September 5 2017

Waste Reduction and Recycling Amendment Bill 2017

Mr ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (5.30 pm): I rise today to express my personal satisfaction that the Queensland parliament has at long last agreed to implement a ban on single-use plastic bags and introduce a container refund scheme. While we trail other states and many countries around the world, this legislation will not only achieve obvious environmental outcomes; it will arrest a staggering acceptance that waste is an unavoidable by-product of living in the 21st century.

I was delighted to announce to my community of Noosa last year that an incoming LNP government would introduce a container deposit scheme and a ban on single-use plastic bags. I am proud to stand in this place today and celebrate the fact that bipartisan support for this legislation has been achieved and that the changes for which my dedicated community have fought so hard will now take place.

I started campaigning for better waste management practices from the time I became the shadow minister for the environment back in 2009. I noted today the reverse vending machine that is in the foyer of Parliament House. Back in 2009 I asked about reverse vending machines and in those days there were only two in Australia and they were both in Sydney. Two years ago I presented a petition to the House on behalf of my community calling on plastic bags to be banned—the result of an intense campaign led by the Noosa Community Biosphere Association with the support of Noosa council, Tourism Noosa, Australia Zoo and members of national and even international communities.

Noosa has deservedly earned, and fiercely protects, its status as Queensland’s first reserve in the Man and the Biosphere Program, which was awarded in 2007 by UNESCO, recognising the relationship and delicate balance between people and nature. My community is well known for its passion to protect its environment. In the same way that I fought with them to deamalgamate from the Sunshine Coast Regional Council so that we could secure our own environmental management rights, I joined an army of local environment groups in their fight to change attitudes to waste and recycling and to raise awareness of the ugly and irreversible impacts of human consumerism, ignorance and laziness—a sad indictment on our innate ability to ignore the plight of other living things.

Not everyone in this place will have the fond memories that I have of growing up at Everton Park, a suburb in Brisbane which was just a country town back then. Life was simple and things just made sense. Milk was delivered in glass bottles in the morning and they were washed and collected for reuse. Fresh local produce was bought direct from a greengrocer who would bring his truck of fruit and vegetables to my neighbourhood once a week. Supermarket groceries were stacked in cardboard boxes or, in some cases, brown paper bags—never ever in plastic bags.

Perhaps the greatest memory I have as a kid, as many others in this place would share, is the pocket money I earned from collecting used soft drink bottles which were then recycled. The fact is in my own lifetime I have gone from living in a society that lives within its means to one that is disposable in every sense of the word. Today we are surrounded by plastic. Our landfill is full of it. Our oceans are choked by it. Nothing is built to last anymore; we simply throw things away and replace them with new. Quite often with groceries the cost of product packaging is far greater than the value of the items inside.

I have to shake my head at people who buy bottled water when we consider that the water is imported either from overseas by ship or interstate by truck and the plastic bottle packaging that the water comes in uses a vast amount of petroleum in its production and is simply then thrown away to add to increasing piles of litter and rubbish.

This is beyond comprehension when we consider that for many struggling families the cost of living is a constant worry and in Australia we enjoy some of the world’s cleanest tap water.

We must learn to live within our means, a challenge the communities in my electorate have taken seriously and responded to by making the bold decision to cap population growth in order to ensure a sustainable future. Nothing illustrates this better than the shire identifying the total amount of water available to it from Lake Macdonald plus the water allocation we have from the Mary River and planning for a population that does not exceed the drinkable water supply. While controversial at the time, the decision to cap growth was considered to be plain common sense which forms the basis of good old-fashioned public policy, much like the introduction of compulsory recycling bins, which the Noosa council has extended only fairly recently for green waste. Unfortunately, just as in the case of yellow recycling bins, it is up to the individual to make the right waste disposal choice to reduce landfill. Sadly, the confusion over what can and cannot be recycled in order to avoid contamination of an entire load continues to impede our progress, which is why legislation like this is essential for real change to be made.

Queenslanders use around one billion single-use plastic bags each year and the average family collects about 60 each week. These bags are used for around 12 minutes and take roughly a thousand years to decompose if indeed they do at all. According to the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, 16 million of these bags are littered and easily picked up by the wind, allowing them to escape landfill. Many of these bags then enter our rivers, creeks and oceans. A ban is the only measure to address this. The LGAQ’s formal response to the proposed ban refers to the high cost to councils of windblown litter, plastic bag contamination in recycling bins and costly stormwater network blockages that must be repaired because of the damage caused by plastic bags.

Plastic in our oceans is a planet size crime. Every year plastics kill more than one million birds and a hundred thousand sea mammals. Seals are strangled by them and turtles are suffocated by them, mistaking them for their primary food which is jellyfish. Research articles from the Guardian newspaper in London, Taronga Zoo, the American Chemical Society and our own Queensland Wildlife Preservation Society have reported that plastics are found inside animals across the ocean food chain, particles and chemicals of which end up in things like salt and the fish we consume, contaminating human food sources.

To date, impassioned community groups such as the Boomerang Alliance have been at the forefront of a plastic shopping bag ban in Noosa and hinterland towns, particularly the little village of Peregian. In the absence of a national ban on plastic bags, the major supermarkets have been slow to match their competitor Aldi, whose plastic shopping bags are much stronger and are used many more times. The recent announcement by Coles and Woolworths to phase out the supply of bags next year is reflective of public sentiment and the greater pressure being put to bear on them to act responsibly and to reduce their carbon footprint.

The introduction of a container refund scheme, or CRS as it is known, is yet again common sense. I cannot for the life of me understand why all of those years ago we stopped recycling and the South Australians from 1977 made it into an art form. The CRS represents a significant financial opportunity for the not-for-profit sector and local businesses to get involved, offering a way to secure a long-term and sustainable revenue base through the collection and return of cans and bottles.

Under the bag ban, lightweight shopping bags will no longer be available and businesses will need to provide alternative solutions for their customers. I have invited interested and affected groups and businesses in my electorate to attend the forum on Tuesday, 19 September at the Noosa J to help them prepare. The forum will be organised by the Boomerang Alliance, and again I thank them and their legion of supporters, particularly Toby Hutcheon who I met all those years ago, for the excellent work they have done.

It is my deeply held personal view that this long overdue legislation is the beginning of a necessary measure to replace our collective complacency with conscious and concerted decision-making when it comings to pollution and pollutants, consumerism and waste disposal. It is 2017 and an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality has no place in modern Queensland. I commend this bill to the House.

embed Block
Add an embed URL or code. Learn more.