Commonwealth Plastic Plan Announced

Screen-Shot-2021-03-04-at-8.06.36-pm.jpgThe Commonwealth National Plastics Plan is a substantial effort with some new stand out actions, the Boomerang Alliance of 53 NGO said today.

“Significant new moves include the banning of polystyrene packaging around white goods by July 2022; microfibre filters on new washing machines; and joining the push for a global agreement to remove plastic pollution from the environment,’’ said Jeff Angel, Director of the Alliance.

“The Commonwealth also plans to ban polystyrene food and beverage containers by December 2022, ahead of most state schedules.’’

‘’The Boomerang Alliance welcomes support for a Plastic Free Beaches program based on our successful Plastic Free Places program which has already eliminated over 7 million plastic items through encouraging practice change in cafes.  It’s a key transitional program accompanying state bans on single use items like straws, foodware and cups.’’ 

‘’With only 13% of plastic recycled, we dump most of the 2.5m tonnes used each year into landfill or the oceans.  To ensure that 100% of packaging is reusable, compostable or recyclable by the 2025 target and achieve 50% recycled content in plastic packaging means government has to keep the pressure up on industry. Labels saying something is recyclable are meaningless if that does not happen in practice.  We believe regulation will be necessary.’’

‘’Cigarette Butts are the most littered item in Australia. The announced taskforce has to find solutions, including a proposal to remove butts from cigarettes.’’

What we like

  • The phase-out of polystyrene packaging, PVC packaging labels and non-certified (ie, to Australian standard) compostable packaging products in 2022. This includes polystyrene packaging to transport goods as well as takeaway food and beverage containers.
  • Government support for a global agreement to curb plastic pollution. The government will also be working with Indonesia and Pacific countries to reduce plastic waste and litter.
  • The phase-in of filters in new washing machines by 2030. These filters will remove microplastics washed out of clothing. Currently billions of microplastics get washed down the drain and end up in the ocean.
  • A Government Taskforce to examine options to reduce cigarette butt litter and a possible product stewardship scheme. Our proposals include removing filter from cigarettes; more collection points as well as greater penalties and policing of butt litter.
  • A national Plastic Free Beaches project. This expands the Boomerang Alliance’s Plastic Free Places program across Australia. The program to date has removed over 7 million single-use plastic items from use and works to assist business transition with ban laws.
  • Consistent kerbside recycling services. There is too much variation between councils on their recycling services. This ranges from councils using coloured lids to differences in what can/cannot be put in the bin for recycling.
  • The Australian Government will refer companies making false or misleading labeling and environmental claims such as misrepresentation of recyclability to the ACCC for investigation.

Note: the actions relating to phasing-out initially rely on voluntary action, but the Environment Minister will list them this year for product stewardship under legislation if the required date is not met.   


What Needs More Work

  • We support the target of 100% of packaging being either reusable, compostable or recyclable and 50% recycled content.  However, these targets must be mandatory.  So far government is relying on the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation which is under review this year.

A first step is to have all packaging labelled to identify if it is reusable, compostable or recyclable, with standards applied so that all packaging is actually recovered in practice and at scale. The problem is that there are no nationally recognised labels for either reusable or compostable packaging. As a result, we don't know if a package meets any certified standards. We don't even know how much reusable or compostable packaging is recovered.

On recycling, a new label the Australian Recycling label (ARL) has just been introduced. It is better than the previous label but is still just an instruction on how to dispose of the package. For soft plastics the ARL instructs on the use of the REDcycle service at supermarkets. Only a small percentage of the population use REDCycle, so most soft plastics go to landfill. WWF recently researched this issue and found that 80% of packaging marked as recyclable was, in practice, not being recycled.

Recycled content rules remain unclear with the government stating it has new procurement rules for the ‘’value proposition’’; and will rely on the Packaging Covenant to recruit businesses.  

Without the Commonwealth mandating standards for packaging and requiring manufacturers to take more responsibility for their waste, they will never be achieved. It is still largely the case of leave the problem and the costs to the consumer, local government and the waste collectors.


We see this as a companion document to State and Territory Government plastics policies. Together they are a step in the right direction.