The Socioeconomic Impacts of SA's Waste Management Industry
With a waste and recycling sector contributing to over $500 million to Gross State Product and an annual turnover of $1 billion, waste management is big business in South Australia. The industry has been in state of metamorphosis for several decades but now it's reaching a critical point that only years of public education and initiatives such as clean up days and convenient, specialized waste depots can achieve: the waste industry is on the verge of becoming the recycling industry.
South Australia is a leader when it comes to waste management. Zero Waste SA reported that 77.4% of waste generated in the state is diverted from landfills, one of the highest rates it has achieved since its formation in 2003. It has also been found that since Zero Waste SA's inception, waste disposed to landfill decreased by 15%, despite a growing population. In addition, the waste-to-landfill rate fell from 740 kg per person per year in 2011-2012 to a mere 600 kg per person per year. These statistics represent a major shift in the structure and activities in the waste management industry as well as a change in citizens' behaviour and attitudes towards waste.
Research studies have shown that behaviour change with respect to positive environmental actions, such as recycling more, is moving from a fad into a custom. Many academics have repeated shown the link between positive messaging and signage and desired action taken. Take for example, reminders to recycle or to not litter. Rather than sending out negative messages such as 'Don't Waste Resources' or 'No Littering', marketers have learned over time that people respond more to positive messaging, such as 'Please Recycle' and 'Thank you for not littering'. New age recycling messaging is one that encourages people to take action through encouragement and positivity.
A survey completed in 2008 by Zero Waste SA found that 94% of South Australians agree that society is consuming too many resources and producing too much waste. This strong statement indicates that now more than ever, people in SA are strongly in favour of reducing their environmental impact through means such as recycling. This wouldn't have been the case a few decades ago when the issue of proper waste management wasn't in the spotlight as it is today.
Apart from the shift in social attitudes and behaviours towards recycling, the economic dynamics of the waste management industry has changed as well. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that in 2010, there were 182 businesses employing nearly 2,000 people in the waste management industry in South Australia. The total income received by these businesses netted over $625 million annually, and these figures have been growing steadily. But what is really remarkable about this industry's growth is where the growth and job creation is happening. In his article, 'The State of Waste 2014', Mike Ritchie, Director of MRA Consulting stated that for every job created in the landfill sector, nine others are created in the recycling sector.
This statistic isn't unique to SA. In 2009, Environment Victoria stated that “incinerating 10,000 tonnes of waste creates one job; landfilling 10,000 tonnes of waste creates six jobs; and recycling 10,000 tonnes of waste creates 36 jobs.” Recycling waste versus landfilling it is an almost recession-proof way of generating meaningful jobs for citizens.
The socioeconomic benefits of fostering the growth of the recycling industry are clear. South Australia's government has been doing great work in ensuring that business and citizens alike are able to and encouraged to support the recycling industry. Due to the many education and support programs that Zero Waste SA has implemented in the past decade, we are starting to see the many positive results. South Australians care more about the environment and the impact of waste than ever before. Citizens are responding to these changes in values and are adapting their behaviour toward recycling for the better. The recycling industry is growing and creating more jobs opportunities in recycling than landfilling for people. These are green collar jobs that people are proud to have. All in all, the changes brought about by the recycling revolution are positive for people, the economy and the environment.