Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 14 Hansard (Tuesday, 7 December 2010) . . Page.. 5803 ..
initiative, one that the Greens have been calling for for many years. It introduces a ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags that will begin next year after a phase-in period.
The Greens have been determined to address the problem of plastic bags for many years. It was part of the parliamentary agreement with the Labor Party under which the Labor Party formed government in 2008. We asked for a levy on plastic bags to be introduced in the ACT.
The bill is a ban rather than a levy. The reason it is a ban rather than a levy is that constitutional constraints limit the ability of the ACT to impose any meaningful levy on plastic bags, so a levy would be quite ineffectual. A ban is, in any case, simple, and we expect it to be very efficient and effective.
Plastic bags are, despite what the Leader of the Opposition may say, a hazard to the environment. They tend to be a single-use disposable item—a very wasteful way to use thousands of tonnes of plastic, which is made from non-renewable fossil fuels. Australia uses about four billion plastic shopping bags a year. A car could drive around the equator 1,275 times using the petroleum used to produce the plastic bags Australians use in a year.
The high-density polyethylene plastic in plastic bags ends up either in landfill, where it does not break down, or in the natural environment, where it pollutes waterways and harms wildlife. It is disturbing to think that every piece of plastic ever made and every one of the four billion plastic bags we use each year—except for the tiny amount of plastic which has been incinerated, which produces its own pollution problems—all still exist and are not going away. Those of us in the Assembly who believe in the goal of no waste or zero waste should be considering this fact quite carefully.
Interestingly, my office spoke to a manufacturer who has been using plastic bags to make recycled furniture, which is an excellent idea. They are not worried at all about a plastic bag ban, because there are already enough plastic bags for their business to be able to be run effectively forever.
As Mr Seselja has pointed out, plastic bags are one of the hallmarks of our plastic-addicted lifestyle. Probably one of the best ways of looking at this is to look at the existence of the trash vortex in the north Pacific Ocean. This ocean vortex is approximately 850 times the size of Canberra, approximately the size of the entire state of Tasmania. It is full of plastic rubbish. It is estimated that there are about six kilograms of plastic for every kilogram of natural plankton—as well as other slowly degrading garbage. It swirls around the ocean, killing fish, birds and marine animals.
Plastic is an environmental issue, Mr Seselja. The plastic in the trash vortex does not degrade like natural material. Instead, it breaks down very slowly, but only into smaller pieces of plastic. It has been estimated that over one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year by the ingestion of plastics or entanglement. The plastics in the ocean repel water but act as a chemical sponge. They concentrate damaging pollution that has also been put out into oceans, meaning that animals also take in highly toxic pollution.