Parliament Updates

Addressing Australia's waste crisis

25 November, 2019


I thank the member for Higgins for bringing this most important matter to the House. The world is in the midst of a waste crisis. E-waste, clothing waste, plastic waste and food waste all present a serious and pressing problem to global environmental sustainability that ultimately threatens to undermine the world economy and livelihood of millions. Of these categories, no type of waste can eclipse the potential impact that plastics is having on our ecosystems worldwide. According to the McKinsey report, if plastic use continues at the current level, by 2025 a business-as-usual scenario would have global quantities of plastic in the ocean reach 250 million tonnes.

The problem is acute in Australia and nowhere more so than in an electorate like Warringah, where, as a coastal electorate, we see it in our oceans. The CSIRO has found that over three-quarters of rubbish along our coast is plastic, with up to 40,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre. Clean-up days are regularly held to pick up huge quantities of plastic, but we need regulations so that we preserve them and stop using so much plastic. We need to transition away from their use. The halting of Australian waste to Asia has put the onus back on us to determine the future of our race. While this has been a short-term crisis—the challenge has been straining local councils and government's ability to respond—it also represents an unparalleled opportunity to transition our economy to a more sustainable model—a circular economy.

In Warringah we have several companies leading the way at the forefront of waste management, from Edge Environment, a certified B Corporation and environmental consultancy, which assists clients with their waste processes and management by helping them shift to a circular economy, to War on Single Use Plastic, WOSUP, which is introducing novel ways to get rid of plastics. Supported by KPMG, WOSUP Australia is developing a cooperative research centre project, bringing together War on Single Use Plastic and the UNSW SMaRT centre to help translate their globally cutting-edge plastic recycling technology into a new commercially-ready prototype microfactory. The project will help to recycle plastics that are currently being stockpiled by local and regional councils. UNSW's cutting-edge microfactory technology will provide efficient plastic recycling at smaller scales than were previously feasible, which will enable recycling hubs to be implemented locally, something that local councils are very focused on.

But governments must act, too. There's a lot of good legislation occurring at state level, and for that I give my thanks to Minister Kean in New South Wales for the great success. Great work is being done by councils in my electorate. All three councils have plastic strategies, adopted by council. They include initiatives like Plastic Free July in Mosman; the Northern Beaches Council's Swap This For That program, which aims to reduce single-use plastics; and North Sydney's adoption of the Bye-bye Plastic Hello BYO campaign.

We need to expand with federal legislation to guide the transition to a low-waste economy. To that effect, we've got the Product Stewardship Act 2011, which provided a framework for managing environmental, health and safety impacts of products and the impacts associated with the disposal of products. But we need to put the onus back on the companies to make sure that there is incentive to ensure that the use of plastics is phased out. The National Environment Protection Council Act 1994 established a National Environment Protection Council responsible for making national environment protection measures and assessing and reporting on their implementation and effectiveness. Seeing good partnership between states and the Commonwealth and the new plan recently adopted by COAG—the 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan—are all good steps in the right direction.

I must say, everywhere I go in the electorate of Warringah, at every school I visit, there is not a single student not focused on the war against waste and especially the war against plastics—in our beautiful oceans, in our beautiful environment. It is constantly being brought up. I had the pleasure yesterday of launching Operation Crayweed, led by Balgowlah Primary School, where they are looking at the reintroduction of crayweed in our marine habitats because it was all endangered and put into difficulty by waste and plastics. This is something we all have to be focused on. Our kids in our schools know this; they are focused on it. And now, as the adults and here in this parliament, we need to take the steps necessary to reduce our waste.