(Question, Thursday 06 April 2017, Legislative Assembly NSW Parliament)
My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment. With a container deposit scheme set to commence this year, what will the Minister do next to reduce plastic pollution from plastic bags, packaging microbeads and microfibres?
Response from the Minister for the Environment
Drink containers are the biggest problem in our environment. In the most recent National Litter Index drink bottles made up 50 per cent of the total litter volume in New South Wales and plastic bags made up less than 2 per cent. We want to get the biggest improvement and the biggest bang for our buck, so we are going to focus on the rollout of our 10¢ container deposit scheme in December this year. I know the member for Sydney is interested in this. Containers captured by that scheme make up 43 per cent of the total litter volume in our State. The member for Sydney spoke about plastic bag litter, which we are also working on. We have asked the CSIRO to conduct research into the impact of biodegradable bags on our environment. That work will be finished shortly and it will inform our decision-making going forward.
It is important to remember that a staggering 25,000 tonnes of litter is tossed away in New South Wales every year. It not only costs our taxpayers $180 million but also has devastating environmental impacts, particularly on our waterways. Up to 80 per cent of the litter found in our waterways comes from the land and it can have a significant and long-lasting impact on our marine life. To put this in context, it is estimated that 160 million drink bottles and more than 10 million plastic bags enter our environment every year. These bottles and plastic bags can then break down into microplastics. We are now seeing evidence of the impact of those microplastics on our natural marine environment. The tiny pieces of plastic attract toxins, are eaten by sea life, make their way into the food chain and then onto our plates. This Government led the way in calling for a voluntary industry phase-out of microplastics. Since then, the Commonwealth has backed us on this. It has told industry that if it does not voluntarily phase out the use of microplastics by 2020 it will be forced to. [Extension of time]
There are 40 smart little tracking bottles fitted with GPS trackers inside that we are releasing into New South Wales waterways to see where our litter travels. They were released into the Parramatta River, on the Central Coast, in Wagga Wagga, the Cooks River and in Wollongong. I dropped two of the bottles into the Parramatta River, but we caught them. Guess where they ended up? One ended up two kilometres away in Putney in the electorate of the member for Ryde. The other ended up in the mangroves not far from where I dropped it. So where does our litter go? I have another example.