Acupuncture during IVF doesn’t increase chances of having a baby

 Acupuncture might alleviate stress for women 
undertaking IVF. from

Acupuncture has become a frequently used treatment prior to and during in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). Women hope it will increase their chances of having a baby, but also provide support with reducing stress, and feeling relaxed and well while undergoing treatment.

Several small clinical trials have previously suggested acupuncture improved outcomes of stressful and unpredictable fertility treatments. But our new study has found this is not the case.

The study of more than 800 Australian and New Zealand women undergoing acupuncture treatment during their IVF cycles has failed to confirm significant difference in live birth rates.

The findings published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) support recent guidelines from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and two high-quality meta-analyses (which combine data from multiple studies to identify a common effect).

What the study found

We examined the effects of a short course of acupuncture administered during an IVF cycle. We were not able to show that acupuncture increased live births, clinical pregnancy or having fewer miscarriages.

Undertaken across 16 IVF centres in Australia and New Zealand, the randomised controlled clinical trial (that compares the effects of an experimental treatment on one group with those of a placebo or alternative treatment in another group) aimed to increase live births and pregnancies among 848 women aged 18 to 42, undergoing an IVF cycle using fresh embryos, over a four year period.

The first acupuncture treatment was given at the start of the IVF process when medication is given to stimulate the ovary to produce follicles.

Following successful fertilisation, acupuncture to recognised acupuncture points was performed prior to, and immediately following, the transfer of the embryo to the woman’s womb.

The control group in this study was sham acupuncture. This looks like real acupuncture but does not involve insertion of the needle through the skin. For both groups the needle is held in place by a plastic tube, but as the practitioner places the needle on the skin, for the control group the shaft of the needle disappears into the handle, while in the treatment group the needle pierces the skin.

The results showed a clinical pregnancy was achieved in 25.7% of women who received acupuncture and 21.7% of women in the sham control, and that a live birth was achieved for 18.3% of women who received acupuncture compared to 17.8% who received the control.

While a 4% increase might sound hopeful, given the low percentage of successful IVF births to begin with, this is not a big enough increase for scientists to conclude there is a difference. This means the study does not support that acupuncture can improve pregnancy or live birth rates for women undergoing IVF.

However, in clinical practice, acupuncture may include more sessions prior to an IVF cycle starting. Whether this would make a difference hasn’t been tested.

Why is this important?

Despite recent technological improvements to IVF, the success rate is still low. Consequently, new drugs, laboratory techniques and other treatments need to be developed and rigorously tested to explore their effects on producing healthy babies for women undergoing IVF.

Acupuncture has long been used for gynaecological and obstetric problems. In 2002, the first randomised controlled trial of acupuncture administered a specific form of IVF acupuncture at the time of embryo transfer. The results indicated the chance of achieving a pregnancy from acupuncture was twice that of women undergoing IVF treatment alone.

Further clinical trials were conducted to examine if these results could be replicated. Some trials found acupuncture had some effect and others found it had none.

IVF is an emotionally tumultuous time. k b unsplash

Where did the acupuncture belief come from?

An adequate blood flow to develop immature eggs, and the endometrium (the lining of the uterus), is important to female fertility and pregnancy. Studies on a stronger form of acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, found it may influence central sympathetic nerve activity, and may increase blood flow in parts of the body, including improved blood flow and oxygenation to ovarian and uterine tissue.

Stress is thought to play a role in infertility. Among women undertaking IVF treatment, previous research has found an association between lower levels of stress and anxiety and increased pregnancy.

In our earlier research, acupuncture was shown to reduce the emotional stress and burden experienced by women during IVF treatment.

We hope the new findings will enable women and practitioners to make evidence-formed decisions about the use of acupuncture to achieve a pregnancy and live birth.

But unpublished findings from our trial highlight a supportive role from acupuncture with reducing stress, increased relaxation and improving how women feel about themselves while undergoing the demands of IVF treatments. These findings suggest while it probably won’t improve a woman’s chance of having a baby, acupuncture could help women deal with the emotional turmoil of IVF.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Caroline Smith
Caroline Smith – [Professor Clinical Research, Western Sydney University]
Image of Robert NormanRobert Norman – [Professor of Reproductive and Periconceptual Medicine, The Robinson Institute, University of Adelaide]




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Homelessness: Australia’s shameful story of policy complacency and failure continues

 Governments have all but abandoned the commitments 
made a decade ago when Kevin Rudd launched a national campaign 
to reduce homelessness. Dean Lewins/AAP

Exactly a decade ago in 2008, the Australian government committed to an ambitious strategy to halve national homelessness by 2020. Through stepped-up early intervention, better homelessness services and an expanded supply of affordable housing, the problem would be tackled with conviction. Instead, as succeeding governments regrettably abandoned the 2008 strategy, homelessness in Australia has been on the rise.

Last week’s federal budget offered no response to this concern. And the problem is fast getting worse, as highlighted in our new Australian Homelessness Monitor, prepared for independent community organisation Launch Housing. Emulating a respected UK annual monitoring project, this report is a comprehensive national analysis of the state of homelessness in Australia together with the potential policy, economic and social drivers of the trends across the country.

Recently published 2016 Census statistics showed a 14% increase in overall homelessness in Australia since 2011. That’s well ahead of the nation’s population growth rate.

Our major cities have seen much larger rises in homelessness. Recent increases have been especially big in Sydney (up 48% since 2011), Darwin (up 36%) and Brisbane (up 32%).

Concerningly, the numbers of people sleeping rough have been growing particularly fast. This, the most visible and extreme form of homelessness, grew nationally by 20% over the 2011-2016 period.

Although offset by periodic rehousing initiatives for long-term street homeless, five-year increases in the municipalities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide have exceeded the national trend. This was especially true in Melbourne. The 2016 City of Melbourne countshowed numbers jumped by more than 200% over this period.

Why are the numbers soaring?

As our report this year highlights, many policies, or policy failures, are implicated in these trends. These include:

Such developments are critical in a housing market where, by international standards, subsidised social housing provision is minimal. This means the vast majority of Australia’s lower-income population must depend on an increasingly stressed private rental sector in which the stock of low-cost homes is dwindling.

Partly as a result, ABS statistics cited in our report show the proportion of low-income tenants in rental stress has risen from 35% to 44% over the past decade nationally. In New South Wales, it has risen from 43% to 51%. In Victoria, the figure rose from 32% to 47% over the decade.

Homeless numbers have soared in the big cities, with Melbourne recording a 200% increase in rough sleepers over five years. Dan Peled/AAP

The geographical pattern of recent homeless changes shows the housing market is driving these changes. Our report finds increases in homelessness have generally been much more rapid in capital cities. Non-metropolitan areas have recorded much lower growth rates, or even reductions.

In another pointer to housing market impacts, increases in homelessness have tended to be higher in the large eastern states. These are the states where economies and property markets have been relatively strong over the past few years. In South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia, where these factors have been less evident, the rate of homeless growth has been lower.

So, overall numbers were up by 53% in inner Sydney (2011-2016), but rose by a more modest 21% in Hobart. In contrast, homeless numbers fell by over 30% in remote South Australia and Western Australia.

Governments have let this happen

Despite these stark trends, recent Australian governments, while footing the bill for homelessness services rising well ahead of inflation, have presided over cuts in social and affordable housing.

In its 2014 budget, the Abbott government cancelled the National Rental Affordability Scheme. This was Australia’s last national affordable housing construction program.

An increasingly underfunded social and affordable housing system leads to a burgeoning homelessness support system. The cost of emergency services for those lacking homes has risen by 29% in real terms over the past four years. On its current path, the cost is set to exceed A$1 billion by 2020.

Meanwhile, in the face of deteriorating public housing stock and intensifying shortage, social housing investment by state and territory governments has actually fallen by 7% since 2012-13.

Five years ago, prior to the 2013 federal election, then opposition spokeswoman on housing Marise Payne said “the Coalition’s homelessness plan” was “to abolish the carbon tax, pay down Labor’s debt, generate one million jobs in the next five years and increase our collective wealth so all of us – individuals and charities – have the capacity to help the homeless and those most in need in areas where government is not always the answer”.

While placing faith in philanthropy, such sentiment is underpinned by a stubborn belief that we can rely on market forces to provide suitable and affordable housing for disadvantaged Australians – just as much as for all other citizens. It is clear from the latest statistics that the official approach moulded by this thinking has failed.

What needs to be done?

Looking to the future, the ongoing restructuring of private rental markets seems likely to keep pushing up the numbers of people subject to housing insecurity. The availability of affordable low-rent housing continues to contract.

For any realistic chance of progress, the Australian government needs to reconfirm recognition of homelessness as a social ill that must not be ignored. It needs to re-engage with the problem, starting with a coherent strategic vision to reduce the scale of homelessness by a measurable amount within a defined period. And it needs to recommit to a level of government support that ensures enough social and affordable housing is provided to keep pace with growing need, at the very least.

Disappointingly, the federal budget provided no indication that such developments are in prospect. Yet squarely tackling Australia’s growing homelessness problem demands recognition that excluding people from safe, secure and affordable housing is effectively a denial of citizenship.

Read More: More and more older Australians will be homeless unless we act now
Read More: Family break-up raises homelessness risk, and critical period is longer for boys

This article was co-written by:
Image of Hal PawsonHal Pawson – [Associate Director – City Futures – Urban Policy and Strategy, City Futures Research Centre, Housing Policy and Practice, UNSW]
Image of Cameron ParsellCameron Parsell – [Research Fellow, The University of Queensland]





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A Guide To Understanding The Full Ramifications Of Autism Spectrum Disorder

With more and more children and adults being diagnosed with autism, people have many questions. What is autism? What are signs that a person is autistic? What is the “autism spectrum”? Can a person outgrow autism, or is it for life? Are there different kinds of autism?

With so much information, and misinformation available, it can be an extremely difficult task to know what is true. To make matters more confusing, psychologists and psychiatrists are still learning more about autism and are often updating their research and classification methods. Knowledge of autism can in some cases become outdated or irrelevant with time.

This article will work as an introductory guide to what autism is, and hopefully will answer some of the more pressing questions and concerns associated with this disorder.

What is Autism Like?

If you’re just learning about autism, you may wonder what it’s like. How do psychologists and psychiatrists diagnose autism? What criteria do they use to diagnose autism?

Doctors use something called the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) to determine if children and adults match certain symptoms that are most closely associated with certain disorders.

Below are some of the major indicators they use to assess Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

What Are the Major Symptoms of Autism?

It’s important to point out that no two people who are on the spectrum exhibit autistic traits in exactly the same way. While there are often commonalities between ASD people, it would be in error to say that ALL autistic people have all the same symptoms or attributes. However, below is a list of symptoms that are often associated with ASD.

Social Difficulty

When it comes to social interactions, most ASD people have some difficulty. The degree of social difficulty varies, but it’s something that most people on the spectrum have in common.

ASD individuals may have trouble making friends or interacting with people around them. They often will not initiate play or conversations with others, often prefer to be alone, and may not show affection. In fact, they may be resistant or uncomfortable displaying or receiving affection.

Many ASD individuals have trouble expressing emotions and may seem detached. They consequently also have trouble relating to other people and other people’s emotions emotions, which may appear as a lack of empathy for others. In many cases, it may not occur to them to show empathy.

Another common sign of autism is trouble making eye contact, and inappropriate facial gestures or facial gestures that don’t match their emotions.


When it comes to speech, ASD people often struggle to understand tone, humor, or sarcasm. Children may have speech delays as an early indicator of autism. It’s not uncommon for them to use repetition of words of phrases. The repetition of phrases is not meant to communicate, but rather to self-stimulate or calm themselves.

Often ASD people have difficulty expressing their needs which may turn into a meltdown or tantrum, especially in children. Adults and children may struggle to keep a conversation going with people around them.


As with speech, sometimes ASD people will display repetitive body movements like hand flapping, rocking, or spinning. They may be clumsy, have unusual posture, or move in an unusual way.

People on the spectrum often have sensory processing issues that are either a hyper or hypo sensitivity to input. People who are hypersensitive may overreact to things like loud noises or uncomfortable clothing. People with hypo-sensitivity underreact to stimuli.

This may manifest as having an unusually high pain tolerance or seeking extra stimuli to regulate their system. Many ASD people show signs of both hypo and hyper sensitivity.

Additional behaviors

People on the spectrum may become obsessed with certain objects, or a primary field of interest. For children this may be about a certain subject (trains, for instance is a common one). For adults it may be a particular field of study or career. When something becomes of great interest, they will learn everything they can about it, and often repeat facts to anyone around them.

Many people who are on the spectrum have a difficult time when their routine or schedule is disturbed. When plans change too abruptly they can struggle to “go with the flow,” or to transition. For children especially this can lead to a tantrum or meltdown.


Children who are on the spectrum do enjoy playtime, but they do not always behave the same way as neurotypicals. ASD kids tend to not play with toys in an imaginary way or participate in make believe games. They may have a fascination with spinning things like the wheels on a toy, or they may spend a lot of time lining up toys or objects.

Some ASD kids become attached to inanimate objects like a key, a string, or a rubber band. Because ASD kids often struggle with communication and social skills, they may struggle to do things like sharing toys and taking turns.

Can Autism be Outgrown?

A simple answer to this question is no. Whether Autism is mild, moderate, or severe, it is something that people on the spectrum are born with. It is the way that their brains are wired.

While there are some small studies indicating that some children who have received intensive therapy have “outgrown” autism, the studies are extremely limited and the outcome is rare. Still in the beginning stages of research, it’s almost impossible to know whether the treatment had that significant of an affect on the children, or if they were possibly misdiagnosed from the beginning.

While this new discovery can offer some hope for parents, it can be equally damaging. Parents should understand that even if they receive the earliest intervention, with the most support and therapy, it is highly unlikely that a child will outgrow ASD.

What can offer hope is that many people with autism are able to adapt and learn to manage some of their symptoms. Early intervention is extremely helpful in managing symptoms that make life more difficult. It is also helpful in aiding children who have more severe symptoms become more independent and function with less support.

It’s also important to note that while autism offers drawbacks and many challenges, people on the autism spectrum also offer many unique gifts. Even referring to autism as something that could be, or should be, “cured” is offensive to some.

Some autism advocates believe that people should be more open to “neurodiversity,” and should not want or expect people with autism to be cured. Elizabeth Picciuto writes, “‘Neurodiversity’ advocates are not interested in finding a cure for autism. Rather than changing autistic people so that they fit into a narrow stripe of acceptable behavior in the world, they’d like to see the world expand its concept of acceptable behavior to include people with autism.”

What are the Different Types of Autism?

As psychiatrists and psychologists seek to understand and categorize autism, their definitions change over time. Pre-2013, autism was defined in 5 categories:  Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs): Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Rett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).

Post 2013, for simplification, autism is now defined as “Autism Spectrum Disorder” and no longer categorizes individuals the same way.

Below will outline how autism is defined today, but will also include former categorization since these terms are still sometimes used.

What is an Autism Spectrum?

Post 2013, people who are autistic are included in the “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Because there is so much diversity among ASD individuals, it becomes almost impossible diagnostically to categorize people based on specific symptoms alone.

Instead, today, there are three levels of autism. These levels are not as much based on specific symptoms, but rather the severity of the symptoms. They are also used to help explain how much assistance, or what level of support, is needed for an individual to function.

Level 3

ASD people within this category typically require significant support. Someone in this category may have very limited speech or communication and they will have severe impairments in functionality. They may be inflexible, struggle with interruptions in routine, and will most likely exhibit repetitive behaviors. They will be highly unlikely to initiate interaction with other people, or to respond to interaction from others.

People in this category will exhibit these traits “across all spheres.”

Level 2

ASD people in this category will need moderate support. They are described as needing “substantial support.” Level 2 ASD people will have many of the same attributes as level 3, but less severely.

These individuals will have more communication abilities than those in level 3, but they will probably still have limited verbal skills and odd non-verbal skills. They will likely be inflexible, struggle with schedule changes, and exhibit repetitive behaviors.

Level 2 ASD people will experience difficulty in functioning in “a variety of contexts.”

Level 1

Level 1 ASD individuals are described as “requiring support.” People in this category will likely be verbal, but will still struggle with social skills like back and forth communication. They will struggle to initiate interactions with others and may lack interest in the feelings or interests of others. They may struggle to make friends and may come across as odd or unusual.

They may experience difficulty in functioning in “one or more contexts.”

What is Aspergers?

While Asperger’s Syndrome is now diagnostically considered an outdated term, it is still used in some contexts. It is understood to mean a person with “high functioning autism.” A person who had formerly been referred to as having Aspergers Syndrome will now likely fall into the category of “Level 1.”

Someone with Aspergers will likely be able to function in life independently, but will probably struggle socially. Because most people with autism lack typical social skills, they often struggle to gain and maintain friendships and relationships.

People within this category could also exhibit repetitive behaviors, irregular body movements, and have trouble making eye contact.

A person with Aspergers may be very intelligent and express great knowledge about a particular field of interest. It is most common that they would have an intense focus on one or two subjects of interest.

What is Mild Autism?

“Mild Autism” is not a diagnostic term, but it is a term that people use. This term is not very helpful in describing the level of someone’s autism. An individual might be considered “high functioning” under certain circumstances, for instance very verbal and highly intelligent, yet also have severe sensory processing issues making it difficult for them to live normally in public settings like school or a physical work space.

Alternatively, an individual with poor verbal skills might have less severe social or sensory restrictions, meaning that they would be more comfortable in social settings. It would be difficult to determine which of the two is exhibiting “mild” autism, in this case.

While the term is meant to express low severity, it can be misleading and is often connected more to the situation or setting that a person finds themselves, than it is to the specific individual.

What is Pervasive Developmental Disorder, not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)?

PDD-NOS is another outdated diagnostic term meaning autism that is more severe than Asperger’s Syndrome, but less severe than “Classic Autism.” It is sometimes referred to as “atypical” autism because a child or adult diagnosed with PDD-NOS may not exhibit all the traits of classic autism.

For instance, someone who had been diagnosed with PDD-NOS might exhibit autistic traits socially, but may not exhibit other common signifiers like sensory issues or repetitive behaviors.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), sometimes referred to as “Heller’s Syndrome,”  was sometimes considered part of the autism spectrum because it shares similarities of autism. However, because CDD is a rare genetic disease, it is no longer included in the ASD.  

CDD is a disease that would appear in children who show typical development, but would then begin to regress between the ages of 2 and 4. Children with CDD often develop seizures disorders as well.

Rett Syndrome

Rett Syndrome is another genetic disease that was once associated with autism, but no longer is. Rett Syndrome shares some similarities to autism, but it is not on the spectrum. According to, “Rett syndrome is a rare non-inherited genetic postnatal neurological disorder that occurs almost exclusively in girls and leads to severe impairments, affecting nearly every aspect of the child’s life: their ability to speak, walk, eat, and even breathe easily.”

Children with Rett Syndrome usually have repetitive hand movements and greatly impaired motor movements.


With Autism Spectrum Disorder there is a great deal of information and misinformation. It is compounded by the fact that diagnostics, categories, and explanations have changed a lot over the years.

What’s most important with people who are on the spectrum is not how they are categorized, but rather that they receive therapy or intervention of some kind. The earlier the intervention, the greater the benefit both for those with autism, and their caregivers. Over time, with care and patience, caregivers and ASD individuals will learn to adapt to the unique lifestyle of ASD.

Article by Anna Kucirkova

The secret agents protecting our crops and gardens

Lacewings are fantastic predators and are easy to 
rear and release.Dan Papacek & Tony Meredith (Bugs for Bugs)Author provided

Insect pests cause a huge amount of damage to crops globally. In Australia alone, pests are responsible for around A$360 million of crop losses a year. Controlling pest outbreaks is crucial for food security and human health. Since the 1940s, our primary defence against crop pests has been synthetic pesticides. But using pesticides comes at a huge cost.

Not all bugs are bad!

Bees, flies and butterflies help to pollinate our plants. Decomposers like beetles and worms help break down wastes and return nutrients to the soil. Meanwhile, predators and parasites help control the species that are pests. One of the biggest environmental problems with pesticides is that they can affect these beneficial species as well as the pests they’re targeting.

Predatory insects and spiders control pests with none of the health and environmental risks of chemicals. So when we kill these species with insecticides, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

Losing insects also has flow-on effects for larger animals that rely on them for food. Because invertebrates have such important roles to play in our environment, losing them to insecticides can completely change how ecosystems function.

An alternative to insecticides

Biological control (or biocontrol) relies on “secret agents” – the natural enemies (predators and parasitoids) of pests that live freely in the ecosystems around us.

There is a huge range of predatory invertebrates that eat pests. They include dragonflies, preying mantids, beetles (including ladybugs), lacewings, spiders, mites, wasps, and even some flies.

Parasitoids, meanwhile, are insects that lay their eggs in the bodies of other invertebrates. Their larvae extract nutrients from the host during their development, which ultimately kills the host. Wasps are best known for this strategy but there are also parasitoid flies and beetles.

Lady birds are voracious predators ready to eat pests in crops and gardens. Manu Saunders

Predators and parasitoids are useful because they use pest insects, like caterpillars and aphids, as food to reproduce and grow their populations. We walk past many of these hard working agents every day without knowing it.

One biocontrol method that gardeners and land managers use is called augmentation. This simply means raising lots of live individuals of particular natural enemies, like ladybirds or wasps, and releasing them into an area to control pests.

Alternatively, gardeners might change the local environment to encourage these natural enemies to move in on their own. They might include natural insectariums or planting different types of vegetation to encourage diverse invertebrate communities. There is increasing evidence of the success of these strategies in organic farming so we should be thinking about using them more broadly.

Selecting your insects

If you want to release biocontrol agents, you need to choose them carefully, just like human special agents. Like any introduced plant or animal, there is a risk that good bugs could become pests (if they feed on the wrong insects, for example).

Selecting biological control agents requires close collaboration between managers, skilled entomologists and other scientists. For each new species, they identify the pest and some potential predators. They look at the predator’s life cycle and resource needs, and consider how it interacts not just with pests, but with other insects too. If agents are coming in from overseas, they also need to be cleared by government biosecurity.

Parasiotid wasps, lacewings, predatory mites, ladybird beetles, and nematodes are all common biocontrol agents. These species are relatively easy to raise in large numbers and work well when released into the field. Spiders are also a really important predator of many pest insects, but they’re often overlooked in the biocontrol game because they are harder to breed – and for some reason people don’t always like releasing large numbers of spiders.

Many biocontrol agents are enemies of pests in general, preying on aphids, caterpillars and fruit flies alike. It’s important to have generalists around for every day pest control, but sometimes a more targeted approach is needed. This is when specialised predators or parasitoids come in. These are species that only target specific pests like leaf miners, beetles, scale insects or spider mites. This way the target pest can be managed with no risk of the parasitoids accidentally attacking other beneficial invertebrates.

Raising good bugs

It’s very exciting to get live insects in the mail! Lizzy Lowe

Once a biocontrol agent has been selected, greenhouses or lab facilities start raising a large population. This is an emerging market in Australia, but there are already a number of companies in Australia who specialise in rearing biological control agents.

This is a tricky job because demand for the product is variable and is not easy to predict. Warmer seasons are the peak time for most pests, but problems can arise at any time of the year. In most cases the biocontrol company will maintain breeding colonies throughout the year and will be ready to ramp up production at a moment’s notice when a farmer identifies a pest problem. Each company usually provides 10-20 different biocontrol agents and are always looking for new species that might be useful.

When it comes to getting the agents to the farmers, the bugs can be shipped as eggs (ready to hatch on arrival), or as live adults ready to disperse and lay their own eggs. The packages are express posted in boxes designed to keep the insects cool and safe.

Once the farmer or natural resource manager receives the bugs, applying them is quite simple. The secret agents are released among the crops, usually by hand, but in some special cases they may be airlifted in via specialised drones!

Drones can be used to deploy biological control agents. Nathan Roy (Aerobugs)
Drones can be used to deploy biological control agents. Nathan Roy (Aerobugs)

It’s important to monitor the pests and the biological control agents after release to check that the agents are working. Some farmers are happy to do this themselves but most biological control companies have experts to visit the farms and keep an eye on all parties.

Can I use good bugs in my garden?

If you have a problem with a pest like aphids it is possible to buy predators such as ladybirds or lacewings to quickly deal with the problem. But for long term pest control, there are probably already some natural enemies living in your garden! The easiest and cheapest way to help them is to put the insecticides away and ensure your garden is a friendly environment for secret agents.

This article was co-authored by:
Lizzy Lowe
Lizzy Lowe – [Postdoctoral researcher, Macquarie University]
Image of Manu SaundersManu Saunders – [Research fellow, University of New England]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via


Why consumers need better protection from dodgy health care: the case of ‘Universal Medicine’

 Ovarian massage where the practitioner claims to 
‘read’ a woman’s ovaries clearly lacks evidence.from

In 1999, a tennis coach from Maroubra, Serge Benhayon, supposedly experienced a series of awakenings that imparted to him detailed understanding of how the body works, the real cause of disease and the methods needed for healing. This was the beginning of the “health care” group known as Universal Medicine.

The group preaches a religion known as “The way of the livingness”, which contends disease is caused by energetic disharmony from poor choices made in this and previous lives.

This destructive (or what the group has labelled “pranic”) energy can supposedly be released using a number of “esoteric” techniques including “connective tissue therapy”, breast massage, “Chakra puncture” using acupuncture, and ovarian massage in which the practitioner claims to “read” women’s ovaries.

Universal Medicine suggests physical disabilities result from sins in previous lives and the intrusion of evil spirits causes mental illness.

The group is active in Australia and the UK, and reportedly receives large amounts of money from bequests, and has a steady income from treatments and the teaching of healing techniques to would-be esoteric practitioners.

Is Universal Medicine causing harm?

This group first came to my attention when a network I’m part of, Friends of Science in Medicine, was approached by one of its former patients. This patient saw a respiratory medicine specialist in Northern NSW for treatment of a severe, persistent cough. This doctor referred the patient to his wife, an “esoteric therapist” (the name given to Universal Medicine practitioners) who works in his clinic. His wife provided the patient with “esoteric lung massage therapy” (a back massage) at the cost of A$70.

When this didn’t help, the patient was told she might need chemotherapy or a lung transplant. This alarming diagnosis led to her spend more than A$30,000 on treatments by the Universal Medicine group.

With still no improvement, she withdrew treatment and sought advice from another respiratory physician who diagnosed interstitial pneumonitis (inflammation of the lungs) which disappeared with appropriate treatment.

The patient attempted to have the doctor disciplined by the NSW Medical Council. Eventually the professional standards committee did reprimand him and restrict his ability to refer patients to complementary therapy.

Serge Benhayon created this lucrative group that has been described as a cult. Screenshot, Universal Medicine website

However, the doctor’s website still tells prospective patients his clinic offers both conventional and complementary medicine from him and his wife. The doctor has now stood down as council member of the Australian Medical Association’s Queensland branch for passing medical information to the group.

The most distressing aspect of this story is the lack of any significant protection of consumers from these so-called health practices, not supported by any credible evidence and administered by practitioners with no medical qualifications. The Conversation sought response from Universal Medicine before publication of this story and Benhayon denied this woman was ever a patient of the group.

In 2014, a parliamentary inquiry into the protection of consumers looked at Universal Medicine in some detail. At issue was the ability of the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) to adequately protect consumers.

The report stated while there was little anecdotal evidence to suggest actual harm caused by the treatments themselves, patients may forego seeking proper medical advice and care:

“Two patients who were undergoing therapies at Universal Medicine were independently diagnosed with cancer and bronchiectasis respectively, and required proper medical intervention in order to be properly treated”.

Again, Benhayon denied this claim to The Conversation, stating anecdotal evidence that patients often seek medical treatment in conjunction with Universal Medicine’s methods.

A lack of evidence

Most recently, Universal Medicine has been in the news as three followers of the group conducted research from the School of Public Health at The University of Queensland.

They published two papers in peer reviewed online journals.

One, in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, suggested women following Universal Medicine strategies for health may have better outcomes than women in the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women’s Health. They also published in the Journal “Trials” their proposal to study Esoteric Connective Tissue Therapy for the treatment of low back pain. There are no data presented in the papers.

An ex-client of Universal Medicine, Esther Rockett, was so disturbed by the treatment provided to her by the group she established a blog monitoring the activities of the group in great detail (for which she is currently being sued by Benhayon for defamation).

After publication of these studies, she wrote to the University of Queensland and the journals, notifying them the studies lacked conflict of interest statements from the authors declaring their affiliation with the group.

Both were concerned by the affiliation and lack of disclosure. The Universal Medicine authors claim they did submit a conflict of interest statement, but the journal editor has refuted this.

No other research has been conducted on the group’s methods.

Read more: A short history of vaccine objection, vaccine cults and conspiracy theories

What needs to happen to protect consumers?

Unless a patient comes forward and can prove they’ve suffered physical harm from treatment at a Universal Medicine clinic, the NSW HCCC will not issue an order for the group to stop its program. Since 2013, the HCCC has been authorised to initiate enquiries without a patient complaint and does have the power to stop fraudulent practices but it does not use this power.

Herein lies the great weakness of our regulators’ approaches to consumer protection from health care fraud.

Protection should be about stopping harm from occurring by due vigilance of what is being offered to patients, rather than chasing culprits after harm has been done.

And the mandate of responding to serious physical harm should be extended to include the harm associated with a delay in accurate diagnosis and timely effective treatment, the psychological damage from false hope, and robbing patients of funds when there is no evidence for treatment programs.

Improving health literacy would protect many, but not all, from being duped by supposed health care that lacks a basis in evidence. But the immediate challenge for all interested in better protecting consumers is to have the regulatory agencies charged with doing just that be far more proactive and tougher on miscreants.

As for those of us advocating much better consumer protection from groups such as this and seeing so little action: a little more outrage would not be misplaced.

This article was written by:
Image of John DwyerJohn Dwyer – [Founder of the Australian Health Care Reform Alliance & Emeritus Professor, UNSW]




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Indigenous communities are reworking urban planning, but planners need to accept their history

 ‘The Block’ in Redfern has been a site of struggle 
and activism for Indigenous inclusion in planning processes. 
AAP Image/Paul Miller

Nearly 80% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia live in urban areas but cities often exclude and marginalise them.

Urban planning and policy have been central to this, and the harms can be seen in key moments and processes that have shaped Australia’s urban environments.

Today, Indigenous people continue to be seen as “out of place” in the city. Their rights and interests remain largely invisible in urban history, policy and planning practice.

To rectify  and work towards urban land justice, we need to consider the planning processes that have contributed to the marginalisation of Indigenous people over the course of Australian history.

The draining of the West Melbourne Swamp, a significant wetland for Aboriginal people, began in the 1870s under the supervision of the Public Works Department. Henry L Cox (Henry Laird)/SLV

Planning segregation and assimilation

Planning has long imagined that social problems can be resolved through spatial organisation and design. It is an activity that occurred even before the profession of “planning” emerged in the 20th century.

The earliest activities of Australian settlement dismissed Indigenous systems of law and governance. Colonial agents such as surveyors, cartographers, Aboriginal protectors and governors sought to remove people from growing towns. They used maps, zones and boundaries to control Indigenous peoples’ movement and to symbolically erase their connections with landscapes.

Between 1927 and 1954, Aboriginal people were prohibited from entering the centre of Perth. South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council, Author provided (No reuse)

Populations were segregated on the basis of race as small Aboriginal reserves were established, supposedly to “protect and civilise” Indigenous people. As expanding cities consumed more land and became denser, white anxiety about the threat of disease grew.

But these concerns did not consider the living conditions of the Indigenous nations. Aboriginal people were considered a “threat” to public health. In the minds of officials, this called for their containment and surveillance in reserves, which were pushed further away from urban areas, becoming smaller and more neglected.

Town boundaries were drawn and curfews set to regulate when and where Indigenous people used urban space. These were widely adopted practices. In places like Brisbane, Darwin, Perth and Broome, boundaries were used to control the movement, as well as economic and social opportunities, of Aboriginal people for decades. These practices extended well into the 20th century.

Coranderrk was one of six reserves in Victoria made to contain, regulate, civilise, convert to Christianity and oversee Aboriginal people. State Library of Victoria

As Australian Indigenous policy shifted away from segregation towards assimilation, planning reflected and enacted this change. Reserves close to towns were closed and sold off. Coranderrk Reserve near Melbourne was closed in 1924. In the 1950s, the Kahlin Compound in Darwin was closed and its population moved to the more distant Bagot Reserve.

Aboriginal people were compelled to move out of these now-isolated reserves and back into urban areas. Inner-city suburbs, such as Redfern in Sydney and Fitzroy in Melbourne, became important places for sustaining social and political communities.

These inner-urban sites and communities were swept up in the wider urban renewal agenda that redeveloped cities through rezoning and the provision of new public housing. This was seen as way to resolve poverty.

Yet as the 1997 Bringing Them Home report noted:

The provision of public housing for Indigenous families brought them into conflict with government authorities and thereby at increased risk of having their children taken. For example, strict limits on visitors staying in public housing and restrictions on the number of family members that could live together took no account of Indigenous family and community relationships.

Aboriginal communities maintained a strong presence in Fitzroy and Collingwood until the 1950s, when the Housing Commission demolished large ‘slum’ areas and relocated their occupants. Nick Carson/Wikipedia

Urban policy and planning continue to perpetuate the perception that Indigenous people have no authentic place in urban areas.

However, none of these discriminatory policies and practices has ever gone unchallenged by Indigenous people. While it remains very difficult for Aboriginal peoples whose traditional country is now urbanised to achieve land justice, innovative solutions are being found in the face of these challenges.

Towards urban land justice

Indigenous-led initiatives under way today show how communities are reworking planning to achieve their aspirations. The land use agreements negotiated by the Yawuru native title holders of the Broome area provide a framework for reclaiming and using planning to realise local visions for commercial and residential development. Indigenous Architecture Design Victoria is leading new ways of planning and designing built environments.

A young boy walks past a sign at the Redfern Aboriginal tent embassy in Sydney in 2015. AAP Image/Paul Miller

Within the planning profession, this critical issue is starting to gain more attention. The Queensland government has passed legislation that acknowledges that planning should value, protect and promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges, values and traditions.

The Planning Institute of Australia adopted an education policy in 2016 that calls for all accredited tertiary planning degrees to address the relationship between Indigenous peoples and planning. This requires teachers and students to engage more deeply with the histories, theories and ethics of the profession. These are welcome early steps.

In the long term, advancing a genuine and just relationship between planning and Indigenous peoples means sharing the right to shape the course of urban development and to define what the problems are and what values matter. Planning thinking, methods, approaches and practice must continue to shift to support that aspiration.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Libby PorterLibby Porter – [Vice-Chancellor’s Principal Research Fellow, RMIT University];
Image of Louise Clare JohnsonLouise Clare Johnson – [Professor of Australian Studies and Geography, Deakin University]
Image of Sue JacksonSue Jackson – [Professor, ARC Future Fellow, Griffith University]

Libby Porter, Sue Jackson and Louise Johnson are authors of a recent book, Planning in Indigenous Australia: From imperial foundations to postcolonial futures.

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The carbon footprint of tourism revealed (it’s bigger than we thought)

 Travel is getting cheaper, but more carbon-intensive. 
Renato Podestá Castilho/Flickr

The carbon footprint of tourism is about four times larger than previously thought, according to a world-first study published today in Nature Climate Change.

Researchers from the University of Sydney, University of Queensland and National Cheng Kung University – including ourselves – worked together to assess the entire supply chain of tourism. This includes transportation, accommodation, food and beverages, souvenirs, clothing, cosmetics and other goods.

Put together, global tourism produces about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, much more than previous estimates.

Adding it all up

Tourism is a trillion-dollar industry, and is growing faster than international trade.

To determine the true emissions produced by tourism, we scanned over a billion supply chains of a range of commodities consumed by tourists. By combining a detailed international trade database with accounts tracking what goods and services tourists bought, we identified carbon flows between 160 countries from 2009 to 2013.

Our results show that tourism-related emissions increased by around 15% over that period, from 3.9 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon-dioxide equivalent (CO₂-e) to 4.5Gt. This rise primarily came from tourist spending on transport, shopping and food.

World map showing bilateral embodied carbon movements. In 2013, international travel was responsible for 23% of the global carbon footprint of tourism. [The carbon footprint of global tourism] (

We estimate that our growing appetite for travel and a business-as-usual scenario would increase carbon emissions from global tourism to about 6.5Gt by 2025. This increase is largely driven by rising incomes, making tourism highly income-elastic and carbon-intensive.

Whose responsibility is it?

In the study, we compared two perspectives for allocating responsibility for these emissions: residence-based accounting and destination-based accounting. The former perspective allocates emissions to the country of residence of tourists, the latter to the country of destination. Put simply, are tourism-related carbon emissions the responsibility of travellers or tourist destinations?

If responsibility lies with the travellers, then we should identify the countries that send the most tourists out into the world, and find ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their travel.

On the other hand, destination-based accounting can offer insights into tourism spots (like popular islands) that would benefit most from technology improvements and regulations for reducing the carbon footprint of tourism.

Tracking emissions under destination-based accounting over a specific period could help researchers and policymakers to answer questions about the success of incentive schemes and regulations, and to assess the speed of decarbonisation of tourism-related sectors.

So how do countries rank under the two accounting perspectives? The United States is responsible for the majority of tourism-related emissions under both perspectives – many people travel both from and to the US – followed by China, Germany and India.

But on a per-capita basis, the situation looks rather different. Small island destinations have the highest per-capita destination-based footprints. Maldives tops the list – 95% of the island’s tourism-related emissions come from international visitors.

Tourists are responsible for 30-80% of the national emissions of island economies. These findings bring up the question of the impact of tourism on small island states.

Islands as tourist destinations

Small islands depend on income from tourists. At the same time, these very tourists threaten the native biodiversity of the islands.

Small island states typically do not have the capacity to embrace technology improvements due to their small economies of scale and isolated locations.

Sustainable tourism on islands. Author provided

Can we lend a helping hand? Directing financial and technical support to these islands could potentially help with efforts to decarbonise their infrastructure. This support would be a reflection of the share of consumer responsibility, especially from developed nations that are “net travellers”.

MaldivesMauritius and other small islands are actively exploring ways of building their renewable energy capacity to reduce the carbon intensity of local hotels, transport and recreational spots.

Creating awareness at multiple levels

We hope that our study provides a starting point for conversations between the public, companies and policymakers about sustainable tourism.

Ultimately real change will come from implementing regulations and incentives together to encourage low-carbon operations. At a personal level, though, it’s worth looking at the carbon-cost of your flights, choosing to offset your emissions where possible and supporting tourism companies that aim to operate sustainably.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Dr Arunima Malik
Dr Arunima Malik – [Lecturer in Sustainability, University of Sydney]
Image of Dr Ya-Yen SunDr Ya-Yen Sun – [Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland]




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Five ways the Treasurer could boost the budget bottom line

 The government should remove age based tax 
breaks to boost budget revenue. GLENN HUNT/AAP

Treasurer Scott Morrison faces a difficult balancing act in the federal budget. He wants to cut income taxes, deliver new infrastructure spending and still reach a surplus by at least 2019. If he’s serious about maintaining the surplus, here are five ways the Treasurer could boost revenue to make the numbers work.

1. Scrap age-based tax breaks

Winding back tax breaks for older Australians could boost revenue by A$700 million a year.

Many seniors pay less than younger workers, on the same income, as a result of the Seniors and Pensioners Tax Offset and a higher Medicare levy income threshold. Seniors currently do not pay tax until they earn A$32,279 a year, whereas younger households have an effective tax-free threshold of A$20,542.

These tax breaks – along with the introduction of tax-free superannuation for retirees – have almost halved the proportion of older Australians paying tax in the past 20 years.

For a start, the government could scale back the Seniors and Pensioners Tax Offset so that only pensioners qualify, while those with enough income to not qualify for a full Age Pension should pay some income tax. The higher Medicare levy income threshold for seniors should also be abolished.

2. Better target the research and development tax incentive

The government will forgo A$3.5 billion in revenue this year through the research and development tax incentive. Tightening eligibility could substantially reduce the cost of the scheme.

The research and development tax incentive was introduced in 2011 to encourage activities that otherwise would not be conducted, including by smaller firms. But the cost has blown out and there are concerns that the scheme is being rorted. The scheme now accounts for around one third of total government support for innovation.

A 2016 review of the incentive concluded the scheme could be made more sustainable by tightening the definition of eligible research and development. This includes an emphasis on novelty, capping the annual amount that is refundable in each year (as well as a lifetime cap) for smaller business, and making the scheme available only to larger businesses that allocate more than 1% of their total spending to research and development.

3. Wind back negative gearing and reduce the capital gains tax discount

Winding back negative gearing and reducing the capital gains tax discount to 25% would boost revenue by A$5.3 billion a year.

These tax breaks distort housing investment decisions, leading investors to favour capital gains over rental returns, and to maximise borrowing, to fund the investments. This makes housing markets more volatile and reduces home ownership. Like most tax concessions, the tax breaks largely benefit the wealthy.

Negative gearing should change so that investment losses can’t be written off against labour income, in line with international practice. Reducing the capital gains discount to 25% would still allow some compensation for the effects of inflation on investment returns, but it would reduce some of the distortions in investment decisions created by the current discount.

4. Abandon planned increases in the Super Guarantee

Abandoning plans to increase compulsory super contributions to 12%, could boost revenues by A$500 million in 2021-22, rising to over A$2 billion a year by 2025-26.

The Super Guarantee is legislated to rise from 9.5% of wages today to 12% by July 2025. But increasing compulsory super contributions will reduce wages today and do little to boost the retirement incomes of many low-income workers.

It will also cost the Budget billions in extra super tax breaks. Instead of workers receiving wages tax at full marginal tax rates, the extra super contributions will be taxed at a flat 15%. The 2014–15 budget calculated that delaying an increase to the Super Guarantee of 0.5 percentage points saved A$440 million in 2017–18.

These budget savings would endure even in the long-term: a Treasury analysis estimated the tax revenue foregone as a result of a 12% Super Guarantee would exceed the budgetary savings from lower age-pension spending until about 2060.

5. Offer another scheme in place of company tax cuts

The government could boost investment at a lower long-run cost to the budget by replacing the proposed reduction in company taxes to 25% with a permanent accelerated depreciation scheme.

Accelerated depreciation schemes allow businesses to depreciate their capital investments at a faster rate. These schemes cost less than company tax cuts in the long run for a given boost to investment, but the cost to the budget in the initial years is higher.

An immediate tax deduction of 22% on all new capital purchases would cost the government about a third more than a company tax cut in the first year, and it would not be until the sixth year that the annual budget cost would fall below that of a tax cut. However, by the tenth year the cost of the accelerated depreciation scheme would be 18% lower than a company tax cut and after two decades it would cost 40% less per year in forgone revenues.

This is clearly a pre-election budget. But whatever announcements are made, the planned return to surplus shouldn’t be sacrificed. The government should tighten spending wherever possible. But they will also need to sure up revenues if they cut income taxes.

This article was co-written by:
Image of Danielle WoodDanielle Wood – [Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutions, Grattan Institute]
Image of Brendan CoatesBrendan Coates – [Fellow, Grattan Institute]




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Every cancer patient should be prescribed exercise medicine

 Most doctors and nurses agree exercise is beneficial 
but don’t routinely prescribe exercise as part of their patients’ 
cancer treatment plan. 
Photo credit: Exercise Oncology Team at Australian Catholic University

Every four minutes someone in Australia is diagnosed with cancer. Only one in ten of those diagnosed will exercise enough during and after their treatment. But every one of those patients would benefit from exercise.

I’m part of Australia’s peak body representing health professionals who treat people with cancer, the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia. Today we’re joining 25 other cancer organisations to call for exercise to be prescribed to all cancer patients as part of routine cancer care.

Published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, our plan is to incorporate exercise alongside surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy to help counteract the negative effects of cancer and its treatment.

What are we calling for?

Historically the advice to cancer patients was to rest and avoid activity. We now know this advice may be harmful to patients, and every person with cancer would benefit from exercise medicine.

Most doctors and nurses agree exercise is beneficial but don’t routinely prescribe exercise as part of their patients’ cancer treatment plan.

It is our position that all health professionals involved in the care of people with cancer should:

  1. view and discuss exercise as a standard part of the cancer treatment plan
  2. recommend people with cancer adhere to exercise guidelines
  3. refer patients to an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist with experience in cancer care.

Why prescribe exercise?

Cancer patients who exercise regularly experience fewer and less severe side effects from treatments. They also have a lower relative risk of cancer recurrence and a lower relative risk of dying from their cancer.

If the effects of exercise could be encapsulated in a pill, it would be prescribed to every cancer patient worldwide and viewed as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment. If we had a pill called exercise it would be demanded by cancer patients, prescribed by every cancer specialist, and subsidised by government.

Cancer and its treatment can have a devastating effect on people’s lives, causing serious health issues that compromise their physical and mental well-being.

Here’s why exercise is a new contender in the fight against cancer. TEDxPerth.

Research shows exercise can help cancer patients tolerate aggressive treatments, minimise the physical declines caused by cancer, counteract cancer-related fatigue, relieve mental distress and improve quality of life.

When appropriately prescribed and monitored, exercise is safe for people with cancer and the risk of complications is relatively low.

Implementing exercise medicine as part of routine cancer care not only has the potential to change people’s lives but to also save money. People with cancer who exercise have lower medical expenses and spend less time away from work.

What exactly should be prescribed?

Exercise specialists can prescribe exercise in a similar way that doctors prescribe medications; by knowing how cancer impacts our health, and understanding how certain exercises improve the structure and function of the body’s systems.

These individualised programs involve specific types of exercises, performed at precise intensities and volumes based on a mechanism of action and dosage needed to counteract the negative effects of cancer.

The evidence-based guidelines recommend people with cancer be as physically active as their current ability and conditions allow. For significant health benefits, they should aim for:

  1. at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise weekly (such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming)
  2. two to three resistance exercise session each week involving moderate to vigorous intensity exercises targeting the major muscle groups (such as weight lifting).

These recommendations should be tailored to the individual’s abilities to minimise the risk of complications and maximise the benefits.

Exercise is safe for people with cancer and can be tailored for the individual. Photo Credit: Exercise Oncology Team at Australian Catholic University

How will patients fill the prescription?

Getting this much exercise may seem out of reach for many people with cancer. But exercise specialists who have experience in cancer care can help. They’ll design an individual program based on the patient’s disease, how they’ve responded to treatment and the anticipated trajectory of their health status.

Online directories can help find accredited exercise  physiologists and physiotherapists practising nearby. These services are eligible for subsidies through Medicare and private health insurance.

Or patients can opt for structured cancer-specific exercise medicine programs such as EX-MED Cancer, which I lead. Such programs are designed to maximise the safety and effectiveness of exercise medicine for cancer patients.

This article was wrtitten by:
Image of Prue Cormie Prue Cormie – [Principal Research Fellow in Exercise & Cancer, Australian Catholic University]




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The new 100% recyclable packaging target is no use if our waste isn’t actually recycled

 These are already 100% recyclable - the trick is to 
actually recycle them. Srisakorn Wonglakorn

Commonwealth, state and territory environment ministers last week agreed on an ambitious target that 100% of Australian packaging be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025. This is no doubt sensible, given the turmoil sparked by China’s crackdown on waste imports.

Having a 100% target is fantastic. But this does not mean that all of the waste we generate in 2025 will necessarily find its way to one of these destinations.

For one thing, the definitions of different waste categories vary by state and territory, so there is no commonly accepted working definition of what constitutes “recyclable, compostable or reusable”.

Read more: China’s recycling ‘ban’ throws Australia into a very messy waste crisis

In practice, these terms depend largely on the infrastructure available. Single-use plastic bags are a good example of a product that is technically recyclable but which is not accepted in most councils’ kerbside recycling collection. That’s because they are often contaminated with food waste and many councils lack the machinery to process them.

On its own, the new 100% target is not enough, because it doesn’t guarantee that recyclable or reusable items will definitely be recycled or reused. To really make a difference, we also need policies and market incentives to ensure that these things end up where we want them to.

Driving recycling

We can see this principle in action by looking at the issue of drink containers. Glass and plastic bottles are already 100% recyclable, yet there is a stark difference in recycling rates between states that do have container deposit schemes, and those that don’t.

In South Australia, which has had container deposit legislation for more than 40 years, almost 80% of drink bottles are recycled. But in Western Australia, where similar legislation is only at the discussion stage, the rate is just 65%.

Despite the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ attempt at a National Waste Account in 2013, little nationwide data are available, thanks to a lack of a consistent reporting framework across different jurisdictions.

Plastic not fantastic

In sectors where not all waste is fully recyclable, the problem is more complex still. Of the seven categories of plastic packaging, only three are economically viable to recycle: PET (soft drink bottles); HDPE (milk bottles); and PVC (shampoo bottles). The other four – LDPE (garbage bags); PP (microwaveable cookware); PS (foam hot drink cups); and other plastics – are less economically viable and so are recycled at much lower rates. While these plastics will still be allowed under the new target as they are technically recyclable, the new target might prompt a switch to less problematic materials.

Globally, around 78 million tonnes of plastic is used every year, but only 14% is collected for recycling, while 14% is incinerated and the remaining 72% ends up in landfill or as litter in the environment.

The fate of the world’s plastics. Author provided

The problems are no less vexing for other types of waste. With market rates for many types of recyclable paper having dropped to zero in the wake of China’s import restrictions, it will be hard to see how some products will be recycled at all, if left purely to economic forces.

Retailers may have to embrace more innovative solutions to improve the quality of recycling waste, such as reverse vending machines, which accept items such as aluminium cans and plastic or glass bottles – as long as they are cleaned and sorted. However, without creating a local waste market or government incentives, we cannot expect retailers to buy their packaging back.

And this is before we even consider the complexities of composting and reuse. Compostable waste as a whole is already facing problems due to a high contamination rate, and lack of separate bin for recycling organic waste in many local councils. Reuse, meanwhile, needs us to tackle the eternal problem of people’s perceptions and behaviour about using old packaging again.

Will some kinds of packaging disappear?

Under the product stewardship initiative, which calls on producers and retailers to take care of the waste produced after consumption of goods, it seems more likely that some materials will simply be phased out of the product supply chain altogether.

The impending plastic bag bans in several states and leading supermarkets offers a chance to replace them not with heavier, more durable plastic, but with biodegradable, renewable and eco-friendly natural materials such as hemp.

In turn, this would boost hemp production (alongside the legalisation of hemp-based medicine and food products in Australia). This could lead to the opportunity for manufacturing industry to produce environmentally friendly biodegradable plastics. Hemp-based biodegradable plastic would significantly safeguard the environment, even if we failed to achieve a 100% recycling of biodegradable plastic packaging. Similarly, glass or aluminium might be used instead of plastic, and are more easily recycled.

Even more innovatively, we might even see the arrival of edible packaging derived from the milk protein casein, formed into film rather like plastic cling wrap, which can be used to package foods such as butter or cheese.

We need a better target

We’ve established that it’s not enough simply to set a target of making 100% of our waste recyclable, compostable or reusable. To really feel the benefits we need a follow-on target, such as actually recycling 100% of our packaging by 2030.

For this to work, we would need three things:

  1. legislation, regulations or incentives for manufacturers to develop new packaging types;
  2. an increase in public participation rates in recycling; and
  3. the development of a strong domestic market for recyclable materials.

Finally, we should remember that waste prevention is better than waste management. Everyone – from governments, to manufacturers, to retailers, to consumers – should focus first on generating less waste in the first place. Then the fiendish problem of what to do with our waste will be all the smaller.

This article was written by:
Image of Atiq ZamanAtiq Zaman – [Lecturer, Curtin University]




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