Main menu


Outback Communities, Such as Longreach, Struggle to Implement Recycling Despite Global Efforts Towards Zero Waste Goals


Imagine making an eight-hour journey just to recycle your empty bottles. In rural and remote areas of Queensland, the convenience of the yellow-lidded rubbish bins found in suburban cities on bin day is non-existent. Despite the Queensland government implementing multi-million-dollar recycling initiatives along the east coast, for many outback residents, landfill is the only disposal option.

Longreach deputy mayor Leonie Nunn points out that the "freight costs" due to the vast distances play a crucial role in this challenge. Recycling efforts are hampered by the sheer remoteness of these areas, making it economically unfeasible to establish recycling facilities.

So, why isn't recycling viable in these regions? Barcaldine Mayor Sean Dillon identifies three key factors: the sparse population, the considerable distance from urban centers, and the absence of an effective pricing system for recycled materials. The limited population in these areas makes it challenging to generate the necessary waste volumes for substantial recycling investments.

Interestingly, rural Queensland has a higher percentage of its population residing in remote and regional areas compared to the national average, as per the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Paradoxically, small rural councils struggle to allocate funds even for essential infrastructure, let alone investing in innovative recycling programs.

Anya Phelan, a lecturer at Griffith University's Business School, criticizes this systemic dysfunction and suggests that remote regions should consider alternative approaches, such as customized packaging designs.

However, there are instances of community-driven recycling efforts succeeding against the odds. Patsy Worland's Containers for Change initiative in Longreach, initially meant as a part-time endeavor, has now become a full-time operation due to high demand. The town, with a population of under 4,000, contributed a staggering 194 million containers to the scheme in the last fiscal year. Some people even make an eight-hour drive from Birdsville to Longreach to recycle their bottles.

In terms of logistics, trucks visit towns like Longreach once or twice a week to collect containers, with beverage manufacturers covering the freight costs. Glass bottles are processed into construction materials in Rockhampton, while plastic bottles are sent to New South Wales and Victoria for recycling into new bottles. However, it's noted that many other recyclable items still find their way to landfills.

One simple way for rural residents to reduce waste is through composting, particularly organic waste like food scraps. This practice is well-established in these areas and helps mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from landfill.

Despite the challenges, towns in central Queensland have a remarkable container collection rate of 85 percent, surpassing the Queensland average of 64 percent. This underscores the resilience and determination of outback communities in their recycling efforts.