House debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021


Waste Management and Recycling

4:59 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We've reached a point where the world is drowning in waste. Despite enormous efforts to implement kerb-side recycling—and I know most people put enormous effort into sorting their rubbish into the right bins—waste continues to grow. In Australia, total waste has risen by 10 per cent from 68 million tonnes per annum to a record 76 million tonnes. Data shows that since 2016-17 Australia's recycling rates for plastics has dropped from an already unacceptably low 12 per cent to nine per cent. We're actually not meeting our own waste policy targets of reducing overall waste by 10 per cent by 2030 or achieving an 80 per cent average resource recovery rate from all waste streams by 2030.

We all know that this is a big problem. All too often this results in us throwing our arms up and waiting for someone else to solve it. I believe the solution exists and we just need to work together to take advantage of the opportunities that a circular economy offers, because, one thing is for certain, if we find the right way to turn our waste into resources, our environment will benefit and so will our economy. This was a clear message this morning at the official launch of the Parliamentary Friends of Waste and Recycling. I'd like to also acknowledge the member for Fremantle, who's here in the chamber with us and who attended that group this morning. I thank the group's co-chairs, the member for Corangamite and the member for Bass, for their obvious dedication to the cause.

The guest speakers were Trish and Murray, who run The Plastics Circle. Instead of wringing their hands at the magnitude of the problem, it was refreshing to listen to Trish and Murray. They became so excited about the magnitude of opportunity. Amongst other things, The Plastics Circle works to remove the barriers to creating a real circle economy, helps businesses understand and manage their impacts of their packaging decisions and gets plastic out of the environment and back into circulation.

In my state of South Australia, we were one of the first states to introduce container deposit legislation in 1977, the first to ban lightweight checkout style plastic bags in 2009, and the first state to pass legislation banning single use plastic products. We, in South Australia, lead the nation in recycling. We know that South Australians are enormously supportive of these initiatives, and so should be the rest of Australia. But if, despite these great initiatives and all our efforts, the vast majority—84 per cent or 2.1 million tonnes—of Australia's plastics waste is still sent to landfill each year, then we are still clearly doing something very wrong. I want South Australia and Australia to lead the world in establishing a circular economy. I want us to take advantage of the opportunities to create jobs and manufacturing opportunities to give waste a new life. In my electorate, I already have some fantastic companies and industries doing just this. We know that there's a strong appetite for recycled products. The data shows us that 23 per cent of consumers already buy based on sustainability and 81 per cent of consumers will buy more eco-friendly products over the next five years. The move to a circular economy must be delivered through economic investment and demand, because it will make it sustainable.

There are also very important roles for government to play. Government can assist in establishing the infrastructure that we need for waste collection and movement. Government can ensure that its own procurement process mandates a percentage of recycled products, and they can mandate a minimum use of recycled material with government funded infrastructure projects. Legislation can create a framework to ensure greater producer responsibility and proper labelling so that consumers know exactly what they are buying. Governments can do all of that, but this government hasn't. Australia is desperate for leadership on this issue. We need our government and our leaders to talk about: the economic opportunities of a circular economy, the jobs we can create through it, the skills and occupations that will be needed and the environmental benefits. We have an enormous opportunity right before our eyes, and I am determined that we take advantage of it.