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Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Page: 8274

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (13:55): I rise during this national recycling week to inform the Senate about the great Pacific garbage patch, which is not an island of solid waste but rather a concentration of tiny and microscopic pieces of plastic, the consequence of between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste that enters the ocean each year. Between 6,000 and 240,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste is estimated to float on the ocean's surface. The location of the remaining millions of tonnes is unknown.

So it is with a sense of disquiet, but also with a sense of opportunity, that I recognise, on behalf of the Senate, National Recycling Week in Australia, a timely campaign established by Planet Ark some 20 years ago this year. National Recycling Week brings a national focus to the environmental benefits of recycling, by educating and stimulating behaviour change, promoting kerbside, industrial and community recycling initiatives, and giving people the tools to minimise waste and manage material resources responsibly at home, at work and at school.

As we know, recycling reduces and can even eliminate the need to extract raw materials, saving limited natural resources. For example, 75 per cent of all the aluminium ever produced is still in use today because it can be recycled indefinitely. Looking to the future, product stewardship schemes, such as those established by the Labor Party that deal with TVs, computers, batteries and plastic bottles, will help promote the recycling and safe disposal of items that in the past were routinely sent into landfill.

Nonetheless it is extremely important that NGOs like Planet Ark continue, because Australia has been described as being a high producer of waste when it is compared with other OECD countries. Strategic improvement in this country is hindered by the fact that the Australian waste industry is regulated primarily by states and territories, and each has different reporting requirement systems.

Australia divides waste into three streams, which are all handled separately, with different recycling, processing and disposal requirements, which also differ between states. A survey of 115 councils conducted by Planet Ark reported residents mistakenly placing kerbside recyclables into the general waste bin. Food contamination of recyclables was the third most common mistake highlighted by 23 councils.

The waste industry, though, is regulated by states and territories. Therefore, strategies for reduction are somewhat piecemeal. But it is important to acknowledge that both South Australia and the ACT have developed zero-waste strategies, with the goal of full resource recovery and a carbon-neutral waste sector. I also would like to acknowledge those in the corporate sector who are actually inspirational in becoming good corporate citizens, a number of whom are on the website, and who are setting a good example for others.

During this National Recycling Week I would like to thank Planet Ark for their 20 years of recycling service and for all the work they do. I urge our federal government to play a more active role in recycling and in waste policy in this country. I hope that all senators will do the right thing and recycle as much as possible, to reduce our landfill.