Last Thursday, 9 May, the National Sustainability Council released its first biennial report, Sustainable Australia 2013: Conversations with the Future. This report documents the current status of Australia in relation to social, environmental and economic sustainability indicators.
It showed that while we have a great quality of life in Australia, we need to take action to ensure that future generations do not inherit a country and a lifestyle that is worse than what we have enjoyed.
The work that is done by GECA’s licensees impacts across all of the environmental indicators in the report: climate, atmosphere, biodiversity and ecosystems, water, waste and natural resources. For example, the requirements in our standards that relate to timber sourcing are about protecting both resources and biodiversity and ecosystems. The limits placed on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) help to protect the atmosphere. Criteria relating to energy can limit greenhouse gases and hence impact climate.
However, the indicator I wish to cover in more detail is waste. Conversations with the Future states that in 2009 the amount of waste disposed to landfill was 1030 kg per capita. This includes waste from the commercial and industrial sector, and construction and demolition, as well as municipal waste.
Waste sent to landfill is a problem from whichever angle you look at it.
Land set aside for this purpose is not being used for other purposes – eg agriculture. Increasingly, this land is far removed from the source of waste so greenhouse gases are produced during transfer of waste.
There is a chance that pollution will escape from the landfill site and impact the surrounding area.
Methane also is produced as the waste decomposes. This is increasingly being captured from landfills, but not all is captured, and older sites may capture none. Methane has 23 times more greenhouse gas impact than carbon dioxide.
And, perhaps most importantly, materials that go to landfill represent a wasted resource.
When GECA develops a standard for products it sets criteria to minimise waste. It sets criteria to cover the product from ‘cradle to cradle’ rather than from ‘cradle to grave’. The difference between these two approaches is that the former focusses on the re-use of components of the product at the end of its life.
Our Furniture and Fittings level A standard is a good example of the focus on recovering resources at the end of a product’s life. Products certified under this standard must be separable into recyclable or re-useable units. They also must not be impregnated, labelled, coated or otherwise treated in a manner which would prevent post-consumer recycling. All plastic parts weighing more than 50g must be marked with an appropriate resin identification code.
These criteria ensure that GECA licensed furniture can be recycled. However, this does not practically determine how effectively the product is recycled. So, the GECA standard has a requirement that the product is covered by an agreement with a recycler to accept the product at the end of its life, or an established product stewardship program, under which products that are collected shall not be disposed of in landfill or by incinerator.
Many of GECA’s other standards have similar criteria, including Floor Coverings, Carpets and Hard Surfacing. In this way GECA is contributing the reduction of landfill in Australia.
The National Sustainability Council’s report, Sustainable Australia 2013: Conversations with the Future. – http://www.environment.gov.au/sustainability/measuring/publications/sustainable-australia-report-2013.html