Reduce, reuse, recycle… recover? Breaking down the concept of ‘resource recovery’ in Australia!

Afonso Firmo
April 23, 2024
5 min read

It’s an age-old mantra we’ve heard time and time again: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. But did you know there's a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to sustainability? Recover. We’re not talking about spending Sunday on the couch after a night at the pub, but about something called ‘resource recovery’. But what exactly is resource recovery, and how does it play a role in Australia's quest for waste reduction? The practice is gaining traction across the country, with states and territories all spearheading programs to give landfill a new life.

In simple terms, resource recovery is basically giving trash a second chance at life (important note: this doesn’t apply to your ex). It involves the process of reclaiming materials from discarded items, which can then be repurposed or recycled into new products. The overarching goal? To minimise the volume of waste that ends up in landfills, ultimately paving the way for a greener, more sustainable future. One man’s trash is, after all, another man’s treasure. 

Pharmacycle Blister Pack Sorting

A waste of space

In Australia, we churn out an estimated 76 million tonnes of waste. A significant amount of that waste – around 20 million tonnes – gets dumped straight into landfills. Those stats are a real eye-opener to just how much trash we're producing and chucking away, highlighting the urgent need for better waste management solutions. Plastics, food waste, textiles, old furniture, and electronic waste all contribute to staggering volumes of waste in landfill, and while some waste is unavoidable (we don’t live in a perfect world), there is still plenty that can be done to either reduce the amount we’re throwing away or recycle materials that can be given a new life. 

The ‘resource recovery rate’ refers to the percentage of waste materials that are reclaimed and repurposed through recycling, composting, or other sustainable methods, rather than ending up in landfills. It's a measure of how effectively a region (like a state or territory) or entity (a business) is diverting waste from traditional disposal methods. 

Different states and territories all have different resource recovery programs & processes. South Australia in particular stands out as a shining example, with an impressive 80% recovery rate. The state has long been at the forefront of sustainability initiatives - they pioneered the recycle-and-earn program, and have ambitious targets for reducing landfill - earning them a reputation as a leader in Australia’s waste reduction efforts. 

On the flip side, the Northern Territory lags behind the rest of the country, with a resource recovery rate of just 19%. Some of this can be attributed to lack of access to recycling programs, and increased shipping costs meaning the price of sustainable alternatives can be prohibitive. However, recent efforts such as the Circular Economy Strategy signal a shift towards more proactive waste management practices. By phasing out single-use products and bolstering regulatory frameworks, the Northern Territory is making progress when it comes to its sustainability measures.

But why is resource recovery so important?

Beyond the obvious benefit of reducing landfill waste, resource recovery also helps conserve natural resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Repurposing materials that would otherwise be discarded means we are able to minimise the need for virgin resources and decrease the carbon footprint associated with manufacturing new products - it’s a win-win for us all (and the planet).

Resource recovery also encourages a culture of sustainability and responsibility, prompting individuals and businesses to rethink their consumption habits and waste management practices. Awareness is key, and through education around sustainability initiatives we can inspire everyone to reduce, reuse, recycle and recover. It’s something of a snowball effect-  the more people jumping on board, the more others are inspired to play their part

How can I take part in resource recovery?

You might be wondering how everyday Australians can play their part when it comes to resource recovery. Reduction is a starting point for this - the less waste we have in the first place, the better the outcomes are for our planet! 

Food waste:

Minimising food waste and composting scraps


Shopping second hand, renting event wear, and reselling/donating your old items


Repairing broken items rather than replacing them, and choosing reusable/refillable products

In Australia, there are several programs dedicated to reclaiming specific types of waste, especially those hard to recycle items that can't go in your bin. These programs divert those materials from landfill, and focus on repurposing them to make new products. Here are some notable examples:


Specialises in recovering and recycling unwanted textiles. Whether it's old clothing or household linens, Upparel ensures that these items are sorted and either reused or repurposed.


Provides convenient drop-off points for electronic waste, including laptops, tablets, and televisions. By offering free recycling services, TechCollect encourages responsible disposal of e-waste.


Offers an Indigenous-owned alternative to traditional container deposit schemes. Through dedicated collection points, Envirobank ensures that recyclables remain free from contaminants, promoting a cleaner recycling process.

Simply Cups

Australia's first and largest paper cup recycling program, Simply Cups is on a mission to divert millions of cups from landfills. Through innovative processing techniques, Simply Cups gives these cups a second life as high-value products.


Our blister pack recycling program focuses on recovering empty blister packaging, a common item that often ends up in landfills due to recycling limitations. By providing designated collection points, Pharmacycle facilitates the recycling of these materials, reducing waste in the process.

These initiatives are just some of the diverse range of resource recovery programs operating across Australia, and they all play a crucial role in reducing waste and mitigating environmental impact.

Resource recovery isn't just about state-led initiatives and corporate entities; it's about all of us doing our part, and it doesn't have to be rocket science! It’s an accessible step we can all take by making small changes in our daily habits. Even at an individual level, we can make a world of difference for our planet, and create a sustainable future.

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