Northern Beaches Rubbish Problems and COVID-19
Sydney’s Alarming Waste Statistics
Let me start by saying that Sydney is in a serious situation when it comes to managing waste. By 2030, the total number of Sydney residents will reach nearly 6 million and right now, the city is already generating waste at a rate that is 600% of its population increase. This staggering waste statistic of Sydney is one reason why New South Wales is the 2nd biggest waste producer worldwide.
There are 3 primary landfill sites in Sydney: the one at Lucas Heights and Veolia are able to process organic waste while the one at Eastern Creek takes in non-biodegradable rubbish. With the speed by which Sydney’s waste production is increasing (in part due to China’s refusal to take Australia’s waste and Sydney’s construction boom), having just 3 major landfill facilities is not a good look for Sydney.
And I’m saying this as a person whose living relies on the removal of rubbish from people’s properties. There’s just too much waste being produced by people in Sydney. It is true that the city has a number of recycling centres like the Kimbriki Resource Recovery Centre located in the Northern Beaches region but these are still not enough to accommodate the immensity of waste being generated. Adding more waste facilities is one option but due to factors such as legal requirements, the reality is that it takes a decade for a landfill to be able to process its 1st tonne of rubbish.
Ironically, as a rubbish removalist relying on the production of waste for my living, I am in agreement that Sydney citizens have to cut down on their garbage. China has already banned the importation of our waste and even previous contractors like Malaysia are also refusing to take in our rubbish. So before Sydney begins to smell like garbage, there has to be a multi-sectoral cooperation from business owners, government, residents, and even rubbish removalists like me.
Rubbish Removal in the Northern Beaches
Due to recent COVID-19 events, proper garbage disposal in Sydney has to be strongly implemented by business owners and residents, particularly in Northern Beaches where I and my team mostly conduct our rubbish removal services.
To recall, Northern Beaches underwent a 3-week lockdown from December 20 last year t0 January 10 this year. Initially, it was supposed to just be a 5-day lockdown but because of the continuous spread of COVID-19 cases in various suburbs, the restrictions endured for much longer. A lot of businesses were affected by this. Fourteen of the 17 pubs in Northern Beaches voluntarily closed down upon the start of the lockdown. COVID cases were traced to various business establishments including restaurants, spas, and recreation centres in Avalon; fitness gyms and cafes in Mona Vale; and restaurants in Newport.
Now you might be wondering what is the direct relation of COVID-19 to rubbish. Consider these waste statistics from NSW Environment Protection Authority: Of all the litter generated in NSW in 2017-2018, food containers comprised 22.78% and beverage containers formed 54.6%. Domestic containers contributed only 3.6% and even industrial containers comprised just 2.7%. Food and drink containers are clearly the dominant type of litters in NSW and of course, these come from restaurants, pubs, and other establishments that cater to food and drinks, one way or another. Now, medical professionals say that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted through bodily fluids so it’s easy to visualize how the COVID spread originated in Northern Beaches restaurants. COVID positive individuals possibly ate or drank in these establishments and their saliva particles must have collected in disposable plastic food containers and bottles.
All people who came into contact with these containers would have been put at risk of infection. These people would include waiters and other employees of the restaurant, customers who used the dining table that the COVID positive individuals used, and rubbish removalists who collected the waste materials. Think about this – what if your pet cat or dog wandered near the waste bin of a restaurant and came into contact with used plastic containers that contain saliva particles of COVID-positive persons and then your pet came home and played with you? Not so good.
Reducing Waste Production as a Way to Combat COVID-19
So here’s the situation right now. Australia is facing two gigantic issues: huge amounts of waste and the COVID-19 pandemic. The solution is not to ban people from eating at restaurants! This would have a cascading effect on a lot of businesses that rely on food as their living, including suppliers and the restaurant owners themselves. And, of course, many people would get “sick” from missing out on their juicy steak dish at the local diner!
Even the New South Wales government was encouraging people to go out and eat at restaurants by giving away two $25 vouchers to residents aged 18 and above last February. This voucher scheme was a response to the call for support from small business owners and councillors of Northern Beaches. In turn, NSW government required business owners who expressed interest to participate in the voucher program to register their restaurants as COVID-19 safe.
The Northern Beaches region is a treasure in Australia and it’s scary to think that all sorts of rubbish might end up in its beautiful waters if the rate of waste production is not abated. It is equally scary to think that this beautiful region might become a huge COVID 19 hotspot if plastic-made food and beverage containers are not properly disposed of and become the source of infections. I do believe that the reduction of plastic container waste would help in containing the spread of COVID-19.
Glass is a durable and infinitely recyclable material. So even if a COVID-19 positive individual used glass cups and dishes, these can be quickly washed and sanitized – unlike with single-use soda cans, plastic bottles, plastic trays, and plastic plates that get immediately thrown in the bag without being cleaned, thereby becoming a potential source of COVID infection not only in one location but also to where these get transported.
An added advantage of using glass cups over plastic bottles is that wine and other drinks taste so much better in glass containers than in plastic! See it for yourself, pour some wine in glass and plastic cups and compare the tastes. You will find that the wine in plastic will taste soury or acidic while the one in glass will be sweeter and more fragrant. This is because plastic has chemicals that affect the taste of drinks that come into contact with it.
And just to drive the nail home, you really really should avoid using plastic bottles and straws because a study, conducted by the University of Newcastle, indicates that every week, people could be ingesting 2000 tiny pieces of plastic from materials used for eating. Apparently, those microplastics which get ingested equal the weight of a credit card! Yikes!
Supporting Small Business Owners as a Way to Reduce Waste
I’ll say it straight: takeouts have to be discouraged because the culture of fast food has bred the extensive use of plastic cups for drinks and paper plates and wraps for food.
Some people might argue that fast food take out is just a way more efficient method of getting food but it is exactly this hyper-efficiency that is causing the rapid rise of Sydney’s waste production. One thing that the COVID pandemic has taught us is that we need to slow down and reflect on our consumption habits.
Think about something as simple as plastic straws. You might think that even if you used plastic straws everyday for a year, it still wouldn’t impact the environment. But, according to Clean Up Australia, did you know that Australians use around 10 million straws everyday, or 3.5 billion a year?! Not so harmless after all, right? If you bought yourself a reusable bamboo or metal straw which could both be washed with dishwashing liquid, already you would be contributing to Mother Nature’s health.
When you think about it, are we really worse off when we have to wait for our food to be cooked in restaurants but use that time to have some quality bonding with family and friends who are face-to-face with us at the table and whom we probably haven’t seen in a while? And the best part about eating at restaurants is that we get to be served with sumptuous food delivered from local farmers, fisher folk, and meat breeders. That is truly a hearty meal when you realize that eating a single plate has enabled a lot of small business owners to be supported. So then, should you still eat half-baked and greasy food from fast food or would you rather eat a restaurant meal which has fresh, super-tasty, and nutritious ingredients? The choice is easy, mate!
The NSW government can hire singers and musicians to perform at restaurants. This will be a huge help for artists who have lost income due to the COVID pandemic, and also serve to enliven the spirits of Northern Beaches residents. The pandemic has admittedly been stressful so there’s no better feeling than to enjoy some really good restaurant food and listen to a relaxing musical performance. Social distancing can still be maintained from table to table and yet still provide a sense of belongingness or camaraderie. That despite the pandemic, you are not to be holed all alone in your house. You can still enjoy the company of other human beings.
The situation with Australia’s waste production and the COVID pandemic are serious issues but if there is political will, business creativity, and citizen conscientiousness, we can rise up and move forward as a better nation.