NSW dawdles on plastic

What has South Australia, Queensland, the ACT, Western Australia and Victoria done – that NSW hasn’t? Ban single use plastic items that are polluting our environment and killing marine life. We haven’t even banned lightweight plastic bags when every other state and territory took action years ago!

Australia uses 3.5m tonnes of plastic a year, almost one third of which is for single uses.

Environment Minster, Matt Kean released a discussion paper on plastic early last year, but since then, the state has been dawdling along while other have acted.

In latest news, the slow walk by NSW to a plastics policy may be coming to an end.

Every week and month, there is an unrelenting flow of plastic into our waterways and ocean that lasts hundreds of years accumulating in an ever bigger load on the environment, the food chain and worryingly, in our bodies.

We also waste an enormous amount of plastic. Even though 89% of plastic claims to be recyclable or compostable, only 13% actually finds its way back into the resource cycle. Yet the national plastic packaging targets are aiming for 70% to be recycled by 2025. That won’t happen without robust government intervention in the marketplace. Business wants to rely on the essentially voluntary Australian Packaging Covenant which since its creation in 1999, has failed to meet every target set for it. So-called compliance mechanisms have proven to be toothless.

The plastic challenge occurs along the whole supply chain. For many years environment protection regulators have done little to stop the release of ‘’nurdles’’ (the tiny plastic pellets that are heated and moulded into new products) escaping from plastic factories into the environment. They appear like tasty morsels for fish.

Plastic packaging, from the small pieces for consumer items and large wraps for agriculture, construction and transport, are dumped in landfill or the environment. Recycled content is minimal – just 4%. If government mandated the current goal of 20%, we would really start to see improvements in the collection and reprocessing systems.

We make and import a lot of plastics in NSW and we risk being the worst performing state when it comes to tackling the pollution and waste crisis. Recently the Meeting of Environment Ministers which is convened several times a year agreed to ban a number of items by 2025 - lightweight plastic bags; plastic products misleadingly termed as ‘degradable’; plastic straws; plastic utensils and stirrers; expanded polystyrene (EPS) consumer food containers (e.g. cups and clamshells); EPS consumer goods packaging (loose fill and moulded); and microbeads in personal health care products. If as a consumer you can’t avoid use of such products or adopt reusables, businesses are finding there are viable, safer and price competitive alternatives available for customers.

This is the lowest common denominator list. Other states like Qld, WA and SA plan to do more on a number of fronts and the question facing the NSW Government is – are you a leader or a follower? Further, will you be the last to act? Even if a new policy is announced soon, it will still be many months before legislation is passed and the inevitable phase in period for businesses completes its course.

Let’s stop wasting time.