(Question Without Notice, 22 October 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment. Will the Government work to support a container deposit scheme for New South Wales at State and national levels to reduce drink container litter and increase recycling rates?
Minister for the Environment, Rob Stokes' response:
I thank the member for his question and for his commitment to and advocacy for reducing litter and improving recycling rates within his local community. These are two important objectives. Recycling, particularly kerbside recycling, has been very effective in reducing container recovery at home, with current kerbside recycling rates of containers at 83 per cent. The challenge is with packaging waste away from the home, in public areas, parks, beaches, rivers and the like. That is where the Government's plans to reduce litter, particularly in public places, come into play.
The Government recognises that a comprehensive approach is required in developing policy. A container deposit scheme is just one of the options the Government is seriously considering. The Government is reviewing ways to reduce litter and increase recycling. Environment Ministers across Australia are analysing a number of options, including container deposit schemes, to better manage Australia's packaging waste. The Government established ambitious targets in this area under my predecessor, the Hon. Robyn Parker, the member for Maitland, who worked very hard to secure those targets for New South Wales. Our targets are 70 per cent for recycling municipal solid waste, 70 per cent for recycling commercial and industrial waste, and 80 per cent for recycling construction and demolition waste. As I mentioned in answer to a question earlier today, we have a package of funding to support these targets. The Waste Less, Recycle More initiative has funding of $465.7 million over five years.
One of our other ambitious targets in the NSW 2021 plan is to make New South Wales the least littered State per capita by 2016. That equates to a reduction of 40 per cent in the number of littered items based on 2011-12 figures. Recently I was proud to rollout the second round of the NSW Council Litter Prevention Grants. Twenty million dollars of the $465.7 million will go specifically towards reducing littering. Many of the applications for those grants related to the biggest single contributor to our litter waste stream—cigarette butts. My favourite of those applications related to a partnership between Wyong Shire Council and Take 3, which had an innovative initiative for reducing the impact of cigarette butts on that beautiful entrance waterway on the silvern Central Coast. The next most littered item in New South Wales is plastic. Unlike the superstar pop band sensation of the 1990s, Aqua, I do not believe that life in plastic is fantastic.
Given its effect on the environment, and in particular marine life, plastic litter is squarely in the sights of the Government. Recent studies by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science indicated a growing threat from microplastics or microbeads, which are tiny elements of plastic that end up being ingested by marine creatures and can travel up the food chain, creating real challenges for environmental and, potentially, human health. To this end I have convened a working group to work towards a phasing out of microbeads—which are present in common household items and personal care products—by 2016.
Another key source of plastic in our waterways is plastic drink and food containers. As the Government considers how best to address this enduring problem, our policy will be guided by the environmental outcomes available under different schemes, and the economic and social benefits and costs involved. To reiterate: Our approach to reducing litter will focus on using the best mechanism that will deliver the highest environmental outcomes without imposing unnecessary costs on consumers.