The Parliament of New South Wales, the only state in Australia that has yet to ban single-use plastic, is set to debate on the phase-out of single-use plastic bags on 25 October, thanks to a petition of a 15-year-old schoolgirl.
Sophia Skarparis, a Year 10 student of Monte Saint Angelo Mercy College in North Sydney, started the Petition calling for a ban on single-use and heavy retail plastic bags earlier this year that was addressed to the legislative assembly of New South Wales and collected at least 10,000 signatures to guarantee its hearing in parliament.
With the full support of her school, Sophia engaged her local communities and other local high schools in Kirribilli and Wenona, North Sydney including Jesuit schools Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview and Saint Aloysius’ College.
The petition is pushing for legislation banning plastic bags and supporting State-funded education campaigns on the impact of plastic to the environment and sustainable alternatives.
The NSW state government earlier refused to phase out plastic bags and instead said it supports the private sector’s move on the issue “without the heavy hand of legislation.” Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton told reporters that “the NSW government welcomes the proactive step taken by large retailers to phase out single-use plastic bags and provide soft plastic recycling bins in all stores.”
But according to Sophia’s petition, “some leading supermarkets promised to phase out the use of single-use plastic bags by July 2018 but this is voluntary and cannot be enforced by anybody other than the supermarkets themselves.”
New South Wales is Australia’s most populated state and currently accounts for 34% of the 8.5 billion plastic bags produced in the country yearly, according to the Boomerang Alliance, a network of environmental groups across Australia.
The petition also shared that “if plastic production continues as its current rate, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation predicts that by 2050, 95% of all species of seabirds will suffer from ingestion of plastic. Forty-four percent of all seabird species, 22% of cetaceans, all sea turtle species, and some fish species have been found with plastic in or around their bodies.”
Because of her efforts on this advocacy, Sophia was recognized by Trent Zimmerman’s office (Member for North Sydney) as the 2018 North Sydney Young Person of the Year. She was also nominated by the Surfrider Foundation Australia for the 2018 Australian Geographic Young Conservationist of the Year.
In an interview with Australian Geographic, Sophia said she wants to establish a Youth Forum “where the youth have a say in environmental issues and look to develop innovative solutions to resolve problems.”