Industry gets behind National Plastics Summit

Monday, 02 March, 2020

Industry gets behind National Plastics Summit

Today’s National Plastics Summit in Canberra will gather a cross-section of 200 delegates from government, industry and community sectors to address the problem of plastic waste.

In addition to examining solutions to the plastic waste challenge and mobilising action from governments, industry and non-government organisations, the summit will identify new opportunities to directly address targets under the National Waste Policy Action Plan.

Support from industry

Industry has welcomed the government’s National Plastics Summit and is keen to be part of the solution to challenges surrounding recycling, waste and plastics. The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) — representing the $122.1 billion food, beverage and grocery manufacturing sector — is working with the federal government to ensure that National Waste Policy Action Plan targets are met.

AFGC Acting CEO Dr Geoffrey Annison said the summit is an excellent next step to bring together industry, the waste sector, key stakeholders and the public.

“A holistic response to the plastics and waste issue is required and the AFGC congratulates the federal government for their leadership on this issue at a national level,” Dr Annison said.

“While some companies are making significant investments and efforts to reach the National Packaging Targets — meeting government and consumer expectations — this comes at a high cost as packaging with high levels of recycled content is currently scarce, inflating costs.

“The AFGC will be taking to the summit the call for the federal government to implement a grants program to support food, beverage and grocery manufacturers as they innovate their packaging to deliver the government’s sustainable packaging targets. Meeting these targets requires research and development and considerable capital investment to upgrade manufacturing plant and equipment, while working to protect jobs,” he said.

“Industry has to be part of the solution and at the same time ensure that we address food waste, maintain high standards of food safety and support innovation in the sector.”

The Boomerang Alliance and World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia (WWF) have called on the government to mandate that 100% of plastic packaging will be re-usable, compostable or recyclable by 2025. The organisations have also called for a legal requirement that unnecessary and problematic plastics be eliminated by 2025.

The organisations said that mandatory packaging targets would transform Australia’s use and recycling of plastic packaging.

“One of the biggest contributors to plastic waste in Australia is packaging. After 20 years of voluntary action, recycling and recovery rates have gone backwards. This pitiful situation is contributing to the ocean becoming a plastic soup,” Boomerang Alliance Director Jeff Angel said.

WWF-Australia No Plastic in Nature Policy Manager Katinka Day said consumers are tired of unnecessary plastic packaging.

“There are alternatives to plastic packaging, but they won’t be adopted unless governments take the lead. A Product Stewardship Scheme for packaging could mandate these targets. It would be a turning point in the fight against plastic waste,” she said.

The Boomerang Alliance and WWF-Australia are calling for five key actions that can dramatically address Australia’s plastic crisis:

1. Phase out problematic and unnecessary plastics

Single-use plastic items are a major and destructive source of ocean plastic pollution due to their small size, low residual value and disposable nature. States and territories should phase out the most problematic and unnecessary plastics such as plastic straws, cutlery, plates and coffee cups, while the federal government should provide leadership on single-use plastics by setting the direction on which plastics should be phased out.

2. Mandate Australia’s National Packaging Targets

One of the biggest contributors to plastic waste in Australia is plastic packaging. To reduce unnecessary and problematic plastic packaging and achieve higher-quality recycling, stronger regulations on packaging are necessary. This can be achieved through mandating packaging targets within the Product Stewardship Act.

3. Improve packaging labelling to give clear recycling information

With an increasing amount of environmental and recycling claims, consumers need clear information to help them dispose of their waste correctly and be assured that recycling will occur. The Australasian Recycling Label could reduce consumer confusion through mandatory application across all product labels. It should also be expanded to include re-usable and compostable packaging and any company wrongly labelling its product as recyclable should be heavily fined.

4. Investment in modernised composting and recycling facilities

To implement the ban on plastic waste exports, the federal and state governments need to invest in Australia’s recycling industry so that all plastic waste can be processed in Australia.

5. Commit to a target for zero plastic packaging in landfill, incinerators and waste-to-energy facilities by 2025 in all jurisdictions

As part of the National Plastics Summit, Unilever has shared its global commitments to reduce plastic waste and help create a circular economy for plastics.

“We can only eliminate plastic waste by acting fast and taking deliberate action at all points in the plastic cycle,” a Unilever spokesperson said.

“Our starting point has to be with packaging design, reducing the amount of plastic we use and then making sure that the plastics we do use come from recycled sources. We are also committed to ensuring all our plastic packaging is re-usable, recyclable or compostable.”

Unilever’s commitments are claimed to make it the first major global consumer goods company to commit to an absolute plastics reduction across its portfolio.

Unilever Australia & New Zealand CEO Clive Stiff said, “Our vision is a world in which everyone works together to ensure that plastic stays in the economy and out of the environment.

“As a consumer goods company, we are acutely aware of the consequences of a linear take-make-dispose model and we want to change it. We are proud to be taking these steps forward, but no business can create a circular economy in isolation.

Creating a local market and demand for all types of recycled plastic is critical and heavy lifting is needed from all players involved — suppliers, packaging converters, brand owners, policymakers and retailers, collectors, sorters and recyclers. We need a complete shift in how we think about and use resources,” Stiff said.

Push towards a circular economy

At today’s summit, Business Council for Sustainable Development Australia (BCSD) Australia CEO Andrew Petersen will emphasise that an important outcome should be to build a critical mass of engagement within and across Australian business to move towards a circular economy to deliver and scale up solutions.

“As the Australian Government begins this important step to implement change to the plastics challenge, so too must business. Every business along the plastic value chain has a key strategic interest in investing in business solutions to reduce plastic waste. Business drivers include the loss of core business, regulatory risks, reputational risks and innovation potential,” Petersen said.

“In addition to improving our national waste collection systems we need, at the same time, to be addressing the full plastics value chain so that plastics can be redesigned, replaced, recovered and recycled.

“By doing this, business can take steps to mitigate and adapt [to] the effects of these drivers by being proactive about developing alternative products, rethinking packaging and product design, designing technology to improve garbage sorting and collection and developing new business models.

“The latest Circularity Gap report from Circle Economy reveals that, faced with the twin headwinds of increased CO2 emissions and increased resource extraction, the global economy is currently only 8.6% circular. To move the dial, we need to measure business circularity.

“As support for a circular economy is growing, so have the number of methodologies and indicators for assessing business circularity. But there is a lack of consensus on metrics, which has made it very difficult to measure circular performance across businesses and sectors, which is key to mobilising the ambition and competitiveness on business circularity we need to trigger the shift,” Petersen explained.

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