Topics: Plastic shopping bags, microbeads
Greg Hunt, thank you for your time.
And good afternoon, Bill.
Now as we've said, some of the major companies are on board here with the phase out, so what's really prompted you to threaten introducing a law on this?
Look, we're making good progress in Australia.
To those listeners who may never have come across it, it is very much as you describe – that often in shampoos, in body washers, in facial scrubs you'll have up to 100,000 tiny little plastic beads or baubles or tiny little plastic dots.
They go through the drain system, they get into the marine environment, they're ingested by fish, they build up, and so they become part of the permanent pollution of the marine environment and they're almost impossible to remove.
So we actually, at this moment in history, with a new environmental challenge coming on, must deal with it on our watch – otherwise it will just accumulate like a toxin in the marine environment, for fish, for people, for our marine mammals, turtles and other things.
Yeah, I've seen photos, I understand it. A lot of birds particularly are just full of these things, some of them, when they find them dead and open them up. Am I right – the US did actually pass legislation banning the production and sale of this stuff?
So the US has a law which is bringing a ban into place. Because of the US there was a much more – when we got onto it immediately, when I really learned about it, there was a good response from Coles, Woolworths, ALDI.
The magnificent Jon Dee from Do Something has been at the heart of the campaign, and we're seeing a good response.
But I wanted to lay down the marker yesterday that if by 1 July 2017 the industry hasn't agreed to an absolute phase out, well we'll legislate, we'll put in place a law, we'll put in place a ban.
We just can't have this happen in the Australian environment.
Now, we're right at the forefront of the global movement. Our firms are actually moving faster than some of the US firms even though they're going to face the ban, but we want 100 per cent success.
Are there any particular companies that are holding out, or are they all saying the right things?
They're saying the right things, but I want to see that they're doing the right things. And so all credit to Coles, Woolworths, ALDI, Unilever, as you say, some of the cosmetic companies, but we want to make sure that they've got just over a year.
We know that people do, and companies do, have to change processes, that they have to change inputs, find alternatives.
But these are new additions over the last few years. It's not as if it's something they've been relying on for 100 years.
So we can deal with it, and the vast majority of people, I think, would be horrified to learn that buried away inside their shampoos and facial scrubs there are tiny little microscopic plastic beads that will just stay for an incredibly long period of time in the environment.
And as you say, birds, fish, turtles, all sorts of animals – and ultimately humans – will end up with these plastics which will act as toxins.
Yeah, well I think we can all agree that we can live without them. What about plastic bags though?
Because some people are saying well I need my plastic bags to carry my shopping and I can't have paper bags and I don't have enough cloth bags because I have a pretty big shop once a week, all those things.
Now you're in the process, and I know the states and territories are involved in this, and some of our smaller states and territories have already got a policy in place – how are we going with the phasing out of plastic bags, and will there be much opposition to that?
Sure. So four of the states and territories have already done that with plastic bags.
We use about four billion plastic bags a year in Australia, and unfortunately a lot of them end up in the marine environment.
And in Moreton Bay, so off the coast of Brisbane, about 40 per cent of turtles have significant ingested plastics. So they get…
Forty per cent?
Forty per cent of turtles where they've done surveys.
The next thing though is New South Wales and Queensland and Victoria are now looking to join all the other states and territories – WA has a little bit further to travel to get there – but New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria were part of the meeting yesterday.
And what they'd be looking at is a standard which would significantly reduce plastic bag waste.
And they're looking at alternatives both in terms of biodegradability, corn starch products, things that genuinely degrade, not just end up as tiny, small pieces of plastic – millions and millions of small pieces of plastic.
And so it's worked in South Australia, the Northern Territory, we're seeing Tasmania and the ACT – so real progress on those fronts without having excessive laws.
They've been able to work through ways of making sure that people that have animals, people that have needs can do it.
It's really – in some cases they've put in place a levy – five cents or 10 cents for a plastic bag – in other situations they're not being made available.
But I think the New South Wales Government is very aware that they have to have options for people, but at the end of the day can we get the number of bags down from 4 billion? I think we can.
So the biodegradable path is achievable. Is it difficult for the manufacturers to implement? What's the story there at that level?
Well the answer is we're achieving these outcomes in four states and territories, and there are four more states and territories to go.
So it's effectively been trialled in smaller states, and it's a combination of the biodegradable and then the means where it'll cause people to say – well is there another option, do I have a permanent bag that I can take?
It's part of – and then there are circumstances where you need plastic, there's no question about that. Nobody is saying that it will end up as a zero bag society, but a 4 billion bag society is clearly a whole lot more than we need.
Yeah, absolutely. Well look, most of your groceries will fit in a paper bag, there's only a few that you'd argue you need the plastic bag for anyway.
But I think – and clearly what you're doing at your level is one thing, but it would be a great thing if people tried very hard to avoid using plastic bags in the short-term, that'd help too.
Well look, everybody has their own needs, but to the extent that we have flexibility I think we each need to try to consider what we do.
And there are certain circumstances where there's no way around, particularly with products such as certain types of meat, and other things where we need that security, but we can reduce the volume significantly, and personal practice is the number one thing.
And sometimes when you see issues such as microbeads you realise actually individuals have very little control over that. This is where you've got to set a national standard, and that's what we're doing.
That's the thing which comes at my level on my watch, and it's going to go around the world as a set of standards, I have absolutely no doubt about that in terms of the microbeads.
Well keep up the good work, Greg Hunt. Thank you very much for your time this afternoon.
Thanks Bill, cheers mate.