For over 20 years the packaging industry have been telling us they will reduce plastic packaging waste and increase recycling. They made these promises in 1999 when the Australian Packaging Covenant was established. In the year 2000 the plastic packaging recycling rate in Australia was 20%. In more recent times with an increased awareness on packaging the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) stepped up its efforts and agreed to meet new national targets on plastic and other packaging. These targets included - 100% of plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable; 70% of plastic packaging recycled or composted; and 20% of plastic packaging using recycled content. This was to be achieved by 2025.
Well you guessed it. APCO have now admitted they won't meet these targets. Indeed they will get nowhere near them.
In a circular economy, the measure should really be 100% reused, recycled or composted. With the collapse of REDCycle the current low rate will be going backwards. The 39% recycled content figure looks encouraging - but that average includes paper and cardboard. However, the subsidiary target for plastics is 20% by 2025, and the actual recycled content of plastic packaging stands at an embarrassing 3-4%.
There is an effective solution to this. That is, to take these existing targets and regulate a mandatory Product Stewardship Scheme on Packaging. Enough of the voluntary programs used to greenwash the reputation of packaging producers and retailers. Make producers of packaging responsible for their products and the waste they generate. In Europe from 2024, manufacturers will be responsible for the costs of collection, transport, treatment and clean up of many single use plastics. Imagine the impact this will have when producers have to deliver, rather than pass the responsibility onto business and households, councils and the waste industry.
In 2020 the Commonwealth Parliament failed by one vote to pass a bill that would have made the product stewardship scheme mandatory. The ALP in opposition, at the time, voted in the Senate for a mandatory scheme. Now they are in government, it's time for that positive change.