Environment minister Sussan Ley has announced the nation’s first plastics summit to be held next year in an attempt to address the problem with Australia’s growing rubbish problem.
With Australia no longer able to send its mixed plastic waste overseas from 2021, and plastic use predicted to double once again in the next two decades, Ley said the summit will bring together retailers, researchers, school children, and governments to work out how to tackle the crisis.
Scientists are predicting that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean, by weight, than fish.
“It’s a scary prospect,” Ley said.
“And other scientists who express concern about micro and nano plastics in the ocean – obviously people reflect on plastic as visible and ugly and the wrong place, but I don’t, I think of it as the micro and nano plastics and we can see it in our krill in the Southern Ocean, we can see it in our food chain, we can see [it] working its way into our larger mammals.
“There are already scientists talking about how you can clean the ocean of plastic, but we obviously can’t wait for that to be done on a large scale. What we have to do is prevent any more plastic from going into the ocean.
“And what we have to do is have far less of what is described as virgin plastic. I’d like to be able to pick up a plastic bottle and say ‘this has been plastic before’.”
The waste industry has previously argued government procurement targets would be needed to ensure the recycling industry’s survival and boom in Australia, as it responds to moves from China, Indonesia and other south-east Asian countries to stop accepting shipments of Australian waste.
Ley said that was something the government was “absolutely” examining, but would need more consultation with the states, and industry, before landing on a target.
“Our standards setting agencies are working on nationally acceptable proportions, if I can put it that way, national acceptable standards for the amount and type of plastic that you could have, in for example, road base, pavements, outdoor furniture, outdoor decking and so on.
“We know that plastic is incredibly strong and there are uses for it that make it a preferred proponent of our built environment and I think that is a pretty important prospective to have. We are not just solving a problem here, and doing something that will cost a lot of money to save us landfill.
“This summit is about the innovative ideas that will make plastic sought after.”
Ley said the government’s work was aided by changes in people’s attitudes towards plastics, and where it ends up, something she credits the younger generations with.
“[People] actually want to know that what they put in their recycling bin doesn’t just get taken to the tip and put in a hole in the ground,” she said.
“What that tells me is they are really concerned about it. They do care. You are not seeing a pushback in the supermarkets when you have to, for example, pay 15c for a plastic bag.
“The best education I get from this subject is from primary schoolers. If I talk to grade five and sixers about this, they give me information and young people are going to be a big part of this summit – because they are leading the way.”
The opposition from south-east Asian countries in continuing to accept Australia’s waste, which led to the 2021 mixed plastic waste export ban, has led to a crisis for the states and territories in dealing with growing landfill issues.
The industry has pushed the federal government to become involved in creating a national framework for a new recycling industry it says could solve Australia’s waste issues, calling on finance for new domestic plants to kickstart a new recycling industry.
The summit will be held early in March.
Published on theguardian.com
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