Businesses are being urged to find new local markets for recycled materials to help solve a 1.3 million tonne problem created by China’s rejection of Australian waste.
This Clean Up Australia Day, we're urged urged to recycle more of the 68 million tonnes of waste created each year, despite new international markets now accepting some of it.
Not-for-profit organisation Clean Up Australia says the country generates 17 million tonnes of commercial waste annually, from a range of businesses including the construction industry.
Compared to Europe, Australia continues to rely on relatively basic waste technologies, with around 95 per cent of its residual waste still sent to landfill.
Sydney-based small business Sustainable Salons Australia (SSA) collects hair, foils, chemicals and other waste - some of it hazardous - from salons, and comes up with ingenious uses for it.
“The Australian hairdressing industry is one of the most toxic on any high street,” co-founder Paul Frasca said.
Paul’s business takes waste from more than 700 salons in Australia and now New Zealand.
In recent years his team has collected 23,600 wheelie-bins full of materials, that would otherwise have ended up in landfill.
The waste is stockpiled at his Sydney depot, before being sorted and recycled. SSA processes various chemicals, electrical equipment, foil and human hair, and in a few years since the business started, almost 90,000 kgs of plastic.
And since China’s decision to ban the import of 24 categories of foreign waste, there’s growing recognition of the need for onshore recycling. In fact, it’s been a turning point in Australia’s waste recovery sector.
“The worst toxic material is asbestos and it’s highly volatile," says Clean Up Australia's Terrie-Ann Johnson.
"However, we create other wastes in business, like inks from our machines, e-waste and batteries.”
“So it’s really important that we segregate these, and get them into the right stream and keep them out of landfill, because once they leach into our soils they are there forever”.
It’s really important we keep them out of landfill because once they leach into our soils they are there forever.
- Terrie-Ann Johnson, Clean Up Australia
At SSA, clipped human and pet hair is used to fill floating barriers used to contain industrial oil spills known as booms.
“It’s twice as absorbent as any other boom on the market,” Mr Frasca said.
“To clean up oil spills, the booms are donated. We’re also selling them to plumbing and waste management groups, and they use them to stop the oil going in the drain pipes.”
“Hair is just one of those resources that grows on our head we’ve just never stopped to look at it and see the potential of what we can use hair for.”
SSA also collects human hair ponytails for medical wig makers, who supply natural-looking wigs to people suffering hair loss.
Wigmaker Martine Richards has auto-immune condition Alopecia and lost her hair as a child.
“No eyelashes, no eyebrows, but I am lucky enough to grow hair on my legs,” she says with a smile.
With human hair wigs, she now helps others in a similar situation through her business Freedom Wig.
“We rely on the kindness of strangers,” Ms Richards says watching a stylist at HeadOffice Hair Specialists in Bondi Junction cut and save ponytails.
“I started helping people about 15 years ago, and it really touches your heart when you’re helping children.”
“So if I can help them to go for a swim, or help them go to school without any worries, then it’s a good reason to get up in the mornings.”
This year the Business Clean Up Day message is refuse, re-use, reduce, recycle and compost.
“So it can be as simple as no more polystyrene cups and no more single-sided printing,” says Ms Johnson.
New figures show Australia’s waste and resource recovery industry employs 50,000 full-time workers, and turns over $15bn each year.
“We can all recycle a lot more than we’re currently doing, so it’s up to every single business owner and employee to do better on that score.”
“Our key message to business is the same as for individuals: change starts with you.”
Find out more about Business Clean Up Day on 26 February and Clean Up Australia Day on 3 March here.