Morrison’s “landmark” recycling laws fall short in year one

Published on Fri 28 May 2021 11:53am

Evidence obtained in this week’s Senate Estimates again shows the Grand Canyon that exists between announcement and delivery with the Morrison Government, this time with a new instalment of inaction when it comes to tackling Australia’s plastic waste crisis.

Last October, the Assistant Minister for Waste and Recycling said the Australian Packaging Covenant (APCO) would become an accredited scheme under the Government’s new Waste and Recycling laws. 

Seven months later and nothing has occurred. The Department was unable to say when or even if accreditation would occur and couldn’t say whether the 2025 recycling targets would be achieved or not, but instead took the question on notice.

APCO is responsible for achieving the packaging waste targets incorporated within in the Government’s National Waste Policy Action Plan by 2025, but progress towards several of the key targets is off track. Meanwhile, Australia only recycles approximately 10 per cent of its plastic waste, which means 90 kilograms per person each year is sent to landfill or pollutes the environment.

Prior to the legislation passing the House in October 2020, the Government’s Assistant Minister for Recycling & Waste Reduction issued a media release supporting accreditation of APCO in order to improve plastic recycling. In the release, the Assistant Minister said:

‘Accreditation gives companies and organisations a Government-backed tick of approval to show they are helping drive circular economy outcomes for all Australians. Consumers expect action on plastic packaging, and the Morrison Government is looking at all options to ensure the 2025 National Packaging Targets are met.’

During last year’s parliamentary debate, Labor moved amendments to the Government’s Recycling Bill to add plastic packaging to the Minister’s Priority List. The Government voted against this on the basis that the amendment was unnecessary because the APCO scheme would be strengthened through accreditation.

Currently, recycled content in plastic packaging is only four per cent – well short of the 20 per cent target to be reached by 2025.  And only 18 per cent of plastic in packaging is recycled, with a target of 70 per cent by 2025. By persisting with an unaccredited voluntary scheme that industry has acknowledged is beset by a widespread ‘free rider’ problem, there is a real risk the APCO targets won’t be met.

If the Morrison Government has any concerns about meeting its own National Waste Policy packaging targets, they need to come out and say this now. 

The Morrison Government loves to use the word ‘landmark’ when referring to its so-called reforms on waste and recycling. But unless the Government takes responsibility for delivering on its announcements, the only ‘landmark’ will be swollen landfill sites and more plastic trash on our beaches.

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