Single Use Plastics

(Private Member's Statement, 12 November 2020, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I speak about an issue that my constituents feel passionately about—and I know you share their passion on this issue, Mr Temporary Speaker. Over one million tonnes of plastic is consumed in New South Wales each year, of which only 10 per cent is recycled, and plastics make up over half the litter in this State. With New South Wales set to generate over 30 million tonnes of waste annually by 2040 and landfills set to reach capacity within 10 to 15 years, eliminating single-use plastics must be an urgent priority. My constituents have raised concerns about plastic waste since I was elected. However, the pandemic has increased alarm due to the unprecedented growth in plastic consumption. The shift from eating out to ordering takeaway has generated a surge in single-use plastic containers, coffee cups and carry bags. The use of face masks in public has also seen a new type of plastic enter the waste stream, with large amounts of mask litter in the public domain.

Plastic is environmentally problematic. It contaminates soil, water and the food chain, and can kill wildlife. The impact on oceans is devastating. Globally, nearly one garbage truck of plastic enters the ocean every minute. It has been estimated that there are 51 trillion microplastic particles in oceans and these are ingested by the fish we eat. Over 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds die every year as a result of plastic pollution. By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish and almost all seabird species will be affected by plastic ingestion. The proliferation of plastic in single-use products is a shocking waste of natural resources. The government is developing the 20-Year Waste Strategy, including a New South Wales plastics plan aimed at phasing out single-use plastics, tripling plastic recycling by 2030 and reducing plastic litter by a quarter. The plan must set out concrete action supported by legislation and mandatory requirements to guarantee a significant cut to plastic consumption and waste within the next three years.

Past reliance on voluntary measures, grants and education has seen the State not only fail to meet previous waste-reduction targets but also increase the generation of plastic waste. Kerbside recycling has community support but it cannot cater for all plastics, and kerbside recycling rates have plateaued at 42 per cent of municipal waste. Producers need to take more responsibility for their products and be required to prevent environmental impacts. The packaging of too many products remains excessive, unrecyclable and made of virgin plastics. Packaging product stewardship and producer responsibility must be made mandatory, with all plastic packaging sold in New South Wales to be made from 100 per cent recycled content by 2025. The use of recycled and recyclable materials must be required in all products where that is possible.

Procurement policies should ensure that the Government always purchases products made from, and packaged in, recycled and recyclable materials. Procurement principles should favour alternatives to plastics, such as bioplastics that do not cause the same environmental impacts. Such policies will support local recycling and bioplastics industries. A tax on plastics could be considered as a disincentive to plastic use. Some plastic should just be banned. South Australia recently passed legislation to ban the sale, supply and distribution of a number of single-use plastic items, including straws, cutlery and polystyrene cups. The ban includes plastics that break down quickly into smaller parts and there is a framework to add other items. Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory have started processes to enact similar legislation. New South Wales must follow.

Microbeads hidden in cosmetics, personal care items and cleaning products are ending up in our oceans and being consumed by marine life. The voluntary industry phase-out is not good enough for this destructive form of waste and we need to urgently impose bans. Microfibres from synthetic-based clothing pose threats similar to microbeads and we must invest in solutions. I welcome commitments to ban lightweight single-use plastic bags, which New South Wales will be the last State to implement. As the last State, we should ensure that our ban addresses not only the success but also the failures of other schemes, including whether heavyweight plastic bags are now the new single-use plastic bag problem. We currently export 240,000 tonnes of waste for recycling each year and government investment in local recycling is needed before export bans commence to avoid a massive increase in recyclable plastic ending up in landfill. This would boost jobs in regional communities.

The introduction of container deposits did not cause consumer or industry disruption and the community is willing to adopt new changes to reduce plastics in the environment. I call on the Government to take bold action to drastically cut plastic waste.