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Rubbish in the Harbour City: A Close-up at Sydney's Waste Disposal Efforts

Like many other cities, Sydney, Australia’s great capital, home to iconic landmarks, a scenic harbor, and a lively urban culture, also faces the challenge of managing substantial waste.

Aysha Anam

As Australia’s most populous city, Sydney has tons of rubbish daily, from household and commercial trash to industrial waste.

Much of Sydney’s waste management strategy of the current and in the following years is centered around recycling. Historically, most of the city’s waste finds its way to landfills, significantly contributing to the environment’s steady degradation and posing threats to the surrounding ecosystem and people’s health.

In recent years, Sydney has started to be more purposeful with their waste management and developed various programs and policies that oblige people to prioritize recycling before landfills. These policies are guided by the vision of a zero-waste lifestyle for Sydney’s near future. Local councils, environmental groups, and the community’s growing awareness of the importance of recycling have been at the forefront of this noble initiative.

Sustainable Sydney 2030 - Leave Nothing to Waste

Sydney’s population growth has been growing at a steady rate these last few years (find out about Sydney’s population boom on this website). Their transient nature also adds to the challenge, as the population almost always changes every four years. With long-term residents already familiar and enthusiastically compliant with the recycling guidelines, the newcomers, including students and travelers, have less knowledge and, therefore, are not the best recyclers.

Thus, there is an urgent need to continue educating people about the guidelines periodically. With people’s attention swiftly drifting from one current event to another, with accessible information right from their hands, the local government and other policymakers should go beyond leaflets and posters to make their initiative known and appreciated.

Ultimately, Sydney’s strategic plan of waste management, called Leave Nothing to Waste, has at least five key elements that need to be highlighted:

  • The first step is to start at the source. In recognizing that the city’s largest waste stream is in the textile and clothing industry, with food waste following closely, they are putting in some strategies to support businesses to adopt a more sustainable alternative to their products and packaging while banning single-use plastic at the same time.

Reducing waste at the source also includes initiatives such as education and awareness campaigns that target all the relevant audiences, which basically means all residents and visitors of the city. No one-size-fits-all campaigns have ever proven successful in driving awareness to different groups, so the government has to keep in mind to make campaigns in various forms relevant for all.

  • Enhance waste collection processes. Currently, the government aims to improve kerbside recycling as Sydney residents are mandated to use red bins for general waste and yellow bins for recycling, designed for families living in apartments. Homeowners can also request green garden waste bins from the government if they own gardens. The government implements an annual chemical clean-out and quarterly e-waste collection and organizes composting programs.

While they do offer free collection on an appointment basis, the waitlist gets too long, and people’s waste could pile up. Thus, the need for environmentally conscious rubbish removal professionals arises. Many trash collection companies support the government’s waste management initiatives.

  • Increase the rate of residents reusing and recycling. The city is always looking for new and creative campaigns to educate and help residents understand more about recycling. Bins the government provides for are correctly labeled, and they even installed signages on apartment buildings as a conspicuous reminder.

As part of the ongoing plan, they have developed an app called Garbage Guru, which people can use as a reference for recycling and disposal methods that align with the government’s guidelines. There have also been new developments in markets for recycled materials, mandates for businesses to exercise recycling, and support community-led recycling programs. 


  • Reduce landfill use. The Sustainable Sydney steadily unfolding plan has achieved an impressive diversion rate of 69%, even with the ongoing challenges of the transient population. The new strategy with this program sets its goal of improving the rate to 90%, taking most waste transfers off from landfills.


One of their efforts includes investing in new innovative waste measures, such as awarding environmental grants and knowledge exchange partnerships. Their target of expanding their collection services by having a separate bin for e-waste, food organics, and textile refuse will also greatly help their reducing landfill use measures.

  • Support innovation and research. Lastly, the local government has ongoing projects supporting funding for new research into innovative waste management technologies and processes. This promotes collaboration with different members of the community, state government organizations, industry groups, and even academia.

The quest to develop new technologies exclusive to waste management also includes finding new eco-friendly ways to reuse the remaining waste in landfills that cannot be recycled, such as waste-to-energy treatment solutions.

To pique your interest, here is a list of sustainability research centers that are in collaboration with the government, industries, and communities to increase the leverage of a zero-waste future: https://www.uts.edu.au/research-and-teaching/our-research/sustainability/research-centres/sustainability-research-centres.


Community Engagement Concerning Leave Nothing to Waste Program

Contributions from the Residents, Travelers, and Visitors

As the plan involves beautifying the city and cleaner streets, it is only suitable for residents to show appreciation for the government's targets and goals. While there are still some ongoing discussions and clarification about what not to reuse and what is for recycling, the residents show full support and promise compliance with the program.

On the other hand, residents need not wait for their city council to reach out and start with their recycling education. They can show support by doing their part by self-educating through research and even giving recommendations as the commission continues to investigate the expansion of recycling services. They can also take the initiative of educating visitors or travelers about the area's existing waste guidelines.

Residents can contribute to nearing the 90% diversion rate from landfills by 2030 by saving materials from becoming waste as much as they can, choosing to recycle instead of contaminating, and using the city’s new and improved recycling services. They can also be responsible citizens by reporting bulky waste items for collection instead of leaving them out on the streets.


Contributions from the Local Businesses and Industry Drivers

The businesses are the other stakeholders that require cooperation for the sustainability plan to succeed. By resorting to alternative and more eco-friendly strategies, they also push the overall industry to collectively let go of their traditional unsustainable materials or packaging. They do not have to sacrifice capital to adopt more sustainable ways, as the government already has measures to support this venture.

They’re asking businesses to always prioritize opportunities to lessen their waste and recycle more. They can also demand services from waste management contractors that align with the current guidelines. Those looking for the best rubbish removal company to partner with can head to Ridly Rubbish Removal, which is the most conscious about its carbon footprint. They are already on a mission to lead by example in responsible waste extraction, reducing landfill use, and promoting recycling.

Businesses can continue to find ways to improve how they report waste and recycling performance and chase innovations that will allow them to contribute less to landfills. Participating actively with city-led sustainability programs can contribute to community awareness and influence.

Contributions from Other Agencies and Regulators

For the program to succeed, all agencies, regulators, and government units must work together to align all needed information and documentation. Transparency on real-time waste generation and treatment capacity would solve any gap in the ability of the government to assist with the development of new waste facilities.

Agencies involved in waste regulation should be the point of reference for the general public who wishes to have more education about carbon footprints and environmental impacts of waste treatments. They must also do their part in implementing guidelines that have already been set, such as reducing single-use disposable materials and allocating proper land resources to waste treatment.

They will also need to be more accountable in providing transparency and maintaining the integrity of waste data from residential and commercial producers and waste operators.

Effectivity of Leave Nothing to Waste So Far

Years into the program, when it started in 2017, the city has already seen steady progress in taking waste away from landfills. As the years progress, waste management prices have been skyrocketing year after year, with at least $146 per ton disposed to landfills, pushing waste providers to be specific with their pricing, taking into account the weight of your bins. This high cost has compelled businesses to accept that recycling is more cost-effective than filling waste bins.


The new pricing scheme for waste removal, along with community engagement, has caused an evident increase in the recycling rate in recent years and proves that any municipality can be sustained with a circular economy approach. This is also a clear sign that the move, amid all challenges, is reaching its goals and on the way to an assured zero-waste future for Sydney.

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