The natural environment is essential to our daily lives in many ways – the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil that sustains our land and agriculture. It provides raw materials for industry and economic growth. It provides natural beauty for public amenity and tourism. And it provides a home for us and the plants and animals that share our great state.

The condition of our environment has a profound effect on our quality of life and the health of our economy. Reporting on the state of the environment helps us to take stock of environmental conditions in our state, to identify emerging issues and to take effective action now, for future generations and for the environment.

I am pleased to present the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority’s tenth New South Wales State of the Environment. This report supports the work of the EPA in protecting the environment by describing the status and trends in important environmental resources and their implications for environmental and human health.

The report is updated every three years and continues to build on the valuable time-series data of previous reports. It draws on the most up-to-date information from a range of government agencies and authorities as well as the latest peer-reviewed scientific research. For the first time, the State of the Environment Report is presented through an interactive on-line portal. This new online system will also allow us to update some environmental indicators more often.

Preparation of New South Wales State of the Environment 2018 has relied on extensive contributions both from within the Environment Protection Authority and from many other NSW Government agencies. The data and information provided was appraised and validated by the contributing organisations and a range of independent experts, through an extensive process of review. My sincere thanks to everyone who contributed.

So, what does the report tell us about our environment?

New South Wales State of the Environment 2018 identifies that many aspects of the environment are in good condition. 

Air quality continues to be generally good, with low concentrations of lead, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, although ozone and particle pollution levels require ongoing attention in some situations.

Industry and household waste disposed in landfill is decreasing and garden and food waste recycling is increasing. The NSW Government is combating illegal dumping and supporting emergency clean-ups of pollution such as illegally dumped asbestos.

There are also many opportunities for innovative solutions that benefit both the environment and the economy. An example of this is the container deposit scheme Return and Earn, which was established in December 2017. Drink container rubbish makes up almost half of the total litter volume in NSW. By the first anniversary of the Scheme more than one billion discarded drink containers had been returned via the more than 660 return points across the state, and the litter of eligible drink containers by volume had reduced by 44%.

Electricity generation has seen a strong increase in the use of renewable, low emissions sources, from around 11% in 2014 to 16% in 2017. In the three years to June 2016, total NSW and ACT energy consumption declined by almost 6%. The fact that the NSW economy grew by 9% reminds us that economic growth and a better environment can be mutual goals.

The report also shows that humans and their activities can have a profound effect on our environment - our landscapes, soils, air, vegetation, and natural areas. Some of the principal challenges identified in previous NSW State of the Environment reports remain.

Population growth continues to be a key driver of human-caused changes to the environment. The challenge is to effectively manage our growing population without compromising liveability or the condition of the environment.

Climate change continues to pose a significant threat to both the environment and population of NSW. Its effects are already being felt and are anticipated to become more severe over the coming decades. Counteracting these effects will require collaborative action at the global level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The number of threatened species continues to rise. Over 1,000 native plant and animal species and 112 ecological communities are currently listed as threatened under NSW legislation. The main threats to these species are habitat loss due to the clearing and degradation of native vegetation and the spread of invasive pests and weeds. 

I trust that this report will be a valuable resource for the general community and in guiding policymakers in their determination of future priorities and objectives that will lead to the best possible outcomes for the environment.

Mark Gifford PSM
Acting Chair and Chief Executive Officer
NSW Environment Protection Authority