Parliament

Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2019

August 13, 2019

I rise to make a contribution on this important piece of legislation. We are all aware of this issue. I think it has been on our agendas for a very long time, in particular out in our communities and clearly at a government level. I believe there is a strong desire in the broader community to deal with the issue of plastic bags in our environment.

This bill will prohibit the provision of certain plastic bags by retailers and false and misleading information relating to plastic bags, and it will also make a range of other consequential amendments to the main act. It is worth noting the definition of 'banned plastic bag’, as set out in clause 4 of the bill. This term means a bag, other than an exempt plastic bag, with handles, and that comprises, either wholly or in part, plastic, whether or not that plastic is biodegradable, degradable or compostable and has a thickness of 35 micrometres or less at any part of the bag. The definition includes biodegradable, degradable and compostable bags, but the inclusion of these bags is not to limit the scope but rather to avoid the sort of confusion that is likely to occur otherwise. The definition allows for specific types of bags to be prescribed as banned plastic bags where a need for certainty might arise in the future. Plastic has become an indispensable part of our modern-day life. We rely on it in so many ways.

Obviously shopping is one of those very obvious activities where we have been provided with plastic bags for our own convenience for so many years. We have heard many accounts of how people have gradually changed their behaviour. The kitchen is just another place where the use of plastic is so prevalent, whether it be our garbage bags, our compost bags or our Glad wrap to cover and help preserve food or to wrap lunches. It is interesting to reflect on how humans can change their behaviour. We have seen how effective campaigns can be to change people’s behaviour. That has been extraordinarily evident with the Quit campaign. The banning of plastic bags has been something discussed for many years and has been a long time coming to Victoria. This is particularly so when one considers that they banned plastic bags in Bangladesh some 25 years ago. Other states and territories are also on board.

So how are people coping with the gradual removal? And how will they cope with the sudden removal when this legislation is enacted? One of the things that I have noticed over the years is that people are certainly bringing their own bags in large numbers to the supermarket. When you walk through a supermarket car park and look in the back seats of people’s cars, or indeed just about anywhere, there are supermarket bags tucked on the back seat or behind the front seats. I think people are becoming very aware of the need to be ready for that quick stop or the big supermarket shop. Community groups in my electorate for several years have been selling Boomerang Bags. I have to say that I thought they were peculiar to my electorate, but they are everywhere, very clearly, and for good reason. Community groups have been engaged in making them for a long time. They are free to pick up at a lot of independent supermarkets. The very name of them suggests that you are meant to take them back, but they are readily available to you.

Just last week in our local newspaper there was an article about a young woman who has opened the first zero waste shop in Shepparton. Ms Kelly Dreyer has been passionate for a long time about the issue of dealing with waste. She has three young children, and she was noticing just how much plastic was being used in her home. Having just recently opened the store she said she was delighted to see the number of people who are coming into the shop with their own jars, their own containers, to purchase food in bulk—food such as flowers, grains, nuts, seeds, teas, herbs spices and even breakfast cereals. People actually want better ways to do things, to manage the environmental challenges, and businesses such as these are really grasping the opportunity to tune into what people are looking for and to help them find a more environmentally friendly way of doing business.

 We are told that this bill represents just one in a suite of proposals that the government is working on to reduce plastic pollution and move towards a more circular economy to deal with waste and encourage re‑use and recovery of product. I think we have all seen some great stories, including the one I saw on television the other day where they are making railway sleepers in Mildura from plastic by-products. Those sorts of initiatives are out there, and it is great to see people wanting to adopt them.

We had a large farm area covered in tyres at Numurkah over the course of the last few years, and it is only this year that all those tyres have been removed. Of course they present an opportunity for significant recycling in the making of other products. We have been very slow, I think, in Australia to face the challenges of recycling. I recently felt quite ashamed when I was looking on television and saw an Indonesian village worker burning plastic, drawing it from a bale of disgusting rubbish that we in Australia had exported to that country. So we have not dealt with our own problem. We have been exporting it for years, and we have not even been doing that well. I think China has brought home to us very clearly recently, by stopping the import of our rubbish, the fact that we could not even be bothered to separate it satisfactorily. We could not be bothered to make sure that our rubbish was not contaminated with product that would prevent it being recycled. So we have really been blindsided by this issue, and we are now having to face a situation that is really critical out there in our communities. We are finding ourselves truly and literally in a mess.

In Shepparton at our home properties we have three garbage bins. This enables us to separate recyclables, green waste and rubbish. It has been an interesting journey. Greater Shepparton City Council introduced this several years ago to encourage that separation of waste product, and it was very successful. Of course they, like everyone, are faced with the issues around what we are going to do with our waste product at the moment, but that has led to people becoming much more aware. I know that people have become very engaged in separating their recyclables into the blue and their others into the green. Many now have very little rubbish in their actual rubbish bin, so I think that is a very pleasing outcome.

Waste and plastics in our waterways, we all know—and I have heard many of the other members speak about this—is a shocking problem. Out in my electorate it is similarly one, because we have two major rivers and various creeks. Of course people who are very dedicated to looking after them are constantly raising issues with me about the rubbish and waste that they find in our rivers. We know that causes a lot of damage to wildlife in our river systems and ultimately in the sea. Several years ago I took a trip up to northern Queensland, a camping trip, and had a camp set up near Chilli Beach. This is a magnificent stretch of beach in northern Queensland, and when I walked out onto it I was horrified to see the amount of rubbish that had been deposited there all up and down the beach by passing boats and ships which were just disposing of their rubbish by throwing it overboard. A pristine, beautiful beach in northern Queensland was effectively a rubbish dump, and people were going back down with bags wanting to clean it up because they were truly horrified to see that such a thing could happen in such a remote place.

We need to address the issue of refunds on bottles and cans. I was listening to ABC radio in Albury just the other day, and apparently it is an offence for people in Victoria to take their cans and bottles over the border and collect refunds there, which sounds like a pretty extraordinary situation. It is best that there is a national approach to it, and the sooner the better. I think we are now acutely aware that our environment is delicate and it is precious and that we have got to stop trashing it. We have been doing it for years, and it really must stop. I believe there is great support for a change of behaviour and for innovation in this area. I note that from the consultations that were undertaken in relation to this bill the government says that so many widely supported it, whether it be industry groups, environmental groups, consumers, local government or others. The appetite is certainly there. This is a start, but there is so much more to be done. I am pleased to support the bill before the house.

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