Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on the Waste and Recycling motion

9 August, 2021


There is no doubt that plastic is a huge problem that we have in Australia. It is everywhere and it is [inaudible]. We need to do more. In every school I visit in every corner of Warringah—and, I have no doubt, in every school in Australia—it is the No. 1 [inaudible]. It is always front of mind and it worries my constituents very much.

It really is no surprise that so many are concerned [inaudible] this global waste crisis that we have. Waste forms islands in the Pacific and it is found [inaudible] vulnerable creatures. A study published last week found that over 1,550 wildlife species have eaten plastic. It's also found in our food, on top of our mountains and on our coasts. It's everywhere. And in this pandemic we've made it worse; it hasn't helped. In 2019 the world was poised to improve our record. We were poised to shift away from single-use plastics and jurisdictions had plastic bans coming in. Unfortunately, a lot of those have been offset by the pandemic, which has forced many to pause those initiatives, and we've seen a vast surge in the use of single-use items and plastics. We've had disruption and we've seen disposable personal protective equipment, like masks, gloves and gowns, protecting from the spread of the virus. These are plastic and, whilst they're playing an important role in helping our frontline workers and communities to ward off the virus, they're having a very negative effect on our environment.

Now is the time to futureproof our systems to deal with future influxes of plastics, which are likely to happen again and again, in line with our national circular economy goals. The Australian Council of Recycling has said that household waste production and recycling contamination has increased despite growing awareness, and business and commercial recycling has deceased. These are worrying trends. I would ask the government: where is our national campaign on encouraging people, whilst they are at home in this pandemic, to do something about their own personal use? Waste is ending up in the environment, clogging up waterways, sewerage systems and beaches, and it is choking animals. The amount of plastics use now happening is just incredible. The risks of the masks at the moment—unfortunately we're seeing them all over our environment. We've seen, unfortunately, a growth in use of take-away because, for example, here in Warringah, we're all in lockdown. Too often plastics are still being used in the packaging of foods, drinks, groceries and online shopping. We need to make sure that stops. It can only stop by behaviour change, which requires information campaigns and legislation. We require legislation to ensure we stop single-use plastics. We need to improve infrastructure to promote circularity and we need to invest in research and development, corporate action and government policy.

I call on the government to not come to the House to congratulate itself and claim big wins when we are not even scratching the surface of what really needs to be done. We need to see leadership. This is a problem that we can't delay. We need to manage that surge in waste and also the surge in PPE waste that has come with COVID in the last 18 months. We need dedicated programs for this kind of waste. These are the kinds of things the government really should be focusing on and funding. We also need to address the broader problems of environmental management and protection. At the end of the day, this will all come back and compound.

I am proud to say that here in Warringah we have great progress being made. We have Ocean Action Pod, which is seeking to raise awareness of plastics in our ocean and the waste build-up in those areas. I've also implemented the Roadmap to Zero, which is implementing awareness and providing education to individuals, businesses and schools on how they can reduce their waste. We have great leadership in the electorate, with companies like Worn Up, which is recycling school uniforms; and BlockTexx, which is recovering polyester and cellulose from textiles in clothing, diverting textiles from landfill and using them in a more sustainable manner. We have so many companies leading the way. Government needs to do more.