Australian branded waste in dumps at Bangun Village outside Surabaya, Indonesia. Picture: Graham Crouch/The Australian
Australian branded waste in dumps at Bangun Village outside Surabaya, Indonesia. Picture: Graham Crouch/The Australian

Picture shows Australia’s huge problem

In a tiny Indonesian village called Bangun, a photographer has made a worrying discovery among the grim mountains of rubbish that pile up there.

Among the piles of waste, Graham Crouch saw items that everyday Australians would recognise in a heartbeat - the bright packaging of Coles and Woolworths products, standing out like sore thumbs.

His incredible pictures from the village in East Java show a flattened Woolies full cream milk carton and a discarded yellow Coles basmati rice packet, both thousands of kilometres from Australia and concealed among recyclable paper scraps.

The plastics are used to fuel fires at local tofu factories among other industries. Picture: Graham Crouch/The Australian
The plastics are used to fuel fires at local tofu factories among other industries. Picture: Graham Crouch/The Australian

Local media reports that many of the villagers in Bangun make their living by sorting through tonnes of waste, which is funnelled into the community from around the world - from China, to the US and, evidently, Australia.

Much of it is supposed to be recyclable like paper scraps, but in reality there's thousands of tonnes of illegal scrap plastic buried among it.

And once that plastic is there, local rag pickers sort through it based on what it's made of. Some they sell to distributors and some, that can't be recycled, ends up being sold on to tofu factories where it is burned.

Most of us probably wouldn't imagine that when we chuck our rubbish in the bin, it would end up here but, very soon, Australia could be in for a brutal reality check.

That's because South-East Asian nations such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam are beginning to push back against being the world's dumping ground.

The region has been swamped with plastic since the beginning of last year, when the Chinese government banned the import of waste from overseas. India followed suit in March.

Now, it appears the countries that picked up the burden have had enough.

In Indonesia - where Australia's plastic are ending up - is vowing to crack down on the practice after an environmental audit found 30 per cent of material shipped into East Java as paper scraps was actually illegal scrap plastic.

Last week, environmentalists yelled slogans outside Australia's consulate in the East Java capital of Surabaya with banners reading, "Indonesia is not (your) recycling bin" - in a protest called "Take Your Sh*t Back From Indonesia".

They demanded that the Australian Government introduce stricter regulations on waste exports.

However, Indonesia's Environment Ministry is already taking steps to reduce the environmental burden - calling for a total plastic import ban by 2022.

The pushback is spreading to other nations such as Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam - which have all introduced laws to prevent contaminated foreign waste coming into their ports.

In Malaysia, a report last month showed that waste from around the world - falsely declared as other imports - was pouring into the country illegally.

It prompted environment minister, Yeo Bee Bin, to declare that enough was enough.

"Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world," she said. We will send back (the waste) to the original countries."

Soon Australia could be forced to deal with its own rubbish problems.
Soon Australia could be forced to deal with its own rubbish problems.

More than 150 illegal plastic waste sorting factories in Malaysia have already been shut down and it's understood that several containers will soon be put on ships and sent, embarrassingly, back to Australia in the coming weeks.

The crackdown across several southeast Asian countries could pose a major headache for Australia, which exported 46 per cent more waste plastic in February than the monthly average since 2017, according to figures from the Environment and Energy Ministry.

Malaysia received more than 71,000 tonnes of our plastic in the last year alone.

For more than two decades, our plastic recycling industry was reliant on China - who we sold our mixed and often contaminated plastic waste, and they melted it down into new plastic goods to sell back to us and the rest of the world.

However, now countries are saying they don't want it, a lot of it is now just stacking up in the yards and warehouses of Australian recycling companies - as we don't have the facilities to reprocess it ourselves.

Incoming environment minister Sussan Ley may have a major headache on her hands. Picture: Hollie Adams/The Australian
Incoming environment minister Sussan Ley may have a major headache on her hands. Picture: Hollie Adams/The Australian

Analysis of our waste exports commissioned by the Department of the Environment and Energy shows that Australia would have a big problem on its hands if other nations stop receiving our rubbish.

"If Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand enacted waste import bans similar to China's, Australia would need to find substitute domestic or export markets for approximately 1.29 million tonnes (or $530 million) of waste a year, based on 2017-18 export amounts," the analysis warned.

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) chief executive officer, Gayle Sloan, took aim at the federal government - saying it has "done nothing" since China shut us off.

She told ABC, the 1.2 million tonnes of recyclable materials households are producing could be turned into jobs and investment if the circular economy can only take off.

"We've had meetings, we had more meetings, and then we've had more talk, and we had no action," she said.


SES group welcomes new deputy controller

SES group welcomes new deputy controller

Added workload doesn't phase deputy controller Graham

Young herdsman keeps family Ekka tradition alive

Young herdsman keeps family Ekka tradition alive

"We used to pick and show cattle for a living, years ago.”

Q and A with the face of Lockyer Valley Relay for Life

Q and A with the face of Lockyer Valley Relay for Life

Get to know Tim and learn what motivates him in Relay for Life