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Feedback sought on Product Stewardship Amendment (Packaging and Plastics) Bill

The Environment and Communications Legislation Committee is seeking feedback on the Product Stewardship Amendment (Packaging and Plastics) Bill 2019.

If the Bill passes, a mandatory product stewardship scheme will be established for manufacturers, importers and distributors of consumer packaging and certain single-use plastics.

Australia’s 2025 National Packaging Targets would also become mandatory.

Under the establishment of a packaging and plastics scheme, as stated in the Bill, targets would include:

  • All packaging used in Australia will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025;
  • 70 per cent of all packaging used in Australia will be recycled or composted by 2025;
  • 70 per cent of all plastic packaging used in Australia will be recycled or composted by 2025;
  • All packaging used in Australia will include, on average, 30 per cent recycled content by 2025;
  • Problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging will be phased out through design, innovation or the introduction of alternatives; and
  • In relation to single‑use food containers, and beverage cups, made of plastic – by 2025, the consumption of such containers or cups will have been reduced by 25 per cent from the level of consumption that existed in 2019.

The Bill, read for the second time in parliament by Australian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson on September 12, also prescribes design and labelling requirements.

In a statement following the second reading of the Bill, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO, Gayle Sloan, said Australia needs to change the way packaging is designed to ensure genuinely recyclable end uses for recycled material.

“It is looking up in this respect, with Australian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson reading the Product Stewardship Amendment (Packaging and Plastics) Bill 2019 for the second time in Parliament.”

Australia would have a mandatory product stewardship “at last” if the Bill passes, Sloan said.

“If this Bill passes, it will ensure that our packaging is truly recycled and the hope is that by putting the onus back on those who design and generate products, including shifting the cost of managing these materials at end-of-life to them, from councils and local government, will make materials easier to recycle and create the requisite demand.

“We only need to look at the container deposit/refund (CDS/CRS) schemes being successfully rolled out across Australia to see the significant difference these have made to the recovery and use of CDS containers,” Sloan explained.

She also encouraged the public to play a role in buying Australian recycled products.

“You are not recycling, unless you are buying (Australian) recycled. Our job does not end at the bin; we have to buy it back. Next time you’re at the shops, look for products made from Australian recycled material, avoid single-use plastics, and look for recycled packaging.

“Finally, demand that your goods are made from your recyclables that you’ve put in your bin so that you can buy them back. Why else would you put it in the yellow bin?”

She explained that with packaging being complex and messaging around recycling causing increasing confusion Australia needs a more cohesive approach.

“We know what we need – we need to remanufacture our recyclables into products that are demanded back in Australia. To succeed, we don’t need more confusion, we need more national consistency, and this can be done by leaving our collection system alone since it is not the problem, and by maximising the benefits of a CDS in all jurisdictions, including and especially in Victoria,” Sloan said.

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) is working closely with governments and industry to deliver the national packaging targets.

Due to APCO being an independent, apolitical organisation, CEO, Brooke Donnelly, said it is not in the organisation’s remit to lobby or advocate on policy positions.

“Our job is to help industry and government with the resources, support and strategic direction to ensure a circular economic transition for packaging in Australia.

“The 2025 National Packaging Targets are a critical part of that transition. APCO and our government and industry partners are actively delivering the work and getting the job done,” Donnelly said.

She indicated that more than 1500 organisations, which represent $360 billion in annual revenue, are actively engaged and publicly committed to achieving the national targets.

Donnelly said the by the end of 2019, APCO and its government and industry partners will have developed and established:

  • All the baseline measurements for each of the targets;
  • A collaborative roadmap that sets the pathway to achieving the 2025 targets;
  • A government and industry governance structure, in the form of the Collective Action Group (CAG) that acts as a steering committee for the delivery and ongoing progress of the 2025 targets; and
  • A government and industry reporting mechanism through the Packaging Sustainability Framework and the Government Officials Group to monitor and track the way forward towards the 2025 Targets.

Donnelly explained that there are seven permanent advisory groups that represent more than 150 organisations and industry representatives to monitor the 24 priority projects APCO is currently delivering to support the pathway to targets.

“These include everything from data collection on consumption and resource recovery, infrastructure mapping, economic analysis to pulpability trials, consumer education development, single use plastic initiatives and recycled content procurement activities.

“The work achieved to date is the product of a highly collaborative approach from stakeholders across the supply chain,” Donnelly said.

In his reading of the Bill, Whish-Wilson said the Bill responds to the twin crises that are a result of Australia’s current approach to packaging and plastics – a recycling industry that is in disarray; and a torrent of plastic waste that is choking our oceans.

“These crises have arisen because the environmental harm caused by end-of-life plastic and packaging is external to the market. Production and consumption is largely disconnected from disposal. Retail is about selling products, not what happens afterwards,” he said.

“This Bill tackles these market failures head-on by establishing a mandatory product stewardship scheme that will require manufacturers, importers and distributors of consumer packaging and certain single-use plastics to deal with the problem.

“This Bill will force industry to act. For too long, people have been sold false promises. Industry spent twenty years talking of ‘corporate social responsibility’ and running ad campaigns while at the same time supermarkets put more and more plastic packaging onto their shelves.”

Whish-Wilson said that governments had been equally culpable.

“At all levels, they conceded to industry and stopped concentrating on the quality of the system. And the recycling industry became a house of cards.

Right now we need decisive action. We need decisive action to deal with the actual problem. And we need decisive action to restore the trust.”

Nick Harford, managing director of sustainability consulting company Equilibrium, said Australia is already making a lot of good moves to use more recycled content.

“It will continue to be an evolution of new infrastructure and processes that will make it happen, but there’s no silver bullet that will change the situation in the short term because the scale of the issues is so large.”

However, he said that because the Bill is a Private Member’s Bill, he believed it was “very unlikely to go anywhere”.

“It will be fascinating to see who will make submissions.”

The senate refereed the Bill to the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by the first sitting weeks in May 2020.