Australia is fighting a war against waste and plastics are the enemy. Plastic contamination has become insidious, posing significant risks to agricultural soils, wildlife and cattle through ingestion. More invisible is the degradation of certain polymer materials into long-chain organic compounds and other chemicals and the uncertainty of how they interact within our environment.
Australia’s waste is growing at double the rate of its population. With 64 million tonnes generated each year, we’re ranked in the top ten waste producing nations in the world. This has prompted a multitude of initiatives which attempt to reduce, reuse and recycle our waste. Many Australians have taken up the Plastic Free July challenge to refuse single-use plastic, while Cairns Regional Council is committed to phasing out straws and other single-use plastics after 10-year-old Molly Steer’s ‘Straw No More Campaign’. The Queensland Government has already introduced a plastic bag ban which will be followed by a container deposit refund scheme for single-use beverage containers in November 2018.
Making further progress, the Queensland Government late last year commenced work on the Queensland Plastic Pollution Reduction Plan (PPRP), the first jurisdiction in Australia to develop a plan to address plastic pollution. The PPRP will systematically address the issue of plastic pollution through prioritised interventions across the full plastic life cycle.
The Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) is actively working with the Queensland Government on the PPRP to develop opportunities for agricultural plastic recovery and reduction, including addressing littering and illegal dumping which so often impacts farmers. Such initiatives are particularly pertinent given that we’re expecting to see a new landfill tax in early 2019.
QFF is also working with the research sector to identify emerging contaminants, including nano and micro-plastics which may pose a risk to agricultural soils, and improve the understanding of their ecological impact on the broader environment. Consultations with the recycling industry are ongoing while we strive to find innovative and practical solutions for the management of on-farm plastics at their end of life.
The waste and recycling industry, local governments and agricultural industries must work together to remove barriers to the collection and recovery of plastics and develop cost effective and environmentally-efficient processes for their management.