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How Bad Is Australia's Waste Problem?
Statistics From ABC's War On Waste

Statistics on this page:
Episode 1 & 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4: Turning the Tide | War on Waste 2018

In case you weren’t aware, Australia has a huge waste problem. In the ABC’s recent series War On Waste, Craig Reucassel revealed some of the alarming statistics regarding the rubbish situation in Australia. It’s definitely a series worth checking out, if you missed it you can catch up on iView. We found some of the statistics particularly interesting and had trouble finding a copy of them – so we made our own notes. Below are some of the most interesting statistics from Episode 1.

War on Waste Infographic War on Waste Infographic Sydney Waste Stats

The Numbers - Stats from Episode 1 & 2

  1. Australia is one of the most wasteful countries in the developed world
  2. Every year the waste we generate is growing at twice the rate of our population
  3. Australia uses over 10 million plastic bags a day – plastic bags are causing huge problems in our oceans
  4. 85% of soft plastics from bags and packaging ends up in landfill
  5. Australia pioneered recycling programs in the 60s starting initiatives such as Clean Up Australia Day
  6. The average Australian family throws out over $3.5k worth of food every year – that’s about a ton!
  7. Australia produces enough food each year to feed around 60 million people (over twice our population), yet many Australians struggle to put food on the table.
  8. 3.3 million tons of food waste produced every year, 2.6 million of that from households. This is enough to fill the MCG 6 times!
  9. Approximately 1/5th of bought food is thrown away – one in every five shopping bags!
  10. On average 1/3 of household rubbish is food waste
  11. When food rots in landfill it lets off methane, which is 25 times more potent than the C02 produced by cars
  12. If 1% of the population composted food scraps instead of throwing them in the bin, it would save 45 million kgs of CO2
  13. Australians eat 5 million bananas a day, making it the number 1 selling supermarket product. A large percentage of bananas don’t reach the shelves.
  14. Australian supermarkets and other retailers send approximately 170k tons of food to landfill each year
  15. If global food waste was a country, it would be the third largest green house gas emitter behind China and the US

Episode 1 - Highlights

Shocked by the amount of bananas that had to be disposed of, Craig researched Woolworths’ banana cosmetic standards, and found some documents. He quoted ‘Slightly arched with blunted butt end’ as the requirements for bananas. You can see Woolworths’ full banana specifications for yourself here. It’s definitely something to consider when you’re buying food – if you see a straight or oversized banana, buy it, and support the use of imperfect fruit and vegetables.

Craig also tried out dumpster diving with the dumpster diving granny, it was amazing to see how much good food supermarkets dispose of. The two of them brought back enough food to feed several people. There is considerable hygiene risk, so we don’t recommend trying this yourself, but it was certainly an interesting thing to see.

Episode 2 - Highlights

Craig tried to push his plastic bag ball into parliament but was turned away - he had quite a hard time getting in contact with the environment minister or premier. His illustration sends a clear message, but it was unfortunate that he wasn't able to have more MPs see it.


A few people from the community chatted to a recycling specialist Craig organised, who gave them a test about what could and couldn't be recycled. Some of the answers were quite surprising, but understandably it can be confusing. Each state has different standards about what can be recycled due to the various companies that actually do the recycling.


Craig did a test to see where recycled plastic bags go. The first test he did with Woolworths had his tracker end up in a landfill facility, so he tested another two to check that this wasn't just an error. The next two did end up at a recycling centre, but according to the centre they don't actully recycle plastic bags. Craig couldn't get a clear answer on what happens, but it's possible that they're sent overseas for recycling.


In 2003, Coles Bay in Tasmania was the first town in Australia to ban the plastic bag. Craig and team visited the first shop to do so. The rest of Tasmania has also since banned the plastic bag, however, it was sad to see that many places have found a loophole and are just handing out thicker bags!


Craig went for a dive in Sydney Harbour to clean up and see how much rubbish was down there - they collected heaps in only one short dive. It is estimated that if current rates continue, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.


70% of rubbish that is sent to landfill could be repurposed or recycled. Craig visited a fix it workshop that helps people fix items for free so that they don't have to throw them out. 80% of items that enter the workshop are sent home fixed.


Overall the episode was quite inspiring, encouraging people to think twice before they throw things out. We should all try to support the many initiatives like Replas as well as make sure our items are fixed or recycled!


War on Waste Plastic Bag Ball

Episode 3 - Coffee Cup & Clothing Waste Statistics

Fast Fashion

In Episode 3 many more alarming statistics were shared. One of the main factors was fast fashion - something people don't often think of as a waste problem. When throwing away clothes, we need to think about all the resources that went into making it - water, energy, cotton, transport, etc.

  • Australia is one of the most wasteful countries in the developed world
  • 6,000 KG of clothes are thrown out every 10 minutes in Australia — goes straight to landfill
  • 36,000KG of clothes are thrown out every hour
  • This could fill the MCG with clothes over two and a half times every year
  • 2700 litres of water to produce one item of clothing – enough drinking water for 3 years
  • The Smith Family warehouse process discarded clothing – 13 million KG of clothing every year
  • Some of these clothes are recycled, used as rags, etc. – 30% goes to waste
  • Three-quarters of clothing purchased is thrown out within a year

Coffee Cups

Craig also shared some shocking statistics regarding the disposable coffee cup. He used a tram full of coffee cups to demonstrate how many coffee cups are thrown out every half hour. This was an important reminder as to why we should bring our own reusable coffee when we go to coffee shops.

  • 1 billion coffee cups are used in Australia every year - these are not recycled
  •  This is enough to circumnavigate the world two and a half-times
  • Most people don't realise that coffee cups can't be recycled
  • 50,000 cups are used every half hour.
  • Most coffe shops don't offer discounts for bringing a reusable cup (find a shop that does!)

If we all played our own small part by buying quality clothes and wearing them longer as well as only using our own reusable coffee cup, huge results could be seen.

Episode 4 - Turning the Tide

If you haven't had a chance to see this latest episode, you'll be relieved to know that since earlier in the year when the original episodes were broadcast, there has been some positive change. There's still a long way to go though! We wrote down some of the stats that stood out to us below:


Bottles and Cans

  • 17 Billion Bottles and Cans used by Australia every year – less than half are recycled
  • 15 thousand bottles and cans are thrown away every single minute
  • in 1 day we waste enough bottles and cans to stretch over 4,000KM – that’s the whole way across Australia
  • It takes around 400 years for plastic to break down in water, and even then it ends up in tiny pieces that are harmful to marine life
  • Glass is infinitely recyclable
  • Only 56% of the glass we use in Australia gets Recycled
  • It only took 15 minutes to fill a massive bag with bottles from the Yarra river

There is an easy way to improve this - South Australia has had a container deposit scheme for 40 years which has helped them have the highest recycling rate in the country. The scheme encourages people to bring back containers - millions of them, with a return rate of over 80%. With the 10c/bottle buy back, around $58 million has been returned to the community in the last year. This scheme clearly works and should be introduced to all states.

Compressed Waste

Food Waste

It's hard to track if there has been a significant change in the wider community regarding food waste, but there has been some great innovations throughout the community including some new innovations at Lancaster Bananas. Below are a few important points from the episode.

  • Less misshaped bananas have been getting wasted.
  • Harris Farm can take 2 pallets of misshaped bananas a week
  • Reduction in waste hasn't affected normal sale lines
  • Misshaped bananas are sold for less than half the price of other bananas, so should be popular!
  • Waste at the banana farm has been dramatically reduced
  • Seconds bananas are now sent next door to create a gluten free banana flower. Only takes about 20 minutes for banana flower to be produced.
  • There's nothing wrong with what is inside rejected bananas - the most important part.
  • Unfortunately there hasn't been any change in Coles and Woolworths fruit and veg standards
  • Supermarkets have pledged to phase out plastic bags as a result of pressure.
  • Coffee cups recycling is improving
  • 7 Eleven are working on a system to help recycle the 70 million coffee cups they sell each year
  • There have been a lot of positive changes so far, but there's a lot more that can be done yet!


War on Waste 2018

It's returning! A new episode of War on Waste is set to be released on Tuesday July 24, 2018. Previews show that it will include the problem of disposable drinking straws, and much more. We'll share some of the points we find most interesting here - stay tuned!

Declare Your Own War On Waste

For more interesting statistics about rubbish in Australia, see some of the other statistics we’ve shared on our website. There are lots of things that you can do to help combat the serious rubbish problem we have in Australia, for some of these ideas check out the War On Waste website. If you live in Sydney and have a rubbish problem of your own, we offer the service you need. Declare your own War On Waste and call Same-Day Rubbish Removal today on 0402 737 046.

Learn More — See Our Infographics

If you'd like to see more statistics from the War On Waste or about waste in Australia, click on the infographic links below to view these great resources.

War On Waste Infographic StatisticsRubbish Removal Sydney Infographic Statistics


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