Skip navigation

Environmental Protection (Cigarette Butt Waste) Amendment Bill

8 February 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Environment Protection Act 1993. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise to speak on the Environment Protection (Cigarette Butt Waste) Amendment Bill of 2023. It is good to be back, Mr President. This bill seeks to reduce the amount of cigarette butts waste that is littered in South Australia. Cigarette butts are consistently the most littered item found in our state.

Of the 17.75 billion cigarettes—17.75 billion cigarettes—consumed in Australia each year, up to 8.9 billion end up as litter. That is litter on our streets, on our beaches, on our public spaces. They comprise 20 per cent of total waste items found during Clean Up Australia Day and 34 per cent of total litter counted by KESAB in its 2016-17 Litter Index.

Littered butts pose a range of hazards and problems in natural environments. Discarded butts are made of cellulose acetate, a synthetic material that is made up of cellulose, acetic acid and plasticisers, and that is photodegradable but has a low degradation rate. Exposure to sun will eventually break the filter down, taking up to 15 years for it to decompose, but the source material remains diluted when it is exposed to water or soil. In salt water, it can take up to 400 years for a cigarette butt to degrade—400 years.

Once littered, butts accumulate on soil or in the marine environment and they leach out toxic materials. A single cigarette butt can pollute 40 litres of groundwater. While toxicity is highest immediately after smoking, recent research has revealed a second toxicity peak at two to five years underlying the long-term hazards of cigarette butts disposed of in our environment. The cigarette filter leaches may affect drinking water quality and result in bioaccumulation in the food chain that could pose a threat to human health. There is also emerging evidence that nanoplastics are absorbed and dispersed by cigarette butts.

As the cigarette butts break up slowly, they shed microfibres and leach over 7,000 chemicals, including toxins and carcinogens. Many of these chemicals are acutely or chronically toxic to aquatic species. Just one cigarette butt per litre of water is highly toxic to fish. Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of birds, turtles, whales and fish, where they affect digestion and lead to poisoning or starvation.

While the total number of chemicals in these littered cigarette butts is unknown, remaining tobacco in discarded filters contains a range of dangerous materials. Arsenic, cadmium and lead are on the World Health Organization's list of 10 chemicals of major public health concern. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons—do not say that in a hurry—are carcinogenic, and the US Environment Protection Agency has designated sixteen as priority pollutants, all of which are found in cigarette butts.

Further environmental devastation is caused by the fires attributed to cigarettes each year. More than 4,500 fires across Australia are caused by cigarettes, and at least 77 people lost their lives in fires that were started by cigarettes between 2000 and 2005. As well as diminishing the enjoyment and value of our natural landscape, substantial financial costs are incurred in managing cigarette butt pollution. The cost of tobacco-related litter removal has been estimated to be about $73 million per year to the Australian taxpayer. This cost is met primarily by state, territory and local governments, which manage litter prevention and removal at a local level.

Ultimately, it is taxpayers who foot the bill for managing tobacco product waste. The shifting of the financial accountability towards producers that this bill seeks to achieve is long overdue. This year, Spain introduced regulations to require tobacco companies to pay for the clean-up of cigarettes. It is expected the cost will then be passed on to consumers that could create a disincentive to smoking.

Additionally, it would be in the best interests of these companies to educate consumers to effectively dispose of their waste and to reduce clean-up costs. This bill is modelled on a scheme that will be familiar to South Australians, that is, the container deposit scheme that has been in place here since 1977. The container deposit scheme was one of the first pieces of product stewardship legislation in which industry is obliged to take greater responsibility for its packaging after it has been sold.

In the case of the container deposit scheme, beverage suppliers must ensure that a system is in place for the recovery and recycling of their empty beverage containers. As a litter control measure, the container deposit scheme has been highly successful. South Australia indeed leads the nation in recovery, recycling and litter reduction of beverage containers with a current overall return of 76 per cent, and beverage containers now make up just 2.8 per cent of litter in our state.

Fortunately, cigarette butts can now also be recycled. I was really surprised to discover when researching this bill the myriad uses for cigarette butts. Indeed, they can be used in a diverse range of products including bricks, benches and home insulation. Businesses such as TerraCycle in Canada are collecting cigarette waste, cleaning it and separating it by material types. The materials are then recycled into raw formats that manufacturers can use to make new products. The ash and tobacco are separated out and composted in a specialised process.

With momentum of stewardship programs being implemented around the world, it is time for cigarette deposit schemes to be established in South Australia to ensure that tobacco companies are minimising the harm their products have on our environment. It is not acceptable for big tobacco companies to wash their hands of the obligation they owe to South Australians to clean up their waste. It is not acceptable for cigarette butts to litter our public space and for these companies to be able to sell these products without taking any responsibility for the waste they produce.

Under this bill, cigarette manufacturers will be required to put deposit schemes in place for cigarette butts, with the product then disposed of thoughtfully and ideally recycled, as is the case in Canada. Under this bill, the cigarette manufacturers will be able to apply to the Environment Protection Authority for the approval of a collection scheme, and the bill would allow the government to prescribe the requirements of the scheme under regulations.

Retailers would then be required to ensure information about the deposit scheme is made available to their consumers. Under mutual obligation requirements, the bill would only apply to cigarettes sold in South Australia; however, I would argue that if the government were to put in place such a scheme as this, it could be an area in which South Australia could lead the nation and, indeed, the bill could have more widespread application.

I note that the Hon. Mr Frank Pangallo is present in the chamber. He and I have discussed this matter before and I know it is an issue that he is also interested in. I note also the Hon. Heidi Girolamo and her interest in matters relating to waste reduction, so hopefully this is an issue where we can work together in the parliament.

Our natural environment is essential to the existence of life on earth. As members of parliament, it is our duty to ensure we defend our planet from the threats posed by excessive pollution, including cigarette butt wastage, and embrace the solutions that can resolve current challenges. It is in that spirit that this bill is being advanced today.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.