GREENS BILL: Phasing out single-use plastics

Mark introduced his Greens' Bill to reduce plastic pollution.  The Bill phases out the use of single-use plastic items such as straws, cups, plates, stirrers and other plastic waste products over a five-year period.  Retailers will be required to start providing re-useable, biodegradable or compostable alternatives right now so we can start to reduce our reliance on single-use plastic products.

Single use and Other Plastics (Waste Avoidance) Bill 2018

There is an unfolding environmental disaster looming that has been upon us for a number of decades, but it is getting worse, year by year. I refer to the environmental disaster that is brought about by the profligate use of single-use plastic items. It is impossible to go to a beach or a river or, in fact, to go anywhere out in the environment without coming across plastic waste that has its origins in single-use items. We are talking about the lids on plastic coffee cups, straws, little stirrers so that your sugar dissolves in your coffee, plastic plates, cups and other plastic crockery and cutlery. Even those little cotton buds where we think, 'Cotton, that's a natural product,' but the sticks are made of plastic and they end up in the marine environment.

Unless you are living on another planet, Mr President, you cannot fail to know that these single-use plastic items end up in the insides of turtles, birds, whales and other marine creatures, and they are killing millions upon millions of these creatures around the world every day. Welcome to single-use plastic. But there is a better way. There is no doubting the convenience of the throwaway society. There is no doubting the convenience of not having to wash something, but that convenience comes at a terrible price, and the price is largely being borne by our environment and wildlife and, in particular, our marine wildlife.

I have just a few facts and figures. Everyone knows that plastics are made from a non-renewable resource—crude oil, gas, coal. When we have Clean Up Australia Day—I know many members participate in it—plastic items make up about 29 per cent of all the rubbish that is collected. Members also know that these plastic items never break down; they just get smaller and they stay in the environment. If you eat fish, you are eating plastic. Plastic in the ocean is responsible directly for killing hundreds of thousands of turtles, penguins and dolphins; in fact, it is millions globally every year, so we know it is a problem.

The idea of banning single-use throwaway plastic is not new. Certainly in the Greens, it has been our policy for years, and my colleagues in other states have introduced similar bills. It is also gaining a lot of traction overseas. For example, the European Union is looking at banning single-use plastic products. In fact, I asked parliamentary counsel to have a look at what the EU is doing. My bill is largely based on their initiatives. The EU ban list includes cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drinking stirrers and the sticks that come with balloons. There are other countries outside the EU that are introducing similar bans; in fact, most jurisdictions are mounting some level of war on plastic, some more successful than others.

To pick out a couple of examples: if we take Taiwan, they have already got onto banning single-use plastic bags, straws utensils and cups. In Zimbabwe, their target has been expanded polystyrene foam. The Californian city of Malibu has banned straws, stirrers and plastic cutlery. That has come into effect recently. In Seattle in the US, they were the first city to ban plastic straws along with single-use plastic utensils under the snappy title 'Strawless In Seattle'. I quite like that one. There are plenty of other countries that are doing it as well.

This is nothing new; in fact, it is nothing new to South Australians because this is an area where South Australians have claimed the moral high ground over many years. Everyone knows that South Australians are proud of our container deposit legislation. Maybe not all of us, but most of us might have watched War on Waste on the ABC last night, and we could see the plastic bottles floating in the Yarra River. I bet you, in lounge rooms around South Australia, people are saying, 'Jeez, it doesn't look like that in the Torrens, not at 10¢ a bottle. Someone's going to fish it out to get the deposit.' South Australians have been leaders, certainly in container deposit legislation.

The plastic bag ban—the sky was going to fall in. How will civilisation survive the ban on plastic bags? Now we are used to it. We take our reusable bags to the supermarket; it is second nature. We also know that there are small things happening in the corporate world and in local government. For example, Woolworths announced recently that they are going to stop selling plastic straws; 134 million plastic straws each year they are not going to sell. We have McDonald's, apparently. I have not been into a McDonald's since the early 1980s, but I am told that they use a lot of straws, and they are going to phase out plastic straws by 2020. We have had music festivals—WOMAD and others—that have gone to compostable plates and other eating utensils over many years. So these things are happening. I was not at the meeting, but last night apparently the Adelaide city council banned plastic straws from their outdoor events in the Parklands.

But, it is actually not enough just to wait for individual, small initiatives to achieve what we know needs to be done. I have modified this bill slightly. Originally I thought two years might be a good period of time to allow people to run down their stocks of plastic straws and plates and things. We then had a Senate inquiry which basically suggested that five years might be an appropriate time frame, so I put five years into my bill.

The Hon. I.K. Hunter interjecting:

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: The Hon. Ian Hunter believes it lacks ambition. Honestly, what we are talking about is a transition. The way that I have crafted this bill is that there is a transition. Starting from when the bill, if it was enacted, comes into operation, the first thing that food sellers need to do is start to offer alternatives and let it be known that there are alternatives so that, if people can ask for alternatives, they can be provided. The food place can charge for the alternative and say, 'Here's the single-use plastic or you can pay a bit more and we will give you the reusable plastic or the compostable.' I am happy to let them even charge for it. But in five years' time, we need to have bitten the bullet and we need to have said, 'No more single-use plastics. They are causing too much harm to the environment. We've got to get away from them.' My feeling will be that the same cultural shift that occurred with plastic bags in supermarkets will occur in this space as well.

The bill includes a couple of other initiatives. There are certainly items that do end up in the waste stream in the marine environment in particular. Fishing tackle is part of that. Personal care items are another. Do not fear, the Greens are not about to ban fishing. But what we do think is appropriate is for disposal instructions to be part of the label for fishing gear. You only have to look on the beach and see the dead birds and other creatures wrapped up in fishing line. Some of it is inherent in the nature of fishing and some of it will be difficult to avoid, but honestly there are a lot of people who are just disposing thoughtlessly of fishing tackle in the marine environment where it causes huge harm.

One that I know has been controversial, but I think is the right thing to do, is helium-filled balloons released into the environment. We have all been to various festivals. Maybe it is after a church service remembering people who have died in certain circumstances. I remember at the workplace death service that we have every year they used to release balloons. They decided not to continue doing that once they realised what harm they are causing to the marine environment. They release doves now instead, which then fly home their dovecote and can be reused the following year.

People think balloons are rubber and they biodegrade. No, they are made of plastic these days and they do not biodegrade. They end up inside turtles and dolphins and other marine life. It is not to say that if you want a helium-filled balloon for your birthday party indoors, that is fine, but the deliberate release of balloons in the environment is an activity that has had its day. It gives a very small amount of pleasure and a great deal of pain.

I urge members to have a good look at this bill and to look at the detail that is in it. I have not gone through everything that is in there, but it is a very worthwhile piece of legislation. Like the Senate multi-party inquiry recommended, Australia as a whole needs to do this within five years. Why do we not take the initiative in South Australia and be the first state to legislate for a ban on single-use plastics?