Indicator: Solid Waste

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Within the ACT, waste is generated from domestic, building, commercial and industrial sources.

In response to the initiatives of the ACT NOWaste by 2010 Strategy and Queanbeyan City Council, volumes of waste disposed to landfill fell from over 224,000 tonnes in 2000–01 to approximately 207,000 tonnes in 2002–03. At the same time, recycling increased from over 354,000 tonnes in 2000–01 to almost 467,000 tonnes in 2002–03.

Commercial and industrial waste to landfill increased by 34% over the 2000–03 reporting period, reversing the trend shown in the previous reporting period. Waste from other sources either reduced or increased marginally over the three years to 2002–03.

Both the ACT Government and Queanbeyan City Council initiated more effective and efficient kerbside collection services during the reporting period, and public education and recycling services promoted and supported recycling and reuse practices. Nevertheless, total waste generation per capita still increased. Waste auditing suggests that some recyclable materials need to be targeted for more efficient recovery.

Increasing awareness of the environmental impacts of landfills on soils, surface and groundwater will be enhanced by further monitoring and analysis to fill knowledge gaps about the quality of groundwater, the spatial extent of contamination, and the impact of climate, landfill management and abstractions for irrigation.

What the results tell us about the ACT

Waste generated in the ACT and Queanbeyan is disposed to landfills at Mugga Lane and (until May 2002) at West Belconnen.

Excluding waste disposal associated with the aftermath of the January 2003 bushfires, the mass of waste disposed to landfill decreased by 7.7% from 2000–01 to 2002–03, to 207,067 tonnes (see Table 1), a continued decreasing trend suggesting that the NOWaste by 2010 Strategy has impacted on waste disposal and resource recovery practices in at least some sectors.

Table 1: Waste to landfill (tonnes) ACT and Queanbeyan, 2000–01 to 2002–03*
Waste Stream 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03 Change(2000–01 to 2002–03)
Commercial and industrial 72,885 85,763 97,467 + 24,762 (+34.0%)
Building and demolition 70,600 53,039 27,477 –43,123 (–61.1%)
Domestic collection 58,668 59,187 60,375 +1707 (+2.9%)
Private delivery 22,072 22,339 21,568 –504 (–1.5%)
Total household** 80,740 81,526 81,943 +1203 (+1.5%)
Total 224,225 220,328 207,067 –17,158 (–7.7%)

* For longer term trends, see;** Domestic collection plus private delivery

Sectoral waste

Most of the decrease in waste to landfill was due to the significant reduction (61%) in building and demolition waste. Although data for land development in Gungahlin in the early 1990s indicate a close correlation between development and the volume of building waste, this correlation appears to have weakened in the current reporting period. Despite new phases of development in the ACT, the volume of building waste has been decreasing.

Waste from the commercial and industrial sector increased by a third from 2000–01 to 2002–03, to reach its highest level since records began in 1993–94.

This increase is of particular concern given the appreciable decline in waste from this sector recorded in the previous reporting period.

Waste from domestic (kerbside) collection rose 2.9%, continuing, albeit at a slower rate, a steady increase since 1995–96. However this was offset by a 1.5% decrease in the mass of household waste delivered directly to the tip, so that total household waste rose by only 1.5% during the reporting period. Over the longer term, a much greater reduction has been achieved in household waste delivered directly to the tip, with a two-thirds reduction from the highest recorded level in 1994‑95. The staged introduction of tip fees for private deliveries, from January 1996, is considered to be the key factor influencing this trend.

Annual waste per person increases

Total waste generation—waste to landfill plus recovered materials—increased from 1.65 tonnes/person/annum in 2001–02 to 1.89 tonnes/person/annum in 2002–03. This is consistent with the close link in developed countries between gross domestic product and per capita waste generation. Breaking this link is a significant task for the NoWaste by 2010 Strategy.

Annual waste to landfill from domestic collection increased marginally, from 166.8 to 169.0 kilograms/person, indicating that the NOWaste 2010 Strategy has had little impact on the amount of waste thrown in the bin (ACT NOWaste 2003).

Only because of increases in resource recovery, did the average annual per capita waste to landfill from all sources actually fall from 0.64 tonnes to 0.58 tonnes during the reporting period.

Illegal dumping in the ACT increased

Waste is illegally dumped on public lands across the ACT, and may be removed by nearby residents or city rangers for disposal to landfill. Existing data suggest an overall increasing trend in dumping in the three years to 2002–03 (Table 2).

Causal factors for this increase are not known, although it may partly reflect a response to the government's waste pricing strategy.

Table 2. Illegal dumping in the ACT, 2000–01 to 2002–03
Activities '00–01 '01–02 '02–03
Investigations into illegal dumping* 395 445 558
Vehicles dumped in public areas** 431 591 671

*Investigation by city ranges only; **Impounded by city rangers; Data from Department of Urban Services

Recycling to reduce waste to landfill

The ACT NOWaste by 2010 Strategy has a strong focus on recyling; recovered waste can be used as a resource for alternative future uses.

During the reporting period residents of the ACT (and Queanbeyan) continued to recycle more of their waste, in both absolute and proportional terms (see Table 3). From 2000–01 to 2002–03, the total mass of waste recycled increased by 31.5% to 466,604 tonnes, while the proportion of waste recycled rose from 61% to 69%, i.e. increased by 13%.

Table 3: Resource recovery and total waste stream, ACT and Queanbeyan 2000–01 to 2002–03*
Waste Stream 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03 Change (2000–01 to 2002–03)
Recycled (tonnes) 354,779 398,967 466,604 +111,825 (+31.5%)
Recycled (of total) 61% 64% 69% + 13.1% (–61.1%)
To landfill (tonnes) 224,225 220,328 207,067 - 17,158 (-7.7%)
To landfill (of total) 39% 36% 31% - 20.5% (–1.5%)
Total 579,004 619,295 673,671 +94,667 (+16.3%)

* For longer term trends, see

This significant increase in recycling is commendable, but needs to be viewed with caution. While it shows an increased behavioural and technological capacity to recycle, it also indicates that, at a whole-of-community level, we are largely failing to reduce or avoid waste at the source or in the first place. during or after the bushfires (Ray Brown, ActewAGL, pers. comm.).

Data for volumes of specific types of materials recovered for recycling and/or reuse in the period 2000–01 to 2002–03 are shown in Table 4. Over the three-year period, recovered volumes increased for many materials, particularly for demolition waste (clearly related to the significant reduction in waste of this type to landfill), aluminium, metals (ferrous), clothing and other materials such as batteries, tyres, paint, sullage and wood and timber. These increases may be a function of both an escalation in the generation of waste materials (due to population growth and an improved economy) as well as improved uptake of new practices. A reduction in the volumes of some recyclable materials, such as liquid paperboard, steel cans, salvage and motor oil, also occurred.

Table 4: Resource recovery by type (tonnes), ACT 2000–01 to 2002–03*
Product 2000–01 2001–02 2002–03 Change (2000–01 to 2002–03)
Paper 37,147 42,257 44,560 +7413 (+20.0%)
Glass 8224 8347 7856 -368 (-4.5%)
Plastic 1286 1462 1407 +121 (+9.4%)
Liquid paper board 98 67 80 -18 (-18.4%)
Aluminium 106 104 205 +99 (+93.4%)
Steel cans 736 746 673 -63 (-8.6%)
Garden waste/compost 130,446 132,983 163,379 +32,933 (+25.2%)
Demolition 156,606 188,191 222,760 +66,154 (+42.2%)
Metals (ferrous) 4782 7463 11,021 +6239 (+130.5%)
Cooking oil and fat 601 629 879 +278 (+46.3%)
Clothing 2780 3185 3810 +1030 (+37.1%)
Salvage and reuse 6173 6995 2610 -3763 (-57.7%)
Motor oil 3190 4069 2546 -644 (-20.2%)
Other 2606 2470 4820 +2214 (+85.0%)

* For longer term trends, see

Comparison of ACT resource recovery statistics and results from the 2001–2002 waste inventory indicates that a significant proportion of paper, glass and ferrous metal are still being disposed to landfill (Table 5). A significant proportion of plastic containers, glass, aluminium, steel cans and liquid paperboard, and approximately half of the paper, is derived from kerbside collections. Recyclable material from kerbside collections is sorted, and disposed to landfill if found to be contaminated.

Table 5: Proportion of paper, glass and ferrous metal disposed to landfill in the ACT, 2001–2002
Product Tonnes of Material % of Recyclables
Disposed to Landfill
ACT Recycling or
Resource Recovery
Waste to Landfill
Total Recyclable
Material Audited
Paper 42,257 55,590 97,847 56.8
Glass 8347 6561 14,908 44
Ferrous metal 7463 6194 13,657 43.3

Source: Data supplied by ACT NoWaste

The high proportion of recyclables disposed to landfill demonstrates the need for additional strategies to target the reduction of contamination from domestic sources, and limited source separation in the commercial sector.

Additional resources may also be necessary to support new technologies that address contamination of recyclable materials or mixed residual waste.

Continuing with the NOWaste strategy

When the NOWaste Strategy was introduced in 1996, the ACT was the first Government, worldwide, to implement a zero waste policy. The principal goal of the strategy—to have no waste to landfill by 2010—is supported by actions and plans to avoid, reduce, re-use and recycle waste generated by the various waste streams (including domestic, building, commercial and industrial).

The Next Step revision of the NOWaste Strategy, released in March 2000, established targets for reduced waste to landfill and consequently focussed on reduction in waste disposal to landfill. Future revisions of the strategy will need to address the impacts on waste generation of population growth and increased affluence. See for more information.

Key programs supporting the NOWaste by 2010 Strategy are:


  • provision of rubbish and recycling bins at public events
  • second-hand Sundays
  • NOWaste Education Centre, Mugga Lane, to support schools and community groups
  • eco-business (launched May 2002)
  • Waste Wise Schools Program (launched August 2003)

Services and infrastructure:

  • kerbside collections
  • regional recycling centres
  • Mitchell Resource Management Centre (April 2002)
  • materials recovery facility
  • facilities for reprocessing garden organics
  • centres for reuse (Revolve and Aussie Junk)
  • recycling and recovery estates (Parkwood and Hume)
  • small vehicle transfer station, Mugga Lane (April, 2002)
  • waste pricing strategy (by which charges for disposal to landfill by the general public increase according to the size of the delivery vehicle)

Research and development:

  • household battery recycling trial
  • public place recycling trial
  • organic bio-bin trial
  • feasibility study of the Hume Resource Recovery Estate

Government leadership:

  • interdepartmental committee for waste management
  • review of environmentally responsible purchasing policy
  • best-practice waste management for government buildings

Water quality suffers at landfill sites

Surface and groundwater data for the West Belconnen and Mugga Lane landfill sites indicate that leachates are an important potential source of salts, sediments, nutrients, pathogens and heavy metals within their catchments (Ginninderra and Jerrabomberra Creeks respectively). Effective waste management therefore also involves minimising the risk of contamination of water and land resources.

Monitoring for a range of physical, chemical and bacteriological indicators in surface retention dams, bores, and one drainage line (Dog Trap Creek at Mugga Lane) has demonstrated exceedences for suspended sediment loads and bacteriological contamination. Although data are not continuous, eight exceedences were recorded of bacteriological contamination at the Mugga Lane Landfill and two at West Belconnen during the reporting period. Over the same period, two exceedences were recorded in suspended sediment loads at Mugga Lane and three at West Belconnen landfill.

In some cases, there was a clear correlation of recorded exceedences with high rainfall events (such as November 2000, February and November 2002, and February 2003). Pathogenic contamination associated with Mugga Lane in February 2002 had off-site impacts resulting in faecal coliform concentrations of 7900 cfu per 100 ml in Dog Trap Creek’s water.

However, climate is not invariably the controlling factor for exceedences of guidelines. Contamination of groundwater at both Belconnen and Mugga Lane is largely in terms of exceedences for copper and chromium, but this varies both spatially and temporally. At each landfill, there is a vulnerable site characterised by frequent exceedences. However, in August 2002, consistently high readings for copper and chromium were recorded in most bores at both sites.

Monitoring data provide valuable insights to the vulnerability of landfill sites and, in particular, the underlying groundwater resource. Given that little is understood about the ACT groundwater resource base, further monitoring and analysis will help to fill knowledge gaps about the quality of groundwater, the spatial extent of contamination, and the impact of climate, landfill management and abstractions for irrigation.

Data sources and references

ACT NOWaste, Environment ACT, Department of Urban Services and Resource NSW, Queanbeyan.

Population data were sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Regional Population Growth, Australia and New Zealand 2000–01, 2001–02, 2002–03, (Cat. No. 3218

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