Single-use Plastic Waste Policy in 2018: What will 2019 hold in store?

Dr Rowena Maguire and Dr Hope Johnson from the Faculty of Law are currently working with Dr Manuela Taboada (Design), Associate Professor Leonie Barner (Polymer Chemist) and Dr Glenda Caldwell (Design) on a transdisciplinary project funded by the Institute of Future Environments at QUT which aims to design out plastic waste. They will be launching an app shortly, which individuals can use to track their plastic waste.

In this blog, Dr Rowena McGuire and Dr Hope Johnson review single-use plastic waste policy in 2018 and discuss what 2019 will hold in store.

As Stephen Buranyi recently observed ‘Plastic is everywhere, and suddenly we have decided that is a very bad thing’. While the science on the impacts of plastics on marine life has been clear since the 1980s society has, until recently been happy to look the other way on our throwaway culture. This culture of convenience generates significant plastic waste, most of it arising from food packaging and most of it going directly to landfill. Once in landfill, our products of plastic convenience will continue to live on past our own life with plastic bags taking between 10- 1000 years to breakdown and plastic bottles taking 450 years or more to break down. The regulatory framework for addressing waste is referred to as the Circular Economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation identifies three principles of the circular economy: 1) design out waste and pollution; 2) keep products and materials in use, 3) regenerate natural systems. Historically, political support and leadership for laws encouraging reduced consumption and production have been generally low, due to our economic structure which depends upon the over-production and consumption of products. More recently, however, governments have started to embrace circular economy type initiatives due to the escalating costs of managing the waste from our throwaway culture.

Single-use plastic regulation around the globe in 2018

2018 marked a turning point for plastic pollution and for sustainable consumption more generally. The European Commission, the UK and local towns and provinces around the world banned, or announced an intention to ban, certain single-use plastic products. Maharashtra in Mumbai, India’s largest city with a population of 18.4 million, introduced criminal sanctions for manufacturing or selling a broad range of single-use plastic bags, plates and takeaway food containers.

2018 saw Chile ban retail businesses from using plastic bags. The theme for World Environment Day 2018 was “Beat Plastic Pollution”, which was paired with the release of the first ever UN report on the state of plastics and the governance required to curb plastic use. While China, which had imported an astounding 45% of plastic waste imports since 1992, restricted its imports of plastic waste products sending shock waves through public and private sectors in over 100 countries.

Supermarkets for the first time introduced “plastic free” aisles. Under the threat of government regulation Australian supermarkets voluntarily phased out light-weight plastic bags leading to an 80% decline in plastic bag use nationwide. The past 12 months have seen a distinct rise in the number of transnational companies restricting plastic straws from the likes of Starbucks, Disney and Ikea.

Closer to home, New Zealand has been phasing out single-use plastic shopping bags. Queensland introduced a ban on single-use plastic bags and a container-deposit scheme leaving NSW as the only state in Australia without regulations or plans to reduce plastics.

State and federal ministers in Australia agreed to a new 2018 National Waste Policy and the Senate Environment and Communications Reference Committee, released its report into Australia’s regulation and management of waste and recycling which emphasised that waste policies need to be based on waste reduction (i.e. preventing the creation of waste in the first place).

Early developments in 2019 suggest that governments are going to ramp up action on plastic waste with Vanuatu pledging phase out of disposable nappies, plastic cutlery and packing such as netting and clamshell cases by December 2019. Vanuatu and Costa Rica are racing to ban all single use plastic by 2021.

Government support for the circular economy is also growing at home with the Queensland Government announcing the establishment of Australia’s first Circular Economy Lab which aims to support innovative projects to change the way we think about material, resources and waste in Queensland. And the Hobart City Council in Tasmania has just voted in favour of introducing a by-law banning all single use plastics by 2020 (the ban covers cutlery, sauce sachets, straws, takeaway cups and lids).

Dr Rowena Maguire

What is propelling this regulatory action?

Individuals interact with plastic everyday. Its tangibility and its visibility, even to urban populations, separates it from other global environmental issues like climate change or soil desertification. Moreover, single-use plastics, unlike other resource intensive and environmentally persistent products, have alternatives that are, generally, widely accessible. Reusable bags and cups, for instance, are a well-recognised means through which individuals construct their self-identity as a compassionate person and communicate their membership into particular social groups such as those that hold environmental values. The War on Waste captured national attention and put our shameful waste practices under the spotlight. This show galvanised action by community groups and schools to tackle waste. Social media is also playing a role in making waste a visible problem by distributing disturbing images of plastic pollution harms across various social media platforms.

In addition to the tangibility and visibility of the plastics problem there are two other factors propelling regulatory reform on plastics: shifts in the international trade of waste; and growing scientific warnings over the harm of single-use plastic on our environment.
The China Plastic Ban of 2018 stopped the importation of mixed plastic products from entering China. Mixed plastic makes up the bulk of plastic packaging in Australia and has left local governments in Australia stockpiled with plastic waste, which is destined for landfill until alternative recovery pathways or new markets for mixed plastic emerge. Local governments remain under pressure from their constituents to pay for recycling onshore, but do not have capacity to pay for recycling of all mixed plastic waste.
Scientists lament that we have not only plastified human life, but we have also plastified the life and death of marine animals. The US Academy of Sciences estimates that 6.4 million tons or about 5% of all plastic produced ends up in the ocean. Plastic harms all marine life, including whales, turtles and seabirds, when ingested, either by physically blocking the gut of these animals or as a result of the containments within the plastic poisoning the animals.

Dr Hope Johnson

Plastic bag bans and other kinds of regulatory interventions reinforce and strengthen plastic reducing norms. The relationship between these factors is non-linear, and their relationship to legislative restrictions or bans varies depending on context. Regardless, the anti-single-use plastic movement shows that where leadership and public pressure are strong, regulation to reduce consumption and production of unstainable products is possible.

If you want to know more about Dr Rowena Maguire and Dr Hope Johnson’s research search their staff profiles.

Fiona McDonald secures International Senior Research Fellowship at Durham University

We are delighted to announce that Associate Professor Fiona McDonald has secured a place in Durham University’s Senior Research Fellowship programme, which she will commence in April 2019. The programme is designed to attract lively, inventive and influential figures in academia where Fiona will foment new and sustainable research collaborations across the panoply of Durham University’s collective activities. Fiona will sit in the Institute of hazard, Risk and Resilience, with internationally-recognised leaders in developing resilient, research-informed approaches to hazard and risk. Her research will focus on an ethical and legal analysis of facemask use in particulate air pollution events.

Fiona is a co-director of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research, an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Department of Bioethics, Dalhousie University, Canada and  member of the Dalhousie University’s Technoscience and Regulation Research Unit . Prior to her appointment

in the Faculty of Law, Fiona was a research associate at the Health Law Institute at Dalhousie University, Canada and a legal advisor to New Zealand’s Health and Disability Commissioner.  Fiona’s research encompasses issues related to health governance and has four broad themes:

  • the governance of health and systems (with a focus on rural bioethics and disaster response)
  • the governance of health technologies
  • the governance of health professionals
  • the governance of health organisations.

Fiona’s work has been published in a range of international journals, she has presented at a number of international conferences, and has received grants, contracts and scholarships to conduct research in this area. You can read more about Fiona in her staff profile.

Digital waste hidden behind the elegance of new technologies

Dr Michael Guihot was invited to present his paper ‘Elegance and Waste: Heat Loss as Waste in the Digital Age’ at a symposium at UNSW in December held as part of UNSW Law’s project Digital Humanitarianism: Law and Policy Challenges.

The theme for the symposium was about rethinking the relations between data (information, knowledge, value) and waste (junk, trash, spam). Michael’s paper looked at heat loss in data centres as digital waste that is hidden behind the elegance of new technologies and further obscured by the big tech companies that can control the discourse.

Other presenters came from NYU Shanghai, Berkeley, and the University of Alberta. The project is run by Fleur Johns and the symposium was supported by the Allens Hub.

Michael’s current research focuses on Artificial Intelligence, Robots and the Law and he is currently co-authoring a book by that name. Michael’s research investigates the intersection of new technology and law, including the regulation of artificial intelligence, and the impact of new technologies on power and governance including how changes in global power structures affect private and public governance, and the impact of new technology on legal institutions.

Learn more about Michael and his publications in his staff profile.

Project aims to stamp out fake steak

Dr Felicity Deane was recently awarded  a new 2 year, one million dollar project, funded by the Food Agility CRC. The project is focused on Smart Contracts, Exports and Food Safety – in particular in China.

There are three researchers from QUT who are each responsible for their respective discipline specific research questions. Marcus Foth from Creative Industries, Uwe Dulleck from Business and Felicity from Law. The research team and their industry partner – BeefLedger – recently travelled to Shanghai to meet with various stakeholders.

Global food fraud is estimated to be a $40b per year problem, and as Australia continues to boost our reputation for safe and reliable food among prominent export markets, these problems will only continue to grow.

QUT Media recently reported on this success:

“Three tonnes of Australian beef packed in Casino NSW and bound for China is being tracked and verified using blockchain and Internet of Things technologies.

The shipment is the first in a Food Agility project, led by Queensland company BeefLedger Limited and QUT. It aims to stamp out the problem of ‘fake steak’ in international export markets, giving suppliers and consumers confidence that their meat is 100% Aussie.

The team is building a digital system using ‘smart contracts’ to replace forgeable letters of credit, developing and integrating a suite of technologies into new packaging to prevent the substitution of fake products, and building apps for consumers and suppliers so they can verify where their meat comes from.”

Read more about some of the other projects our research academics in the Faculty of Law are involved in.

Australian Centre for Health Law Research

The Australian Centre for Health Law Research’s new website is now live. The website showcases ACHLR’s research strength across four research streams led by co-directors Associate Professor Fiona McDonald  and Associate Professor Tina Cockburn:

End of Life, which explores the legal, ethical and policy issues of death and dying. This stream is led by Professor Ben White and Professor Lindy Willmott , former co-directors of ACHLR. The End of Life stream maintains the comprehensive End of Life Law in Australia website.

Health, Society and Regulation, led by Dr Shih-Ning Then. This stream investigates the social, regulatory, and ethical challenges associated with the regulation of health care.

Ageing and Aged Care, which examines the pressing legal, health, social and policy issues that arise from population ageing, led by Dr Kelly Purser  and Associate Professor Tina Cockburn.

Technology, Innovation and Health, led by Professor Belinda Bennett . This stream investigates the social, legal and regulatory implications of technology and innovation in health care. ACHLR researchers are active in the Queensland Genomics Health Alliance’s Ethics, Legal and Social Implications Workstream , collaborating with colleagues at UQ, Queensland Health, and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

ACHLR members continue to engage in current topics of law reform, including a response to the COAG Health Council Regulation of Australia’s Health Professions Consultation Paper  regarding mandatory reporting to National Boards of professional negligence settlements and judgements and charges or convictions of scheduled medicines offences. Members also made a response to the Australian Human Rights Commission Human Rights and Technology Issues Paper.

See what our ACHLR researchers have published in e-prints.

New book offers analysis of issues and challenges in child sexual abuse

Professor Ben Mathews’ new book, New International Frontiers in Child Sexual Abuse, offers a timely and detailed exploration and analysis of key contemporary issues and challenges in child sexual abuse, which holds great relevance for scholarly, legal, policy, professional and clinical audiences worldwide.

The book draws together the best current evidence about the nature, aetiology, contexts, and sequelae of child sexual abuse.  It explores the optimal definition of child sexual abuse, considers sexual abuse in history, and explores new theoretical understandings of children’s rights and other key theories including public health and the Capabilities Approach, and their relevance to child sexual abuse prevention and responses.

It examines a selection of the most pressing legal, theoretical, policy and practical challenges in child sexual abuse in the modern world, in developed and developing economies, including institutional child sexual abuse, female genital cutting, child marriage, the use of technology for sexual abuse, and the ethical responsibility and legal liability of major state and religious organisations, and individuals. The book examines a range of developments and issues in civil law, criminal law, and the various ways in which they may best prevent, identify and respond to child sexual abuse.

Photograph of Ben Mathews

Professor Ben Mathews

It examines recent landmark legal and policy developments in all of these areas, drawing in particular on extensive developments from Australia in the wake of its Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It also considers the best evidence about promising strategies and future promising directions in enhancing effective prevention, intervention and responses to child sexual abuse.

About Professor Ben Mathews

Professor Ben Mathews, PhD, LLB, BA, is a Professor and Principal Research Fellow in the Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.  He is also Director of the Childhood Adversity Research Program in the Faculty of Health, and is an Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University in the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In 2015-17 he was Professorial Fellow to the Australian Government’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. His major area of research expertise is in children and the law, with a focus on issues concerning law and child maltreatment, child sexual abuse, civil damages for child abuse, children and educational systems, medico-legal issues, children’s rights, cultural violence against children, and children’s criminal responsibility, and law and ethics.

He has conducted large multidisciplinary studies of law and child abuse and has published extensively in Australia and internationally, with 3 books, 75 refereed articles and book chapters, 18 major government reports, and over 40 conference presentations. (See Full CV)

He serves as a technical advisor to multiple governments on issues regarding child maltreatment law. His research and knowledge translation has led to changes in law, policy and practice in Australia and overseas.

Read about Professor Mathew’s work and his work to ensure our laws protect children and allow survivors to seek justice.

 

QUT Law academic awarded funding to research governance of Queensland wetlands

In November 2018 Dr Evan Hamman was awarded $5000 from Birds Queensland to undertake empirical research into the governance of Queensland wetlands.

Along with an ecologist colleague, the grant will be used to investigate the different scales of regulation that relate to impacts on the wetlands and their unique birdlife, from climate change to coastal development to local disturbance (e.g. dog walking and plastics). Two wetlands will be investigated as part of this research – shoalwater bay and moreton bay.

The results will feed into a book Dr Hamman is co- writing about migratory bird conservation in the Asia Pacific.

Dr Evan Hamman

Dr Hamman is a lecturer in the School of Law and holds bachelors degrees in law and commerce from the University of New South Wales and a masters degree in environmental science and law from Sydney University His PhD research – awarded an Outstanding Thesis Award – investigated the role of non-state actors under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

Dr Hamman has worked for NGOs and the Queensland Government on conservation and environmental law issues. He has an interest in the role and influence of civil society in conservation. His current research focuses on environmental issues in the Asia-Pacific region including: migratory species; Ramsar wetlands; World Heritage areas; and the Great Barrier Reef.

You can read more about Dr Hamman in his staff profile.

QUT academic Dr Alex Deagon’s religious freedom research cited during Senate Debate

Federal Government Minister cites Dr Alex Deagon’s religious freedom research during Senate Debate.

The media’s leak of the Recommendations from the Ruddock Report on Religious Freedom in Australia prior to its official release prompted a controversial debate about the extent to which faith-based schools should have the freedom to select staff and regulate students consistent with their religious ethos.

Under exemptions to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), educational institutions established for religious purposes can discriminate against staff and students if they do so in good faith and in accordance with their religion to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents to that religion.

The public debate resulted in a private member’s Bill moved by Federal Senator Penny Wong to remove these exemptions. This bill was sent to the Commonwealth Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee which provided a Report on 26th November 2018, which consisted of a majority report (ALP/Greens) and a dissenting report (Coalition).

QUT Researcher Dr Alex Deagon’s submission was cited by the majority report in relation to potential constitutional issues with any attempt to remove religious exemptions in Commonwealth legislation without equivalent alternate protections being passed. Dr Deagon was further cited extensively by the dissenting report on similar constitutional issues, as well as to support arguments regarding the need for the religious freedom of faith-based schools to be maintained and substantively protected.

In the subsequent Senate debate on the bill during the sitting on 3rd December 2018, Senator Zed Seselja, Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance, opened the debate by quoting from Dr Deagon’s submission to underscore the importance of religious freedom in the context of ensuring the liberty of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their religious convictions. This was used to support proposed Government amendments to the bill. Debate on the bill adjourned without a vote and it was sent to a further committee for consideration.

The Ruddock Report and Government Response were released on 13th December 2018, and Dr Deagon was one of 21 academics around Australia that were asked to provide expert evidence to the Ruddock Panel in person. According to the Government Response, the issue of religious freedom for faith-based schools is to be considered further by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2019.

You can read more about Dr Alex Deagon and his biography in his QUT staff profile.

No room for pollies’ personal views in euthanasia debate

Whatever the opinion of the public, academics or medical professionals, QUT researchers say it will be politicians who decide on whether laws on euthanasia, or voluntary assisted dying, are changed.

  • Politicians’ personal views on euthanasia should not drive the debate
  • Issues of public concern, such as the impact on vulnerable people, should instead be at the forefront  Parliament’s role is to protect the vulnerable if laws are changed
  • Legislation applies to all; not just people with one view or another
  • Individuals are free to reject euthanasia as an option for themselves based on their own personal beliefs, so the fairest option is to make euthanasia lawful
  • Conscience votes on euthanasia not optimal, but may remain the only way to decide the issue

Researchers from QUT’s Australian Centre for Health Law Research (ACHLR) have published an article – Informing the Euthanasia Debate: Perceptions of Australian Politicians – in the University of New South Wales Law Journal on how politicians approach euthanasia and assisted suicide when they are voting on whether to pass a bill legalising such practices.

Led by Dr Andrew McGee, their paper follows the recent passing of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 in Victoria, and covers a rarely examined perspective of the debate.

Learn more about ACHLR on their website or follow their twitter account @HealthLawQUT. 

You can read the full article and reach our media contacts on the QUT news page.

Are traditional administrative law doctrines still fit for purpose in the digital age?

Dr Anna Huggins

Dr Anna Huggins considers the implications of a recent Full Federal Court decision in AusPubLaw.

Dr Anna Huggins examines the case of Pintarich which she says will have implications for the reliance that Australian taxpayers can place on computer-generated correspondence from the Australian Tax Office. It raises interesting and complex questions about when an authorised officer makes a decision, and whether traditional conceptions of what constitutes a ‘decision’ are still appropriate in the digital era.

Automated processes hold promise for enhancing the efficiency and consistency of administrative decisions, particularly in high volume decision-making contexts. However, these advantages need to be weighed against the risks to public trust in government decision making caused by computer-generated errors, for which traditional administrative law doctrines thus far appear to provide limited protection.

As alluded to by Kerr J in his dissenting judgment in Pintarich, legal conceptions of what constitutes a decision and other administrative law doctrines need to evolve to reflect the reality of how decisions are made in practice in the digital age. Mr Pintarich’s unsuccessful appeal to the High Court represents a missed opportunity to further consider what constitutes a decision in an evolving administrative decision-making context.

Find out more about Dr Anna Huggins and her research outputs in e-prints.