What happened after War On Waste

There wasn’t a viewer in the country who didn’t feel guilty after watching the ABC’s War On Waste when it aired in May. We learnt about some big issues and big numbers. Many of the staggering amounts of waste spoken of being measured in MCGs. An 'MCG' is a fictional unit of measurment that the host Craig Reucassel invented because… Well, there really aren’t many things big enough to illustrate the volume of waste that Australians chuck out every year.

In the context of this problem when we say "waste" we are talking about municipal waste. In other words, the rubbish that is collected by our council workers or private waste management firms and then dumped at municipal landfill depots or recycling plants.

As the 4th highest producer of municipal waste in 2013 (and gaining) Australia dumps 52 megatonnes per year. I know what you’re thinking: What the f**k is a megatonne? How many MCGs is that?

A fair question… A ‘megatonne’ is 1000 tonnes which is 1000 kilograms. Which means that a megatonne is a billion kilograms. Admittedly I have no idea what that would look like, and I’m sure you don’t either so I’ll put it into perspective.

There are 24 million Australian people, give or take a few tourists and mistakes on the census, so let’s round it to 26 million. That means that for every 1 person in Australia there is 2,000kg of garbage. Now we are in a fathomable volume. It is pretty easy to believe that most Aussies bin the equivalent of a White Rhino, Land Rover Defender or the amount of food two average people eat in a year.

Thankfully, there was War on Waste. A show that people watched and actually paid attention to, creating a huge groundswell of positive change. The show broke records for the 8:30pm timeslot on its first night of airing at 759,000 viewers. Social media impressions (likes, shares and comments) relating to the show reached 15,400+ which was just under the ABC’s highly interacted with Q&A program.

Enough with the numbers… What actually happened as a result of the show?

Quite a bit actually. Here are a few of my favourite directly-related examples of positive change that were inspired by War On Waste.

Let’s start with a most adorable example - the good work of the kiddies from North Adelaide Primary School who started one of many school or local community Wars On Waste following the show going to air. These future environmentalists shot an awkward and super candid (not) video of themselves urging local cafe owners to offer a $0.50c discount on coffees if customers provide their own cup. How could you say no? This wasn’t the only local coffee crackdown, with Lane Cove locals near Sydney also stirring up coffee vendors by urging them to sign up to the Responsible cafes program.

The war was further caffeinated by a nationwide trend away from the use of disposable coffee cups, of which Australians use 50,000 per hour. Frankies at Forde in Canberra and Tonic Lane in Sydney’s Neutral Bay banned single-use cups and proudly took to social media to declare their own special brew of waste reduction. It wasn’t just the baristas and local business people leading the charge Keepcup (the popular reusable coffee cup) sales shot up by 400% in the weeks following the show.

It appears that War on Waste hasn’t just impacted Australian consumption habits. PlanetArk have also reported a massive 65% boost in website traffic for their RecyclingNearYou program that helps people find appropriate/specific recycling locations near them, nationwide. This couples with a dramatic increase in deposits at RedCycle (Coles supermarkets) plastic bag recycling bins, not to be confused with the Woolworths bag recycling program that was outed by a GPS sting on the program.

Best of all...

Australia’s biggest supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths have pledged to remove disposable bags within a year. The move comes from obvious public pressure which have well and truly come to a head following Reucassel’s clear ‘ban the bag’ message on the show.

On a much more local level I’ve become painfully aware of the amount of coffee cups I see in general waste bins. I have audibly scoffed at strangers in cafes who I’ve seen order a takeaway, only to hang around the store and ask the staff to dispose of the used cup for them. Like you’re that busy you and your coffee will have to run down the street at any moment?

Right now, my compost and recycling bins are overflowing and my general rubbish is almost empty. I feel really bloody proud everytime I see the recycling’s little yellow lid resting ajar.

Join the discussion:

What happened after the war in your household, office or community?

Have you maintained a ceasefire on your rubbish bin? Or, is Oscar the grouch on your couch?