New Greens MLA Jo Clay began her first sitting week at 7am Monday, picking up rubbish from the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Three or four sizeable bags full of drink bottles, lids, cigarettes, champagne corks, food wrappers, zip lock bags, straws, plastic bags, and plastic cutlery.
Bowen Park may be one of the cleanest parks in Canberra, Ms Clay said, but she expected to find litter. The Greens argue such plastic waste is clogging Australia’s waterways and seas, and killing marine life – and stronger measures are needed to protect the environment.
Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, Federal Greens spokesperson for Waste and Recycling, took the rubbish to Parliament House to make that point.
“What we found in just 20 minutes is exactly what we see everywhere in our waterways,” Senator Whish-Wilson wrote on Facebook. “This is on the Government’s doorstep, and yet it is pushing through a bill today that has no plan to deal with single-use plastics.”
The Coalition say their Recycling and Waste Reduction Bill is landmark legislation that will ensure Australia takes responsibility for its waste. It is supposed to ban the export of waste paper, plastic, paper and glass, and encourage companies to design better products and to recover and reuse waste materials.
But the Greens believe the Bill is inadequate; they are frustrated it contains no measure for reducing or recycling plastic packaging, such as banning single-use fossil-fuel plastics – as the ACT Legislative Assembly are doing this week, effective July 2021. Senator Whish-Wilson wants to amend the Bill to ban single-use plastics, and make packaging targets mandatory.
“The Greens in government here in the ACT are phasing out single-use plastics,” Senator Whish-Wilson wrote on Facebook. “But it shouldn’t be up to state and local gov’s, and the recycling industry has made it loud and clear they need federal laws to make the circular economy work, create jobs and boost investment.”
In the ACT, plastic cutlery, drinks stirrers, and polystyrene food containers will be banned from 1 July 2021; further products will be banned from July 2022.
Ms Clay said the Greens had been working on phasing out plastics for a dozen years, so she was delighted to see a sensible targeted phase-out in the ACT.
“It would be fantastic if we had this tackled at a federal level,” Ms Clay said. “I think that would be the best possible outcome. But these things take a bit of time at the federal level, and there hasn’t been much action for a long time, so we’re moving ahead in the ACT.”
ACT Labor and the Greens, Ms Clay said, had committed to introduce an organics recycling system, which will work alongside the plastics ban.
“Once you phase out your single-use fossil fuel-based plastics, what would you replace those items with? In some cases, you can simply get rid of the item and not use it anymore. But in some cases, you’ll replace it with a paper, cardboard, or bioplastic product – and you need somewhere for those items to go. That’s why you need to make sure that you’re introducing your organic waste system at the same time.”
Ms Clay is also Greens Spokesperson for the Circular Economy, which treats waste as a resource, rather than throwing it away. Such an approach, she believes, would create green jobs and make society more sustainable.
“We really need to move into a phase where we are only creating the things we need; we are reusing them as much as possible; and we have a recycling system built that can genuinely use them at the end,” Ms Clay said.