National Recycling Week - Photo:canva.com
Armed with knowledge, individuals and communities play an important role in supporting the sustainable and just use of resources.
National Recycling Week (13th to 19th November) runs each year in Australia and prompts communities to think more about the management of precious resources. A common thread that runs through the three urgent global crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, is the unlimited extraction of Earth’s resources to feed the relentless demand for goods.
Increasingly highlighted, clothing waste is found to be a major contributor to Australia’s waste. On average, Australians buy fifty-six items of clothing per year, most of which ends up in landfill. Remembering also the fuel, water and other resources used in the production and transport of cheap clothing and other goods designed not to last, and the unjust conditions of many workers.
Year 12 students at Xavier College in Ba, Fiji demonstrated their commitment to respecting Earth’s finite resources and caring for their local community during the Season of Creation (1st September-4th October). The students winning video entry to the Columban Season of Creation school competition showed their design solutions to re-purpose soft plastics and other materials into new products. The students also completed a major clean-up of Elevuka Creek in the middle of Ba town that prevented forty bags full of rubbish from entering Ba River and the Pacific Ocean. Columban missionaries in the region are proud of the student's lead and inspiration in addressing environmental problems of waste in the Pacific Islands and around the world.
Pollution from plastic waste is skyrocketing around the world. A global assessment report in 2021 found plastic waste forms the largest and most harmful form of marine litter amounting to a least eighty-five per cent of total waste. Developed in the nineteenth century, the plastics industry is worth billions of dollars and in the next twenty years, plastic use is expected to double. Much of the world’s plastic belongs to a linear economy, meaning it is produced for single use only. Plastic waste mostly ends up in landfill or waterways. Only sixteen per cent of plastic was recycled in Australia for the year 2018-2019. An alarming prediction is that "the annual flow of plastic into the world’s oceans could triple by 2040 under business-as-usual models.”
Plastic waste has deadly consequences for wildlife and living systems and micro-plastics have been found in human tissue affecting health. The production of plastics contributes significantly to global greenhouse emissions and plastic clean-ups are costly to coastal communities around the world. Social harms include the impacts of pollution on places of religious and cultural value.
In a new step forward the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, in March 2022 endorsed an historic resolution to End Plastic Pollution and form a legally binding agreement by 2024. Importantly, the resolution includes the whole life-cycle of plastic including design, production and end use, and the need for technical and financial support to implement new processes in various countries. Solutions must include the transition to safe and healthy work for millions of waste pickers in poorer nations who collect waste for recycling and play a vital role in keeping harmful plastics out of oceans and waterways.
Armed with knowledge, individuals and communities can play a part. Whilst problems with recycling show efforts to reduce, reuse and re-purpose resources are most effective, keeping up-to-date with developments is also key.
In Australian jurisdictions, batteries and anything that requires a cord or plug (e-waste) are banned from landfills as they contain substances harmful to land, water and air. There are numerous points of collection in the community for e-waste and a host of other materials. In July 2021, Victoria made it illegal to release balloons into the environment. Balloons are in the top three plastics causing harm to marine life, along with bottles and soft plastics. Lastly, Victoria will follow the majority of Australian states to introduce a container deposit scheme in November 2023, whereby bottles, cans and cartons can be deposited for a cash refund.
Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM
Peace, Ecology and Justice Office
Columban Mission Centre, Essendon
 Australian Fashion Council, Roadmap to clothing circularity, May 2023.
 United Nations Environment Programme, From Pollution to Solution: A global assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution, 2021.
 Blue Environment, National Waste Report, 2022
 From Pollution to Solution: A global assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution, 2021.
 Sustainability Victoria, Wildlife-friendly alternatives to balloons, August 2021.