Australia Drowning In Waste: 15 Shocking Statistics

Australia is a well-known destination for tourism because of its beautiful scenery, cities, wildlife and friendly communities. However, Australia is also a main contributor to the world’s waste problem, more than any other nation. The average Aussie is generating more than 540 kilograms of household waste every single year!1

Whilst this makes for a shocking read (see stats below), we will share insights into the progress that is being made to reduce high waste pollution in Australia.

Women picking plastic waste and cleaning the beach

15 statistics that highlight Australia’s waste problem

1. Australia suffers from sea pollution by generating 8 million metric tons (per annum) of harmful plastic that goes into their oceans.2

This is equivalent to 1.580kg of plastic being neglected into their seas every hour! Part of this study revealed that nearly three-quarters of all Aussies that undertook this research were shocked at the amount of plastic pollution that ends up in the sea. Less than 10% of respondents could give an accurate result on the volume of plastic that ends up along Australia’s coast.

(Corona Independent Study, 2018)

2. The latest waste report by ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) revealed that roughly 76 million tonnes of waste had been created by the Aussie population.3

For every community of a million Australians, 3.04 million tonnes of waste are produced annually. This saw a ten per cent increase from the previous year, and over half of all the waste is not currently being recycled. Regular households in Australia produce over a sixth of this total waste amount at 12.4 million tonnes (16.3%). This is very close behind the two contributing polluting industries of manufacturing (16.9% of total waste) and construction (16.8% of total waste).

(Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2020)

3. Over 6000 kilograms of materials are being thrown away every 10 minutes in Australia. That’s nearly 9 million kg in one day!4

Over 50 million worth of kilograms of materials are not recycled and are sent to landfill. This huge number of materials that are chucked away is due to the impact of fast fashion with the manufacturing industry producing unnecessary packaging and a high volume of cheap products. As well as taking advantage of consumer habits to buy cheaply and in bulk. However, the oversupply of these raw materials combined with the lack of recycling or reuse, means a lot of unnecessary waste is polluted into our world.

(War On Waste Australia, 2017)

4. According to the Australian Government Environmental Department, nearly 30% of all food bought by an average household in Australia is gone to waste.5

It is calculated that the waste produced costs up to 3000 Australian Dollars for every household. Australia is taking efforts to combat the issue of the food waste crisis (a third of all food is wasted globally and costs the world economy nearly $37 billion each year). Due to this being such a huge contributing factor to waste pollution and our environment, Australia has committed to setting plans to reduce their total waste amount by 50% across the nation.

(Australian Government Environmental Department, 2020)

5. During the pandemic year of 2020, Australia only recycled 12% of all plastic materials with the remaining amount being dumped and a tiny percentage utilised for renewable energy.6

There has been some slow progress on this, but Australia has sights on around 70% of all plastic materials to be recycled within the next two to three years. But realistically this looks to be around the 40% mark based on findings. To avoid harmful plastics being distributed into the ocean or environment, dramatic changes need to be implemented in the manufacturing industry, alongside positive consumer behaviour and strict regulations on banning excessive plastic waste.

(AAP, 2020)

6. According to the National Waste Report, nearly 65 million tons of waste were produced in 2022 with only around 50% being recycled.7

Whilst there was a ban on exporting some of this waste to China in previous years, around 8% of this yearly waste is exported to countries in Southeast Asia. Even in these circumstances, some of the rubbish had to be sent back from Southeast Asia due to contamination issues. Not only has Australia seen this issue at a national level but many local councils have had to tackle this huge task ahead straight on. It’s reported that from 2019 to 2020 more than AUD 40 million was put into a recycling strategy plan.

(National Waste Report, 2022)

7. It’s estimated that over 70 billion pieces of plastic that can be compressed or crumpled up are used across the nation of Australia.8

These plastics that are easily crumpled up can include food wrappers, ice cream packets, soft drink cans and food bags. The reality of the situation is that plastic production has risen so much that we will be using at least double the amount by 2040 with recycling lines struggling to keep up. It’s also estimated that up to 130,000 tonnes of plastic are destroying sea life and polluting Australia’s coastlines every single year. 

(National Plastics Plan, 2021)

8. Over AUD 420 million is lost to not retrieving and recycling plastic bottles every year in Australia.

The war on plastic is still a very real threat. There is a prediction that by 2050 that all kinds of plastic could easily outweigh marine life and change the future of biodiversity. It’s not only harming the environment but the Australian economy through the large waste and cost of single-use materials. The Australian Government is working in partnership with organisations like Boomerang Alliance to help remove single-use plastics from the popular coastlines of Australia and is always focussed on sustainability.

(National Plastics Plan, 2021)

9. Over the course of a year, Australians end up using around two billion single-use cups at coffee stores and cafes. Most of which end up in a landfill.9

The typical cups used at well-known cafes in Australia like Jack’s café, The Coffee Club and Muffin Break are typically ones that are lined with plastic and made from paper as well. This means that they are not 100% recyclable, and they mostly end up in landfill (estimated up to 90% of all cups). These kinds of cups are thought to be the 2nd largest contributor to rubbish objects behind plastic bottles.

(WWF report, 2022)

10. According to independent studies, Australia is the 5th country in the rankings for wasting the most amount of food per capita household every year.10

Households in Australia generate more than 102 kilograms of food waste per year. This does not include waste produced at restaurants, cafes and other food outlets. Household waste is the highest contributor to food waste out of the other sources. An astonishing amount of fresh food like fruit and vegetables is wasted higher than any other food type at around 38%. Educating communities on food sustainability is key to preventing individual waste.

(Statista, 2020)

11. Every year, over half a million tonnes of e-waste is produced, with 50% going to landfills in Australia.11

A large majority of E-waste is produced by households, with around 40% of the total amount. This waste usually contains devices like computers, mobiles, gaming solutions, screens and other electronics, for instance, chargers, household appliances and bulbs. It’s thought that nearly three-quarters (75%) of all harmful toxic waste is caused by the chemicals from e-waste. The impact of e-waste on our environment is deadly to animals, our world and ourselves. The good news is that nearly all e-waste products can be recycled and reused to prevent the increase of toxic waste.

(ABS, 2020)

12. The Great Barrier Reef is vulnerable to global warming and waste pollution. It’s reported that over 85% of all current pollution in the Great Barrier Reef is from microplastics.12

A scientific study looked at the impact of microplastics on the Great Barrier Reef and found it to be one of the leading causes of changes in this marine habitat. Due to the pervasiveness and invasive nature of the materials, its importance to preventing microplastics is key to the survival of marine life. Around 800 species, including nearly 80 dedicated just to Australia, are thought to be at high risk from microplastics.

(Queensland Government, 2021)

13. Over three-quarters, (75%) of the waste found across Australia’s famous coastlines is plastic.13

It’s important that not only are beaches cleaned up, but any plastic does not make its way into the ocean as well. Plastic struggles to break down and microplastics can remain for many years. Reports have shown that marine life like turtles that ingest the smallest microplastic can die from it. On the coast of Queensland, nearly 3 quarters (75%) of loggerhead turtles found dead had consumed plastic waste. 

(Queensland Government, 2021)

14. It was revealed that over 1 billion plastic bags were used in the region of Queensland alone in one year!14

These statistics were shared in the report by the Government during the pandemic, but it highlighted how important the ban on plastic bags was in 2018. The ban on plastic bags caused a whopping 70% drop in the amount of them chucked away into landfill. This was a big step in the right direction given over 20 million of them ended up being littered around Australia.

(Queensland Government, 2021)

15. It’s estimated that over 10 million plastic straws are used every single day in Australia.15

The calculations show that over 3 billion single-use straws are used by Aussies every single year. By restricting the use of straws in local food and drink establishments, it is possible that over 80% of straws won’t be used and then chucked away. Many organisations and local places are banning single-use straws to only offer reusable straws as an alternative option.

(Boom Alliance, 2020)

How much waste does the average Australian produce?

The average Australian creates an excessive 540 kilograms of waste every year! This average is more than most other countries in the world. According to the most recent figures from the National Waste Study, Australians generate over 80% of their rubbish at home and only 14% comes from businesses.

So, what is the good news about all this rubbish?

There is a major crackdown on single-use materials and behaviour. This includes educating local communities, preventing single-use manufacturing and encouraging stronger commitments to recycling. Much of the nation agrees that reducing waste is important with at least 50% of the population wanting even more sustainable options for products.

Post-pandemic Op shops across the country are experiencing a considerable increase in both demand and donations. It indicates that Australians are becoming more conscious of the substantial waste issue and making efforts to contribute to solving it. Still, there is a long road ahead in addressing the waste crisis and it will require a collective effort from the community.

What happens to rubbish in Australia and where does the waste go?

It’s an unfortunate fact that a lot of waste still goes to landfill. Over 20 million tonnes still go to landfill every year.16 Despite current efforts, there is still a long way to go in Australia to recycle a lot of materials and to be sustainable. Before waste goes to landfill, rubbish, recycling, and food waste are sorted into different streams so the right materials can be distributed back to the right sources. From there, they are either shipped to local recycling points or exported to different places for materials to be reused. But for the most part, waste ends up being distributed to landfill where they’re stored or burnt.

The future of reducing waste in Australia… 

Although these shocking statistics are alarming, we must realise there is hope to put an end to this. The good news is that we can all help reduce the amount of rubbish going into landfills by reducing our consumption of disposable items like coffee cups, bags, clothes, and other indispensable items. Australia has plans to prevent wastes like food, plastic and e-waste to benefit the environment and economic and social differences.

The Australian Government has set out goals to achieve within this decade to ban the export of waste, recover waste by up to 80%, increase the number of recycled materials and have 50% less waste sent to landfill by 2030. These strong commitments will only be achievable by tougher action by corporations, legislation and individual consumers.


[1] National Waste Policy 2018 report:

[2] Corona Independent report, published via Eco Warrior Princess:

[3] ABS 2020 report:

[4] War On Waste report:

[5] (Australian Government Environmental Department, 2020)

[6] AAP 2020 report:

[7] National Waste 2022 report:

[8] National Plastics Plan 2021 report:

[9] WWF 2022 report:

[10] Statista 2020 report:

[11] ABS 2020 report:

[12] Queensland Tackling Waste Report, 2021:

[13] Queensland Tackling Waste Report, 2021:

[14] ABS 2020 report:

[15] Boom Alliance, 2020 report:

[16] University of Sydney 2022 report:

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