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Adjournment: Soft plastic waste

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
9 September 2021

My adjournment is for the environment minister. The Labor government wants to allow soft plastics to be burnt, instead of recycled. In July, the Labor government put out a consultation draft on how we manage incineration, now that we have plans for incineration—so-called waste-to-energy plants popping up across the state, in Lara, Wyndham, Maryvale, Laverton North, Dandenong and counting. These plants are a major concern for local residents, who face toxic air pollution in a state which fails to enforce standards from existing polluters. These plants are a concern for the rest of us because they’re massive. They are so big that to be financially viable they need a reliable supply of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste a year, for decades to come. That commits Victorians to producing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste for decades, burning it and breathing in the pollution, instead of getting smarter at recycling and actually reducing our waste in the first place, which really is a better option for our environment, health and climate.

At the moment we have bins full of soft plastics—packaging, plastic bags, plastic wrap. It’s hard to recycle these soft plastics, because we haven’t invested in making them recyclable. We haven’t built the facilities and we haven’t made companies start using recycled plastic in their packaging. It’s cheaper to use virgin plastic, use it once, and throw it in the bin.

I’d like to think that in 10 years time we won’t have bins full of soft plastics, that we’ll be producing much less single-use plastic, and that even soft plastics will mostly be being recycled. But if we don’t limit incinerator proposals, we lose the incentive to get better at recycling. In fact our councils sign up to contracts that lock them into supplying rubbish to burn.

The Labor government know that incineration can hurt recycling, which is why they have proposed a cap on incineration of 1 million tonnes of waste a year. But their consultation draft undermines that target by exempting hundreds of thousands of tonnes which plants which already have planning permits hope to burn. Under the very leaky 1-million-tonne cap, we could still see incineration plants competing to burn all of the waste households currently put in their landfill bins.

The action I seek is that the minister places an effective cap on incineration, not one that risks incineration plants competing with each other to burn all of our landfill bin waste, so in 10 years time our soft plastics are in our recycling bins and not the air we breathe.

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
9 September 2021
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