A Boomerang Alliance Backgrounder.
Most countries, including Australia, have recognised the threats posed by marine plastic litter. Estimates show that at current rates of littering there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 (by weight). In Australia, the CSIRO calculate that ‘two thirds of the marine debris found along our coastline is plastic, most from local sources.’
Plastic packaging is routinely in the top 5 littered items in both the National Litter Index and Clean Up Australia reports. The most recent Clean Up Australia (2018) report estimates that 39% of all litter is plastic. If left uncollected that plastic will break up into microplastics, threaten wildlife that consume it and potentially enter the human food chain.
As the largest component of litter, removing many single-use plastics will cut litter collection costs. Boomerang Alliance estimate that cost to be approximately $500mill spent annually on litter clean-ups.
There are also the additional unrecognised costs associated with community litter clean ups, and the efforts made by ordinary Australians for many decades.
Australia has supported the UN Environment Program to reduce marine debris and needs to lead by example, assisting and lobbying others in our region to change practices. This cannot be done without a domestic policy shift on single use plastics.
Internationally, countries and corporations are moving towards removing single use plastics. These practical changes need to be supported and regulated by Government to ensure they are achieved. Many international brands have promised to change practices to achieve packaging goals for 2025. They include Mars, Unilever, Pepsi, Coke, Nestle’, L’Oréal and Colgate-Palmolive. Most recently Coca Cola stopped supplying customers with plastic straws as part of this shift, and have promised to make plastic containers with 100% recycled content.
The European Union has announced an intention to ban a range of single use plastics by 2021. Over 25 cities and regions around the world have already acted to remove such plastics, including plastic bags. South Australia has announced plans to phase out certain single use plastic takeaway items from 2020, with some other Australian jurisdictions considering similar action.
The Next Steps
The Commonwealth and all State and Territory jurisdictions have agreed all packaging should be reusable, compostable or recyclable by 2025. The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) have a target of 70% of packaging actually composted or recycled by 2025.
To start to meet these targets, the Commonwealth needs to act now and set out a schedule. In ‘away from home’ circumstances, the most obvious and achievable policy area is to support reusable and compostable practices by the commercial sector and set a phase-out date for single use plastics that do not meet those requirements.
There are alternatives to single use plastic takeaway products. The primary option being to avoid single use items in favour of reusable foodware. If not possible then 100% compostable packaging (according to the Australian standards) is an available option. Fully compostable packaging is not derived from fossil fuels unlike plastics.
Whilst switching to 100% compostable foodware does not necessarily reduce litter, it’s at least biodegradable. With improved collection and composting, it will reduce litter and help shift organic waste out of landfill.
Boomerang Alliance is calling for a national phase out of certain single use takeaway plastic (non-compostable by Australian standards) products by 2021. We do not accept so-called degradable or biodegradable products as they persist in the environment for a long time breaking up into microplastics.
The list includes coffee cups/lids, straws, cutlery, cups and containers and water bottles. Plastic bags up to 70 microns should be phased out under a specific ban that includes degradable, biodegradable and compostable bags.
Plastic Free Places
There are many progressive communities, organisations and individuals taking action to reduce their plastic footprint. Boomerang’s Plastic Free Places (PFP) program is one example, and is collecting the data to prove its success.
We have formed a partnership the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) to expand our Plastic Free Places community program to promote the switch away from single use plastic takeaways. Our PFP model has demonstrated that the hospitality sector (cafes, food outlets and events) are able to play a positive role in reducing plastics willingly switching to alternatives. There are now 6 PFP projects in Australia with more under consideration. The first pilot project in Noosa has over 200 members and has removed over 3 million single use plastic items in 18 months of operation and continues to expand.
The PFP program has shown that communities are able to switch practice and that alternative products and practices are available and acceptable. What is now needed is government regulations to phase out problematic products and use the alternatives.
 Ellen Macarthur New Plastic Economy Report 2016
 Understanding the effects of marine debris on wildlife CSIRO study 2014
 Turn Back the Toxic Tide Report-Boomerang Alliance/Dave West 2016
 Ellen Macarthur New Plastic Economy Report 2016