On 18 June 2015 the Senate referred the following matter for inquiry and
report by 8 April 2016:
The threat of marine plastic pollution
in Australia and Australian waters, with particular reference to:
- the review of current research and scientific understanding of plastic
pollution in the marine environment;
sources of marine plastic pollution;
the impacts of marine plastic pollution, including impacts on species
and ecosystems, fisheries, small business, and human health;
measures and resourcing for mitigation; and
any other relevant matters.
The reporting date was extended to 18 April 2016 and subsequently
extended to 20 April 2016.
Conduct of the inquiry
The committee advertised the inquiry on its website and in The
Australian newspaper. The committee also wrote to relevant organisations
and individuals inviting written submissions.
The committee received 193 submissions, which are listed at Appendix 1. The
committee also received 527 copies of form letter 1; 174 copies of form letter
2, and 50 short statements accepted as correspondence. The committee held
public hearings for this inquiry in Sydney on 18 February 2016, Canberra on 26
February 2016 and 31 March 2016 and Brisbane on 10 March 2016. A list of
witnesses who appeared at the hearings may be found at Appendix 2.
The committee would like to thank the organisations and individuals who
provided evidence to the inquiry. Many of the submissions received contained in-depth
analysis of the issues and extensively referenced research articles. These
submissions greatly assisted the committee in its deliberations on the issues
Other submissions provided photographs and information on programs to
clean-up marine debris in areas across Australia. This evidence presented the
committee with not only graphic evidence of the extent of marine pollution and
its effects but also the level of commitment of many individuals and groups who
spend thousands of hours cleaning up Australia's coastal environments.
Submissions also provided evidence of the contribution of individuals
and groups in identifying and implementing solutions to lessen the impact of
marine plastic pollution—this included suggesting to bait companies to use zip
lock bags so that recreational fishers were more likely to take bait home after
a day's fishing rather that discarding it in the water, to engaging with local
schools to build awareness of the need to properly dispose of litter, and
encouraging local businesses to change their packaging.
Structure of the report
This report comprises 8 chapters. The matters covered in the remaining
chapters of the report are outlined below:
Chapter 2 provides an overview of marine plastic pollution including
magnitude, sources and types, and also examines recent estimates of the cost of
Chapter 3 examines the impacts of marine plastic pollution on
marine fauna, fisheries, ecosystems as well as human health; and
Chapter 4 examines the mechanisms available to the Australian
Government to address marine plastic pollution as well as concerns about the
lack of a coordinated approach to policy development and implementation.
The remaining chapters of the report examine mechanisms to address
marine plastic pollution in the two key areas of removal and prevention through
source reduction as follows:
Chapter 5 examines the scope and effectiveness of current
strategies to remove marine plastic pollution;
Chapter 6 explores source reduction through changes in consumer
behaviour, and infrastructure;
Chapter 7 explores source reduction through improvements in
product stewardship, regulatory and legislative changes, and enforcement
Chapter 8 provides the committee's conclusions and
The committee acknowledges the significant work undertaken by previous
iterations of the Environment and Communications Committee in undertaking
inquiries into the implementation and management of container deposit schemes.
These inquiries received evidence both in support of, and in opposition
to, container deposit schemes. The committees found that there was generally
evidence to support the claim that the schemes reduced litter in the
environment. However, there were concerns raised regarding potential associated
costs of operation both to manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. There was
also a lack of consensus on an appropriate model for implementation.
For this inquiry, the committee chose to consider container deposit
schemes in the context of identifying mitigation strategies to counter the
threat to the marine environment from single-use consumer products.
In addition, the Environment and Communications References Committee
tabled its report on the inquiry into stormwater management in Australian in
This report canvassed a number of issues directly related to the stormwater
infrastructure which is a key mechanism to preventing litter, including
plastics, from entering the marine environment.
Note on references
All references in this report to the Committee Hansard are to the proof
version of the transcript. Page numbers may vary between the proof and the
official Hansard transcript.
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