Plastics Pollution - Question Time

1st June 2017

Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 15:11 :01 ): My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment. Given research showing that small plastic particles, including microbeads and microfibres, are increasingly being found in the food chain, what is the Government doing to address the growing problems around plastics in the environment, including single-use plastic bags and packaging?

Ms GABRIELLE UPTON ( VaucluseMinister for the Environment, Minister for Local Government, and Minister for Heritage) (15:11:31): I thank the honourable member for his question and very strong commitment to the environment in his electorate and the environment across New South Wales. I welcome the question. The New South Wales Government is strongly committed to reducing the environmental impact of plastic waste and litter across New South Wales. We have a number of significant projects in reducing both the health and environmental impacts of waste and litter. I have some very good news to report to the House. We are almost halfway to meeting the Premier's priority of reducing plastic litter waste by 40 per cent by 2020. That is a good thing to be able to report to the House but we do have more work to do. That is why I welcome this question from the member for Lake Macquarie. For those who may not know, microbeads are those tiny bits of plastic that are in our cosmetics and cleaning products.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Gosford and the member for Shellharbour can leave the Chamber if they are not interested in the Minister's answer.

Ms GA BRIELLE UPTON: Microplastics are found in our cosmetics and cleaning products. Everyone would have in their house some microplastics in the products that they purchase. New South Wales led the development of a national voluntary agreement to phase out microbeads in our environment. I thank my colleagues and predecessors Minister Stokes and Minister Speakman for actually pulling this off. We showed leadership. It will mean fewer microbeads in the environment. This is good news. I hear the Opposition asking why should this matter? Let me explain it simply. Microbeads break down our environment, they are eaten by our marine life and our fish, and some of us will then eat that fish. Therefore, we are eating plastic.

Ms Kate Washington: Are you going to ban the bag?

Ms GABRIELLE UPTON: I will answer that question in a moment.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Port Stephens will listen in silence.

Ms Kate Washington: There are turtles. I care.

Ms GABRIELLE UPTON: What are your colleagues in Victoria and Western Australia doing about plastic bags? I will come back in a moment and respond to the interjection from the member about the important work we are doing on plastic bags. Drink containers, another plastic litter item in our environment, make up 49 per cent of the total New South Wales litter volume. That is why from 1 December we will be introducing a container deposit scheme that will be innovative and groundbreaking and will mean that for every eligible container that is returned 10¢ will be refunded. That is not only good for our environment; it is also good for our local charity and community groups because that 10¢ will be able to be donated to charitable and sporting causes. That is not only a great environmental impact but a great community impact as well. I address the interjection by the member for Port Stephens. We have taken a leadership role on plastic bags.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Port Stephens can leave the Chamber if she is not interested in the Minister's answer.

Ms GABRIELLE UPTON: The member for Port Stephens might be interested to know that on behalf of the nation the New South Wales Government is looking at reducing the impacts of plastic bags, including biodegradable bags, on our environment. We will report back to the Australian Environment Ministers Meeting, which will be held in July, on research we have commissioned. We have asked the CSIRO to do some important work in this space. It is looking at whether biodegradable bags also contribute to microplastics in our oceans. That is work the Government is doing—work that Labor's colleagues in Western Australia and Victoria are not doing. It is why I am proud to say that as Minister for the Environment this Government has in hand a number of important projects that are reducing the impacts of plastic on our health and on the environment.

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