Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

Environmental Issues

Waste and recycling

Waste resources for schools

Group of happy school children celebrating a cleanup

In daily life we discard waste, the things we no longer need. Almost every human activity generates some type of waste. This creates problems because waste can pollute our air, water and land. The extent of the pollution depends on the type of waste and how we manage it. When we dispose of waste, this also means we use land for landfill sites rather than more valuable and productive activities.

Reducing waste

The good news is that in NSW, the total amount of solid waste disposed of is decreasing, and the amount of waste each person disposes is also decreasing, on average.

In Sydney and surrounding regions (the Hunter, Central Coast and Illawarra), the total waste disposed of fell by 15 per cent over 12 years since 2000.

Part of the reason for this drop was a 22 per cent decrease in household waste and other council waste (called ‘municipal’ waste). Commercial and industrial waste dropped even more, by 30 per cent (this class of waste contains more metals, plastics and timbers than other types of waste).

Find out more: New South Wales State of the Environment 2012

Waste information

Every year the NSW EPA prepares the NSW Local Government Waste and Resource Recovery Data Report (PDF 629KB), which draws together data and information from councils about domestic waste and recycling from their kerbside, drop off and clean-up services.

2012-13 data

  • The average NSW household generated 23.6 kg of waste a week, consisting of 5.1 kg of recyclables, 5.3 kg of food and garden organics and 11.7 kg of landfill waste.
  • The average person in NSW generated 9.2 kg of waste a week, down from 9.4 kg in the previous year
  • NSW households generated a total of 3.47 million tonnes of waste, sending 2.02 million tonnes to landfill and recycling the remaining 1.45 million tonnes.
  • The overall recycling rate for household waste dropped slightly to 46.5 per cent, compared to 47 per cent in 2011/12


It’s important to recycle waste because this conserves our resources, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and saves energy and water.

The draft Waste and Resource Recovery Strategy 2013–21 sets ambitious new targets for NSW to recycle 75 per cent of all waste by 2021, up from 63 per cent in 2010-11.

The NSW Government’s Waste Less Recycle More is the largest waste and recycling funding program in Australia, delivering $465.7 million over five years to boost recycling and reduce waste-to-landfill at home and work through infrastructure, education and compliance.

Food waste

EPA research shows 40 per cent of waste in household kerbside bins going to landfill is food waste that could be avoided or recovered for recycling into compost. In NSW it’s estimated each household wastes $1000 a year on food that’s bought but never eaten.

Waste Less, Recycle More is investing $70 million over four years to reduce food and garden organics waste through avoidance, better collection services, building processing capacity and new markets for compost.

It also supports education through Love Food Hate Waste to raise awareness about the impact of food waste in NSW and to help our community reduce the amount of ‘good’ food we waste.

Explore the Love Food Hate Waste website for facts, tips and other resources to tackle the food waste problem.

Waste that can’t go in the bin

Some items cannot be placed in your kerbside bins or recycling collection services and require special treatment. The best way to dispose of these problem wastes is at a Household Chemical CleanOut or a Community Recycling Centre.

In NSW, Household Chemical Cleanouts have collected and safely treated almost one million kilograms of waste from homes in 2010-11.  This free service is a safe way to dispose of a range of household chemicals that could cause harm to human health and the environment if not disposed of correctly.

Community Recycling Centres are drop-off centres for common household problem wastes that can’t be collected via council kerbside waste and recycling collection services. New and enhanced community recycling centres are being constructed across NSW so that householders can drop off their problem wastes free of charge.

Tackling illegal dumping

Illegal dumping is the depositing of waste larger than litter onto land or into water. This varies from small bags of rubbish in towns or cities, to dumping of large amounts of waste in bushland and other isolated areas.

The NSW Government aims to reduce the number of large-scale illegal dumping incidents in Sydney, the Illawarra, Hunter and Central Coast by 30 per cent by 2016. Teams called Regional Illegal Dumping (RID) Squads are an important part of the solution. They specialise in preventing illegal dumping within their region with activities including patrolling, cleaning up, and educating the community.

For example in 2010-11, the Western Sydney RID Squad, with the participation of seven local councils, investigated close to 5000 illegal dumping incidents and took follow-up action by issuing 93 clean-up notices and 733 penalty notices.

Sustainable Schools NSW

Sustainable Schools NSW is a hub of resources and information for school communities interested in protecting their local environment.

Sustainability is now a cross-curriculum priority in the NSW syllabus, as part of the introduction of the Australian curriculum.

Teaching resources for waste include units of work, lesson plans, support materials and curriculum connections on recycling, avoiding food waste and reducing waste at school.

More information

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Page last updated: 16 January 2015