Single-use plastics bill - speech to parliament

I also rise today to speak on the Single-use and Other Plastic Products (Waste Avoidance) Bill 2020. As so many in the chamber have already expressed in their contributions, I think that there is broad support for this bill. It is common sense, and I think South Australians for many years now have led the way on waste reduction, protecting the environment and conservation. I know that is something that is very true and held dearly in my electorate.

My electorate is full of natural open areas: Belair National Park, Waite Conservation Reserve and many other open spaces. Its electors are certainly environmentally conscious and want to see a proactive legislative agenda in this matter from government, so it is fantastic to see the government at the moment is proposing this debate. Part of protecting that environment and looking after our precious resources is indeed the reduction of waste and acknowledging that waste does have an impact on our environment. As a whole, as the member for Hurtle Vale alluded to in her contribution, there are a lot of good points in the bill, but there are some points that we need to nut out in the committee stage, especially around those in the disability sector.

Plastics, of course, are part of our everyday lives. They are durable, versatile and low-cost. They provide high strength-to-weight ratios for many products these days to make more efficient instruments, such as cars and planes. Of course, those types of plastics using these instruments help with fuel consumption and reduce emissions.

However, we are all aware of the widespread negative impact of plastic waste. According to Green Industries SA, over the last 50 years plastic production has risen from 15 million tonnes to 311 million tonnes and this is expected to double over the next 20 years. Even small portions of that tremendous level of plastic products becoming waste in our environment leave us with significant adverse impacts across the globe.

Our oceans, rivers, beaches, marine life, national parks and wildlife suffer instrumentally from plastic litter and waste. This then flows on to impact the economy, including fisheries, tourism and shipping. The cost to the marine ecosystem alone, as a result of plastic litter, is estimated by the United Nations to be $13 billion per year across the globe. With plastics forming such a widespread part of our everyday life, yet also having such devastating negative consequences for our environment and our economy as waste, a balance needs to be found. Once again, Green Industries SA summarises the current situation well when they say:

While plastics are convenient, adaptable, useful and economically valuable material, these need to be better used, re-used and recycled.

I am immensely proud that our state leads the nation in recycling, with a staggering 84 per cent of our waste redirected from landfill and put to better use, and we have been doing so for many years. South Australia, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, led the way with our container deposit scheme, established over 40 years ago to deal with litter reduction and resource recovery. In the context of this debate, it may be an opportune time to look at how that container deposit scheme could potentially be further enhanced and improved.

In 2017 and 2018, South Australia collection depots recovered almost 603 million containers, refunding over $60 million to the community. This wonderful initiative also helps community groups, sporting clubs and charities with much-needed funds. I certainly know that the Scouting organisations in my electorate, especially the Belair and Blackwood Scouts, are always out there collecting bottles and cans for recycling and raising much-needed funds for their Scouting organisations.

We were also the first state to ban lightweight plastic bags at the check-out. Each year, since its implementation in 2009, this has helped remove 400 million single-use plastic bags from circulation in South Australia and has helped stimulate the development of alternative products. In this debate around single-use plastics, it is not just about the positive environmental effect of removing single-use plastics from circulation; it is about the stimulus to the market in creating alternative products. As we move through this COVID world, it is about what South Australia can really excel at and take advantage of, and of course that is manufacturing, in which we have had such a proud history. An area that we can go back to is secondary industries in recycling.

The pioneering efforts in the recycling space have led to a positive change in consumer behaviour, provided a great example for other states and territories to follow and brought praise from organisations like UN-Habitat, which wrote in 2010:

South Australia has demonstrated a high level of political commitment and willingness to 'stick its neck out' and implement some policies and legislation upon which other administrations take a more conservative position.

When we focus on re-using and recycling, we reap significant environmental and economic benefits. A focus on returning materials back into the economy, and re-using those materials again and again, means less waste and more opportunities for alternative product development. Recycling also generates jobs for South Australians. Once again, Green Industries SA estimates that for every 10,000 tonnes recycled 9.2 jobs are created, compared with 2.8 jobs for every 10,000 tonnes deposited into landfill. It is encouraging that this bill is a further step in continuing that proud legacy of recycling and environmental protection.

Since 2003, the recycling rate here in South Australia has improved by almost 22 per cent, as of 2017-18. Our state's vigilance in recycling metals, organics, masonry, glass, cardboard, paper and plastics has led us to have the best per capita resource recovery rate in the country. This means that 1.25 million tonnes of greenhouse gases are not being released into our environment, and that is the equivalent of planting two million trees. Every small effort in this regard makes a huge difference. Each South Australian plays their part in this success story when we use our yellow and green bins each day, adapting our own behaviour to embrace growth in recycling methods.

Nationally, COAG continues to focus, through the National Waste Policy, on improving the recyclability of our waste, increasing our capacity to recycle and improving the demand for recycled products. In this endeavour, it is vitally important that our recycling industry works well with our manufacturing sector and other new and emerging industries. The government, as one of the lead agencies and through the work of the EPA, works with industry and with our manufacturers to support those emerging industries and give them confidence and surety in their processes. Both stakeholders need to understand the aims and priorities of the other in order to ensure our recycling efforts complement the capacities of manufacturing and other industries.

Single-use plastics, such as straws, cutlery, cups, packaging and takeaway containers, feature prominently in the top 10 littered items in South Australia. I know that many of us participate in Clean Up Australia day, and this year I was out with the Blackwood Action Group, a very keen local interest group in my community. We walked up and down Shepherds Hill Road and the predominant waste we were picking up was, indeed, plastic straws, cutlery, plastic packaging and the like.

It is estimated that in South Australia we use 700,000 straws each day and somewhere between 190,000 and 575,000 disposable coffee cups each and every day. I know that over the last three or four months of COVID-19, with more of us having takeaway coffees, that number will certainly have spiked. That is a lot of plastic in our landfill and polluting our environment each day. Recent years have seen increasing research into the damaging effects of these single-use items followed in parallel with an increase within communities to address the problem.

Through consultation, the Stakeholder Taskforce and the plastic-free precinct trials we can see clearly that South Australians want to embrace action on single-use plastics. Businesses are willing to work with government in moving away from these products, as demonstrated by many businesses already reducing their use and turning to environmentally friendly alternatives. Indeed, some businesses in my electorate are really to be commended for embracing single-use plastics already. I can bring to mind the Fish Man, Botanic Chicken and Seafood and The Little Leaf and Bean Cafe in Blackwood that have already eliminated single-use plastics from their takeaway operations.

Whilst I am broadly supportive of this bill, I want to voice my thoughts in relation to the disability sector and their needs in regard to single-use plastics, especially being vigilant in relation to durable and appropriate drinking straws, and I know that this will probably be elaborated further on in the committee stage. I know that broadly the disability sector is supportive of these changes, but we just have to make sure that people do not feel that what they currently use as, for example, drinking straws, will be removed from them and their ability to participate in outdoor dining and the like. It is very important that we look after them and have the disability sector front of mind.

Another key issue is acknowledging the important role that packaging plays in the fresh food industry. I would ask the minister to seriously consider the views of this industry in looking at how we can continue to use packaging to keep our food fresher for longer while also addressing plastic waste. Plastic packaging provides a number of benefits to the fruit and vegetable industry. It assists in what Dr Simon Lockrey, RMIT University's sustainable product expert, calls 'a balancing act between packaging and food waste'.

The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance commissioned RMIT University to conduct research into understanding the role of packaging of fresh produce. The report from this study stated that while there is concern about the level of packaging, quote:

…there are practical reasons for using packaging for certain fresh produce whether it be to ensure product integrity in the supply chain, extended shelf life and/or to avoid food waste.

Plastic packaging helps protect fresh produce on long supply chains from producer to consumer. It also supports safe food production and promotes food security. It is estimated that $20 billion worth of food is lost or wasted in Australia each year, the equivalent of around 7.3 million tonnes of food.

Packaging extends the shelf life of fresh produce, thereby helping to reduce food waste. For example, plastic film can extend the shelf life of a cucumber from a few days to around 14 to 20 days. By keeping food fresher for longer, there is more opportunity for food to be purchased and then consumed, and this is vital from a food wastage perspective and allows more Australians to access more nutritional food and seek that as an alternative to takeaway or off-the-shelf product.

Minimising food wastage is important in protecting the environment. Indeed, many studies have found that the climate impact or carbon footprint of food waste can be higher than that of the packaging used to keep it fresh. Packaging of fresh produce allows more fruit and vegetables to be available to Australians so that they can eat more nutritious food. This is especially the case in regional and remote Australia, and indeed South Australia, where haulage times are longer and where produce needs to travel further to get to the plate of the consumer.

Last year's National Health Survey found that only 51.3 per cent of Australian adults consumed the recommended daily intake of fruit. With obesity and other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, becoming real concerns for our population, helping more Australians eat more fruit and vegetables has to be a key focus. Packaging of fresh produce also protects food along the supply chain, giving people with allergies peace of mind that the products they are purchasing have not been exposed to other elements. A coeliac, for example, has confidence when purchasing a food product wrapped in plastic that the product has not been exposed to gluten while it was transported or while on display in the shop.

All these elements need to be considered in any move to change the packaging of our fruit and vegetables. There may indeed be better methods of maintaining this. We could work on shorter supply chains, promoting more ways for consumers to deal directly with producers and even develop innovative packaging solutions to replace plastic. We also need to look at the other end of the problem when thinking of plastic packaging or fresh produce and other products.

As part of the circular economy approach to packaging, can we do more to consider allowing soft plastics to be part of recycling that we do in our homes each and every week? Places like Woolies and Coles already offer to recycle people's soft plastics. Could recycling soft plastics through our household rubbish collection be a viable option in the future? I certainly hope so.

In conclusion, in the implementation of this legislation I urge the government to pay attention, to ensure that South Australians are aware of the changes that hopefully will be coming their way, that we look after small business and people that are going to be affected by this transition. Whilst I welcome the bill and believe it will have a positive impact on our environment, I believe it is so important to South Australians to lead the nation in preserving our natural environment and resources for future generations and indeed creating industry from what is an everyday problem.

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