Senate debates

Thursday, 13 September 2012


Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010; Second Reading

9:31 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to continue my remarks on the Environment Protection (Beverage Container Deposit and Recovery Scheme) Bill 2010. I want to take the opportunity to run through a few facts and figures about waste in Queensland. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty picture. Waste generation in Queensland is still increasing—and rapidly. Between 2003-04 and 2007-08 waste generation grew by 40 per cent. Over the same period the population increased by 10 per cent and retail turnover increased by 21 per cent. Our total volume of waste produced every year is simply huge. In 2008 there was an estimated 32.6 million tonnes generated from commercial, industrial, construction, demolition and household activities. This includes the data collected on waste that is classified for indefinite storage, such as fly-ash from electricity generation, which amounts to 22.3 million tonnes. Queensland households and businesses generate the remaining 10.3 million tonnes.

The trend over the past five years has been for a significant increase in waste generation and disposal. The data shows that domestic waste generation in 2007-08 was 40 per cent higher than in 2003-04 and yet, as I said, the population only grew by 10 per cent. In 2007-08 more than 60 per cent of the waste generated by households and businesses was disposed to landfill. According to the 2011 National Litter Index, Queensland is the most littered mainland state. Tasmania unfortunately tops the national list.

This bill, which I am really proud to support, proposes a solution for the 12 billion beverage containers that Australians use every year. It seeks to address practicably the fact that only about half of those are recycled, while most of the remainder wind up as litter or in landfill and, of course, much of that runs off into our precious marine environment. We have a serious problem with landfill and waste in Australia and, as I have already said, Queensland is one of the main contributors. It is just a really wasteful situation in Queensland and across Australia, which is exactly why we need a bill like this.

Some argue that there is no need for national leadership on waste and that we can just trust the states, so I want to put on record my deep concern about one of the many retrograde steps that the Newman government have taken in their short time in office so far. The Newman government wound back Queensland waste levy, which had been set at $35 a tonne, on 1 July this year. That levy had been designed to promote recycling by making the cost of landfill more expensive. But removing this fee for commercial, industrial and construction waste makes landfill in South-east Queensland a more attractive proposition for some operators in northern New South Wales, where a waste levy on those vast volumes of waste continues to apply, so we have South-east Queensland becoming a dumping ground for everybody's waste. This is a serious backward step for Queensland and, unfortunately, is one of the many backward steps and attacks on Queensland's environment under this new government. We really need national leadership to tackle our waste issues—the states are just not up to it.

Returning to this bill, there is broad, consistent and very high support in the community for a container deposit scheme and there is a demonstrated willingness to pay. The study was done twice and we are now buried in the swamp of a regulatory impact statement process being undertaken by the Commonwealth on container deposits that simply has this proposal buried in quicksand. At best, we think this could result in a scheme being implemented in two or three years time, thanks to this analysis paralysis. We need to develop a sense of urgency. For every 12 months that we drag our heels on this, another 12 billion beverage containers are used.

The main industry-government program is the Australian Packaging Covenant, which sounds great but does not really deliver as much as industry seems to think. In fact, the latest information on the recycling rate for beverage containers shows that it has dropped to about 40 per cent, down from the 48 per cent that is claimed in the packaging regulatory impact statement. As a result, the overall recycling rate for all packaging has also dropped by about three points. This calls into question the claims made about the effectiveness of the Australian Packaging Covenant—it certainly continues to reach its own 2010 target of 65 per cent.

When you consider all the co-benefits of a container deposit scheme—more jobs, help for charities, new material drop-off centres and a big reduction in litter—it is a scheme that wins hands down. With regard to local government, which supports a container deposit scheme, the regulatory impact statement finds that it would benefit from a CDS by more than $2 billion over 20 years. When releasing the RIS the environment ministers said they:

… recognised that assessment of the costs and benefits of options has many dimensions and cannot be based on quantifiable matters alone.

The Consultation RIS acknowledges other potential benefits of better manage packaging, including the employment generated by more recycling, reduced use of energy and water, and the provision of infrastructure to support other recycling.

Surely the case has now been proven. If we want to solve the beverage container problem, acknowledged as the main packaging issue, then we should act now. Opponents of a CDS like to talk about how well we are doing in recycling packaging, but the figures are bulked out by the 70 per cent recycling rate for paper and cardboard. We do not have a problem here if you include those figures, and yet beverage containers are slumped at 40 per cent. The only certain and sustainable policy is a container deposit scheme. This factor is acknowledged by the RIS in comparison to the untested assumptions and fairyland targets proposed in other industry options.

My colleague Senator Ludlam has noted that this is a portfolio for patient people. The larger project of creating a genuinely sustainable Australia for cleaning up our act, for cleaning our fouled waterways, our parklands and our wilderness from rubbish and for recovering those valuable materials that go to waste is worth it. But now we are wasting time. Australia needs and is ready for this bill, and I commend it to the Senate.


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