Australian councils struggle with huge rise in household rubbish during Covid-19 lockdown

Councils around Australia have seen a huge increase in volumes of household rubbish and dumping of waste triggered by a combination of more online shopping, home improvements, international workers returning to their home countries and a clearing out of unwanted possessions during the coronavirus lockdown.

Streets across the country have been littered with items discarded by households either unable or willing to dispose of them any other way.

City of Melbourne council said it saw a 70% increase in illegally dumped rubbish in April, compared with the same time last year, while City of Sydney council has reported a 35% rise in the volume of special collections.

City of Canada Bay council in Sydney has seen the tonnage of bulk household materials collected increase by 50% throughout April compared with the same time last year, while illegal dumping has increased by 35%.

Some councils, such as Inner West in Sydney, stopped offering bulk collections because of the demands of the coronavirus outbreak, although they have become available again this week.

Cameron Ross, a spokesman for the Australian Local Government Association, said councils had seen a particularly large increase in plastic waste over the past three months, although it was more visible in inner-city areas than suburban ones.

“Online shopping seems to be the reason for the extra volumes,” he said. “Though anecdotal evidence suggests people are also spending more time tidying up around the house. Waste and recycling are major concerns for councils, and for ALGA … so too is educating ratepayers and businesses about what can and can’t be recycled.”

Authorities in Melbourne appealed to residents not to dump waste and belongings on the city streets and instead use the city’s transfer stations for hard rubbish.

“We’ve seen a 70% increase in the number of reports of illegally dumped rubbish,” said the deputy lord mayor, Arron Wood.

“We don’t want to see our footpaths cluttered with dirty mattresses, broken TVs and other unwanted items. It shows a lack of pride and respect in our city, it’s unsightly and dangerous.”

Anyone found guilty of littering deemed to be of an aggravated nature could face penalties of almost $10,000 or a month in jail.

Canada Bay said demand for its recycling centre had doubled since March as people sought to clear out their clutter. It launched a new recycling service called RecycleSmart for textiles, soft plastics and e-waste collected directly from your home.

“Tonnes of bulk household materials collected has increased by 50% throughout April compared to the same month last year,” a spokesperson said. “Incidences of illegal dumping has increased by 35% this April compared to the same month last year.”

Another insight into the cause of the extra rubbish was offered by hardware retailers, which have seen a large spike in demand for many items as locked-down Australians turned to renovation projects to keep themselves occupied.

Bunnings said indoor lighting had been very popular as people set up home offices, with suspension kits for pendants and pendant lights in particular demand because they enabled tenants to improve lighting without seeking approval from landlords.

The home paint range had also been in demand, Bunnings said, especially “transformation paints” used to spruce up kitchen benchtops and cupboards.

Metcash, the group that owns Mitre 10, said March had seen an increase in demand across both trade and DIY segments. “Stronger DIY sales in March continued into early April, particularly in the paint and garden categories,” it said.

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