By Pat Pepper
NCWQ Environment Adviser
A range of environmental issues was researched and reported on during the year. Major issues included the impact of marine debris, micro and nano-plastics on the coastal and marine environment, and the impact of mega mines in the Galilee Basin. Advocacy was undertaken on these issues.
Impact of micro and nanoplastics: In October 2015, the National Council of Women of Australia (NCWA) raised concerns with the Federal Government (FG) about the impact of microplastics on the marine environment, in particular the Great Barrier Reef, and whether toxins incorporated during manufacture or absorbed from the environment onto microplastics, were transferred to marine organisms and potentially up the food chain. Since that time further research confirmed micro and nanoplastics contribute significantly to marine and coastal pollution and if ingested or inhaled, may transfer from the lungs and guts of organisms to their cells and tissues. In addition, micro fibres have been found present in the air and contaminating tap water across the world. Hence another submission was made urging the FG:
- To support legislation to be presented at the United Nations Environment Assembly meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in December, 2017 and aimed at combating marine plastic waste and microplastics.
- To support research and monitoring programs on the impact of micro- and nanoplastics
- To undertake cost-effective ecological and seafood safety risk assessments on micro- and nanoplastics and associated polymers, to reduce plastic use and encourage the use of alternative materials, recycling and the adoption of sustainable practices in using plastics and managing plastic pollution.
A similar submission was submitted to the Queensland Government (QG).
Marine Debris: The FG is to be congratulated on its initiatives in addressing the global problem of marine debris, especially the development of the 2017 Threat Abatement Plan. It was pleasing to read that at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, the Australian delegate moved a draft resolution to address marine litter and microplastics and facilitated the final resolution being passed. It is unfortunate resolutions are non-binding. But as there appeared to be much common ground between the UN declaration and Australia’s Threat Abatement Plan, one wonders why Australia has not supported the United Nations Cleanseas campaign.
A submission was prepared urging the FG:
- to legislate appropriate measures rather than rely on industry to voluntarily reduce pollution;
- use the UN Environment platform to argue for countries to take responsibility of the marine waste originating in their country;
- support research and development programs into recycling plastic; and
- investigate opportunities to partner with overseas aid organisations, community organisations and schools to tackle existing plastic debris perhaps using the plastic to fuel converters, both the small scale and commercial depending on the situation.
Plastic Waste: The production and fate of the various resins and the potential environmental and health issues have been researched together with strategies to combat the resulting plastic waste. The FG is to be commended for negotiating with the State and Territory Governments for 100% of Australian packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025, but in order to reach this target and address the plastic waste being stockpiled or becoming landfill more measures need to be taken. A resolution has been submitted to the NCWA Conference in October 2018 urging the Government to develop policies which encouraging new or different packaging material, the participation of the public in sorting their plastic waste by resin type, the development and expansion of businesses converting plastic waste to a useful product in a manner which safeguards human health and the environment.
Impact of Carmichael Coal Mine: In a submission to the FG, the NCWA raised concerns about the impact of mega mines in the Galilee Basin, in particular the Carmichael mine. These included:
- Contribution to greenhouse gases including that from the coal exported overseas,
- Impact on ground water users in the Galilee Basin.
- Loss of biodiversity and the probability that biodiversity offsets will not adequately redress this loss.
- Impact of dredging at Abbot Point.
- Increased shipping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Hence, the NCWA urged the FG to:
- Consider the merits of the court cases with respect to groundwater, climate, ecological and economic impacts rather than just legality;
- Reconsider the granting of critical infrastructure status and an unlimited 60-year water licence;
- Insist that the greenhouse gases from the coal exported to India be accounted for in an environment impact statement; and
- Reconsider the granting of a tax payer funded loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to a private multinational company.
A similar submission was submitted to the QG.
Details of these and other environmental issues are available in quarterly reports with references on www.ncwq.org.au