House debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019


Tasmania: Recycling Industry

7:38 pm

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

There is a recycling crisis in Tasmania. Indeed, we've seen huge piles of recyclables build up at SKM's facility in Derwent Park. Residents have watched with growing concern as these stockpiles have remained untouched for weeks. Moreover, only recently we've heard that some of this waste will in future need to be shipped to the mainland for processing because we still don't have long-term recycling solutions in Tasmania. Nationally, the situation is little better, with only 12 per cent of the plastic produced being recycled and a whopping 87 per cent destined for landfill. Clearly, this is unacceptable and, just as clearly, we need to start thinking outside the box for solutions.

Fortunately, there is a strong desire in the community to see the matter dealt with in a better way—so much so, that I've now lost count of the number of constituents who have raised this issue with me. Some are coming forward with creative ideas about processing and alternatives to landfill. For example, recently I visited the Glenorchy tip and was impressed by their innovative thinking about waste generation and management. In particular, the manager of the Glenorchy Tip Shop, Brad Mashman, has extensively researched programs in Europe which focus on reduction and reuse along with innovative recycling solutions. Mr Mashman told me about the alternatives which are available right now to prevent the generation of excessive waste in the first instance. Initiatives include the legislated right to repair, mandating longer warranty periods and making sure that producers design their products to last rather than to be replaced. Mandatory product stewardship laws for items like tyres, mattresses and e-waste are also essential to ensuring producers take greater responsibility for their products. In other words, if Australia is to get serious about waste, we need to get serious about reducing our production of waste in the first place, and the Australian government needs to get serious about prioritising the establishment of a new circular economy, as recommended by the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee, in which materials are used, collected, recovered and re-used. To this end, a ban on single use plastics by 2023 is essential.

The other part of this puzzle is thinking creatively about what we do with the waste we have already generated. To that end I recently spoke to Steve Tew, who has extensively researched waste incineration techniques, like those used in Sweden to achieve their zero landfill goals. He's passionate about reducing the garbage heading to landfill as well as dealing with the waste already there. He is just one example of the many bright sparks looking to other countries to see how we might deal better with our waste here at home. And deal with it we must, because we simply can't continue to rely on dumping our waste overseas, like the 34 million kilograms of waste sent just to Malaysia just in the first half of this year, despite the obvious truth that dumping our rubbish in developing countries is especially unsustainable and unconscionable.

I believe the Australian government's commitment to phase-out waste export is, indeed, an opportunity to think creatively, to plan for the future and to seriously consider sustainable approaches to tackling the recycling crisis. But the federal government needs to take the lead on this by introducing mandatory sustainable procurement targets of at least 30 per cent and to set an example for all levels of government. This would kickstart a strong Australian remanufacturing sector and make the government put its money where its mouth is in relation to recycling nationwide.

I also applaud the Tasmanian government's proposal for a container refund scheme and I look forward to its implementation. I have persistently called for the implementation of a nationwide cash-for-containers scheme and I support the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee's recommendations to this effect.

Constituents continue to write to me, raising this issue as one of utmost importance. I am told it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050. We sure are living in the age of plastic. Plastic has been found at the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean, in the air at the greatest heights and throughout our food chains. We need to take real action to reduce plastic production, and we need to put sustainable systems in place to deal with the waste we do generate. Around the world, nations are beginning to act, and it's beyond time Australia took a lead in this space.