The Morrison Government’s much-vaunted National Plastics Plan has arrived late, super light-on for substance and padded-out with recycled announcements.
It is out of step with action being taken by the states and territories and it fails to provide national leadership and coordination.
This means Australia will continue to make slow progress to reduce the environmental harm from plastic waste, while missing the business and job opportunities that come with a circular economy.
Even for a Government whose defining manoeuvre is the shiny but empty ‘plan for a plan’, it verges on satire to see the announcement of a second Plastics Summit when the event last year involved no meaningful commitments and the few that were made (such as government procurement targets) have since been squibbed.
On this Government’s watch, plastic recycling has fallen from 12 per cent to nine per cent. Just 18 per cent of plastic packaging used in Australia was recycled in 2018-19, and packaging only incorporates two per cent recycled content. All these measures are off-track with the 2025 targets.
Without Government leadership through clear policy and matching programs, the present 2025 target with respect to overall plastic recycling will not be achieved – indeed Assistant Minister Trevor Evans has already conceded that it could take a ‘decade’ to reach.
We know product labelling is a significant issue, so when is the Government going to do something on this front? At present, only 28 per cent of products carry the Australasian Recycling Label. Last year’s audit by ACOR found that 88 per cent of product packaging could be recycled but only 40 per cent of the products carried recycling information of any kind, and some was wrong or misleading. Now the Government has committed to 80 per cent coverage of the ARL with no detail as to how this will be achieved.
After eight years of inattention, the Morrison Government has left Australia’s packaging waste crisis to be fixed by a voluntary scheme through APCO, while delaying reviews and avoiding action on federal regulation through the Product Stewardship Act and the National Environment Protection Measures.
If waste policy was really one of the Government’s ‘three critical’ environmental priorities, it would get serious about building a circular economy and a cleaner environment by:
- Showing leadership on the nationally harmonised phase-out of unnecessary and harmful single-use plastics in keeping with the National Waste Action Plan commitment;
- Driving demand for recycled content through effective procurement policy in partnership with state and territory governments; and
- Designing an effective product stewardship scheme for plastics and packaging to ensure that industry is accountable for achieving the 2025 APCO targets.