Zali Steggall speaks on the issue of plastic pollution

14 February 2023

I rise to speak on the issue of plastic pollution that is overrunning our streets and our beaches. Over the last 10 years there has been a large shift in conversations to address the issues posed by plastic pollution, with Australians united in the fact that it poses great risks for the future. Despite this, plastic pollution has continued to increase exponentially, with the amount of plastics in the ocean expected to triple in the next 20 years.

Waste forms in islands in the Pacific, and the World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that 90 per cent of all seabirds and 52 per cent of all sea turtles ingest plastics, to name but a few. The breakdown of plastic and microplastics poses further risks to marine life, leading to blockages in their digestive systems, malnutrition and death. It really is no surprise that many are so concerned. Plastic pollution is a global crisis that is harming our environment, our wildlife and ultimately ourselves—because we do ingest it in so many ways as a result of how prevalent it is in our oceans.

For years Australians have been promised reduced plastic waste and increased recycling rates. However, today we're faced with the prospect of over 12,000 tonnes of recycled plastics heading to landfill. Last November REDcycle, a program aimed at recycling soft plastics—mainly from our big supermarket chains: Coles, Woolworths and Aldi—collapsed after plastic bags were revealed to be stockpiled in warehouses across the country. Since then hundreds of millions of plastic bags have been sent to landfill while we wait for the scheme to restart.

However, even if infrastructure were in place to recycle the copious amounts of soft plastics in Australia, the demand for the recycled products would not meet the increased supply. Therefore, while it's important measures are put in place to ensure soft plastics in circulation are recycled, we must look at ways to reduce the amount of soft plastics produced and increase the use of recycled products. Therefore, I support the call for a tax or a levy on the use of virgin plastics. We need to make sure recycled plastics are more cost competitive, to drive down fossil fuel use and create value for the circular economy.

In the UK they have introduced a plastic tax of around $350 per tonne of plastic, and even there there still is demand. The UK are also proposing mandatory reusable foodware from 2025. They aren't the only ones. Across Europe and the US they are implementing bans and taxes on single-use foodware and coffee cups. We need to catch up and demonstrate leadership. We must also consider minimum recycled content standards. We should also look at product stewardship schemes to make the producer of the plastic liable for its collection, recycling or disposal.

I welcome the commitments of our state governments, including New South Wales, to ban some single-use plastic items, but we need more to be done. We need national level regulation to drive change in the behaviour of big importing businesses. We also need innovative businesses, such as devolver in my electorate of Warringah, which is aimed at getting away from single-use takeaway containers, providing shops and customers with reusable takeaway containers. We have all sorts of new ideas and ways to replace them.

We need demonstration stands visible in our community. We need education. Community groups are working at a local level towards educating people on plastics and waste in order to change behaviours. Last year I was visited by a group called Ocean Action Pod, a group seeking to raise awareness about the impact of waste through a pop-up multimedia education experience and online activities. I fully support such great initiatives.

There are many other great local initiatives in my electorate, including the strawkling crew and the Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew, to name just a couple. Locally we have implemented the Roadmap to Zero to raise awareness of waste as well as provide positive and proactive ways for businesses, community groups and individuals to reduce their waste footprint. There's so much more to be done, especially as we find ourselves not dining in but dining out more during the pandemic and in our way of life. I call on businesses in Warringah to sign up to the Roadmap to Zero and reduce our waste footprint.