GREENS BILL: Waste avoidance through BYO containers

Today Mark introduced a Greens' Bill to enable people to bring and use their own food containers when buying food from food retailers, in order to reduce waste.

Civil Liability (BYO Containers - Waste Avoidance) Amendment Bill 2018

The decision by the On The Run chain of petrol stations and convenience stores to ban their employees from filling reusable coffee cups that the customers have brought in caused outrage, I think it is fair to say, in the community. Most people's reaction was, 'What on earth are they doing?', given that most of the coffee shops that people go to are actually moving in entirely the opposite direction. In fact, I went to a coffee shop the other day and not only were they more than happy to refill my reusable coffee cup but they gave me a dollar off as well.

That is not an isolated example. All over South Australia cafes are encouraging people to bring their own cup, and the environmental benefit is clear to everyone. There are millions upon millions of disposable coffee cups discarded every day in South Australia—millions of them. One figure I saw was that it was multiple millions per day in Australia. I thought: that cannot be right. But, you think about it: people having a coffee, maybe on the way to work—there are a lot of people drinking takeaway coffee and nearly all of those people are using disposable coffee cups.

So the On the Run decision is one that has spurred many people into action, and not the least me. I did hear that On the Run was reviewing its policy, but it is something I have come across many times before. On an Amtrak long distance train in America I took my Australian KeepCup to the buffet car and asked whether I could have a coffee. I do not know why; American coffee is just awful. Why would I want an American coffee? The person politely said, 'Well, we're not allowed to fill your cup.' I said, 'Well, why?' 'Well, it's company policy.' I said, 'Look, it's clean; it's a fresh, clean cup. I'm happy, if anything goes wrong, to take responsibility myself.' In the end, the only compromise was that she said, 'I can put the coffee in one of our cups and then you can pour it into yours,' which I thought rather defeated the purpose because there was still going to be a coffee cup in the rubbish bin that did not need to be there.

This bill is a very simple measure that is not at all radical. It is, in fact, very simple and is based on a law that this parliament has already passed. People are wondering what is an amendment to the Civil Liability Act 1936, which most people have never heard of. It used to be known as the Wrongs Act, but it is basically an act that sets out arrangements by which people can sue each other for things that go wrong.

Eight years ago, I think it was, this parliament was keen to encourage supermarkets, greengrocers and others to donate excess food to food charities. Those who were here remember that we had that debate. The issue was that some of the supermarkets and food sellers were nervous that they would be sued if something went wrong.

This parliament, in its wisdom, basically passed an amendment to the Civil Liability Act which says, 'Look, if the food was in good nick when it left the premises, and someone else mishandles it and it becomes unfit, that's not the fault of the donor—that's the fault of the people who are handling it.' So we passed a limitation of liability clause to help the food charities. As a result, we have OzHarvest and Foodbank and they have done a remarkable job and they are feeding people and helping out people who absolutely need it.

That act was reviewed after two years—you know, we often put in the two-year review clause. Guess what! Not a single problem has arisen in any of those food charities related to food contamination. I say that it was a genuine fear—they expressed it, so I guess it was genuine.

That brings us to bring-your-own coffee cups and other food containers. When you look at the media recently, Woolworths has been in the news because there have been some mixed messages around whether they would allow people to bring their own containers to buy food. What people are talking about is, say, at the butcher's section, if you wanted to buy a dozen sausages. At present it would be in a plastic bag and then it would be wrapped in paper or whatever. What if you brought along your own Tupperware container or your own reusable glass container and said, 'Put my sausages in there, thanks'?

This was the debate that was happening. Woolworths originally said they would not have a bar of it and then they came out saying that they are not ruling out customers being able to do it. Only two issues have been raised, and I will deal with those. This bill deals with one, but does not deal with the other.

The two issues are: public safety and health issues—that is what this bill deals with—and the second issue is operational. 'Operational' is really a euphemism for 'it might take our staff a few minutes extra to weigh the container', because you want to pay for the net value of the food. You do not want to take a big glass container that weighs a lot and buy something that is very light and be charged for the container as well.

These things are all able to be dealt with. It is not that hard to weigh the container and then deduct that value from the weight of the container when it is full; it is pretty simple to do. But, the food liability issue is one that I think we can and should deal with here. This bill is so simple. It just says: if you bring your own container for food, and if you die or get sick, it is on your own head; it is not the fault of the food seller.

The exception would be that if the food seller knew the food was no good—if they knew it was not fit for human consumption—they cannot have a special stock of bad prawns up the back, waiting to sell them to the Tupperware containers. That is not going to wash. If the food was okay and you have used your own container and something goes wrong, it is on your head. Secondly, if the food was subject to a recall, obviously you cannot put that into people's containers and avoid liability. But those things are pretty remote.

In the overwhelming number of cases, people will safely take their washed permanent container to the greengrocer, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick—not the candlestick maker; you do not eat candles—and they should be able to get them to fill it. I will say at the outset, this bill does not require companies to adopt this practice. If a company wants to say, 'No, we are not going to refill your containers,' then this bill does not make them do it. That might be another bill for another day, but it is not this bill for this day.

Today, I am just looking at limiting the liability, and I think it is a very sensible measure. It deals with the concerns that On the Run had and it deals with the main concern of Woolworths and other food sellers. It is a very sensible measure and I would urge all honourable members to get behind it.