RMIT research has found Victorians who recycle at home save a full 250kg worth of greenhouse gas emissions a year – the equivalent of turning off their electricity for a fortnight.
While some people may open their recycling bins and question if they are really making a difference, the RMIT report suggests it is well worth the effort.
As the Paris climate change talks dominate global debate, a new online calculator developed as part of the study for the first time allows Victorians to see the extent of the impact of their recycling efforts on the environment.
Researchers Andrew Carre and Dr Enda Crossin evaluated the full environmental impacts of domestic kerbside recycling in the state as part of a study commissioned by Sustainability Victoria.
They found recycling achieves beneficial environmental outcomes, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution.
"We found that the environmental burdens from landfill and new material production are greater than those from recycling," said Crossin, from RMIT's School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.
The research revealed that by recycling, the average household in Victoria saves 250kg CO2-eq of greenhouse gas emissions per year - the equivalent of two weeks’ electricity use.
Recycling could also help avoid sending as much as 280kg of waste to landfill over the same time period.
Adopting a scientific approach known as “life cycle assessment”, the study looked at all aspects of recycling, from collection outside people’s homes to reprocessing of materials ranging from plastic and paper to glass, metals and garden waste.
The study carries on from previous studies carried out by RMIT since 1999.
Lead researcher Carre, from RMIT’s School of Property Construction and Project Management, said a new investigation was necessary in order to better reflect current environmental impacts and benefits of kerbside recycling.
“Our waste management system has changed substantially in the past decade and it is important to evaluate whether recycling actually achieves environmental benefits, which a lot of people expect," he said.
As part of the study, RMIT's School of Computer Science and Information and School of Architecture and Design developed an online calculator that for the first time allows Victorians to estimate the environmental benefits of recycling in their households.
Available on the Sustainability Victoria website, the tool calculates the annual environmental benefits derived from recycling metals, paper and cardboard, organics, glass and plastics.
While the calculator enables householders to see the positive impacts of their recycling habits, it is also designed to be a useful tool for local government when reporting on kerbside collection services and outlining the environmental benefits in a concise way.
Story: Greg Thom