Hansard - Petition on single use plastic bags

In speaking in the discussion on the petition calling for a ban on single-use plastic bags in New South Wales, I recognise the tremendous efforts of the organisers of the petition, Plastic Bag Free NSW. That the topic is being debated in this place is testament to their efforts. It is a feat very few petitions achieve. 

The effects of discarded plastic bags on the environment are well known. More than 70 per cent of the rubbish entering our oceans is plastic. Once in the ocean, plastic begins to break down. It is estimated that more than 100,000 pieces of plastic float in every square kilometre of ocean. Plastic kills up to one million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish each year.

The production of one kilogram of high-density polyethylene to make single-use plastic bags requires 1.75 kilograms of oil. In an era of rising oil prices and ever-depleting fossil fuels, this use of resources is unsustainable. While it is true that replacement bags, such as supermarket green bags, also require fossil fuels for their production, research carried out for the Commonwealth Government found that single-use plastic bags required more than three times the amount of greenhouse gas and almost five times as much energy to produce when compared with longer-lasting green bags. The member for Coogee spoke of his experience in Coles Bay, Tasmania. In my home city of Lake Macquarie the township of Toronto, which is also a Tidy Town, has a strong focus on the elimination of single-use plastic bags, in recognition of the effects of plastic on our land and waterways, particularly the beautiful Lake Macquarie.

Small towns set the example by proving that plastic bags could be banned successfully. Their experience gave larger governments the courage to implement statewide bans. South Australia was the first State to take that step, in 2009. That is estimated to have led to 400 million fewer plastic bags being used in South Australia. The South Australian phase-out of plastic bags was completed over three years and involved consultation with business, unions and residents. Ongoing consultation by the South Australian Government with all sectors involved, and an appropriate lead-in time to allow the community to adjust, led to a sensible and accepted implementation that continues to enjoy community support.

The Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory followed in 2011. Tasmania joined the ban in 2013. It is good to hear that the new Queensland Government is also considering a ban on single-use plastic bags in that State, where rates of discarded rubbish are 40 per cent above the national average. Western Australia is the only State heading in the opposite direction. There a Government member of Parliament has tried to overturn a plastic bag ban in the city of Fremantle. I congratulate the organisers of this petition and the many active campaigners who continue to push for change. By putting this issue on the agenda in this place you have advanced your cause and moved closer to your goal.