by packing a low waste lunch - check out our tips:
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