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NSW cleaner and greener but weeds are on the rise

EXCLUSIVE

Driven by "green tape" ... Sydney residents are breathing cleaner air, recycling and saving electricity much more than 10 years ago.

Driven by "green tape" ... Sydney residents are breathing cleaner air, recycling and saving electricity much more than 10 years ago. Photo: Kate Geraghty

SYDNEYSIDERS are breathing cleaner air, recycling, saving electricity and catching public transport much more than they were a decade ago, the state's three-yearly environmental scorecard says.

The 2012 State of the Environment report shows small but definite trends towards more sustainable lifestyles in various categories - many driven by regulation, or ''green tape''.

But those gains are taking place against a background of a steady deterioration of many native forests and wetlands, and only 9 per cent of NSW still has native vegetation considered to be in a ''close to natural condition'', according to the report prepared by the Environment Protection Authority of NSW.

Biodiversity is declining, and more species are threatened than ever.

''I am working hard on preparing a new strategy for dealing with threatened species and their recovery, which will be in place this year,'' the Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, said.

''It's true that historically, Australia's threatened species recovery programs have only achieved mixed success, so we need to find ways to be more effective.''

In general, the report found the state was starting to ''decouple'' consumption of products from the destruction of natural resources, leading to a slightly cleaner environment.

''Notwithstanding the growing population, which continues to exert pressure on the environment, water usage, electricity usage, and recycling rates are improving,'' said the acting chairman of the EPA, Mark Gifford. ''Air quality has also improved significantly in the last 30 years.''

Household spending for the 7.2 million people living in NSW has increased an average 82 per cent over the past 20 years, but increasing consumption was being largely offset by more efficient use of energy, water and waste products.

''Overall, electricity demand per household has declined to 2000-01 levels, demonstrating the effect of both cost increases and environmental concerns on the community at large,'' the report said.

Car use as a proportion of travel appeared to have peaked in 2004-05, and is now the lowest it has been in 11 years, the report said, while Sydney residents use public transport more frequently than people in other capitals.

While the population has grown 21 per cent over 20 years, water use has fallen 25 per cent. More than 59 per cent of all waste products are recycled and, in general, air pollution is at its lowest levels in 30 years.

''On a statewide basis, the chemical contamination of land, food and produce is low and stable,'' the report said, but it warned that ''the presence of hazardous chemicals in consumer products has been identified as an emerging issue''.

Two years of heavy rain that broke the decade-long drought had gone some way towards replenishing dams and natural river systems.

There are more national parks than three years ago, and the number of protected inland wetlands had reached 7 per cent, double three years ago. About 19 per cent of coastal wetlands have now been granted some version of protected status that prevents pollution and development.

While native vegetation covers 61 per cent of the state, much of it is degraded by land-use such as farming, industrial pollution, development and logging.

Pests and weeds are continuing to infiltrate, and weeds now make up 21 per cent of the total flora in the state.

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