The appointment of a new Environment Minister for Waste Reduction and special envoy for the Great Barrier Reef committed to stopping plastic pollution is a ray of hope, a major environmental group said today.Read more
The Boomerang Alliance released a scorecard below on key party recycling and plastic pollution policies and we call for a greater effort on plastic pollution.
While some good progress has been made on growing recycling by the ALP, Liberals and Greens – there are big gaps on plastic pollution reduction from the major parties. We need a comprehensive plastic pollution program backed up by effective and urgent action plans and funding.
Every day that passes, as more and more plastic gets into the ocean, the longer the pollution inheritance for future generations. We are seeking action across a range of fronts within 6 months of the new government taking office. The full suite of tools from bans, alternative products, financial incentives, new collection systems and community and business mobilisation need to be used. There is no time to waste.
Many Asian countries are amongst the biggest contributors when it comes to plastic pollution of the Pacific. They include China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
However, before we rush to condemn, we need to acknowledge that it is the higher income countries like Australia who have the highest per capita plastic use.
The difference is that higher income countries have better services and infrastructure to manage discarded plastics. Nevertheless, it should also be recognised Australia has paid inadequate attention to controlling its plastic litter rate and still has much work to do.
The problem for many other less wealthy countries is because they lack collection and processing infrastructure they cannot adequately deal with so much plastic waste and litter. As a result, that plastic waste ends up in streets and suburbs, getting into waterways and eventually the ocean.
As Australians, it is important that we continue to reduce our plastic use. It is equally important that we assist those countries without our advantages, to clean up and develop better options for recycling the plastics that washes up on their shores from other countries and is generated locally.
It's a sad fact that, whilst most communities use too many disposable plastic products themselves, much of what reaches their shores comes from somewhere else.
The images below from Indonesia illustrate the problem. Communities can clean up their beaches, but what do they do with the plastics they have collected?
They need, and would benefit from investment in community-based recycling services so that as well as instituting local bans on certain items, they can keep cleaning up, then recycle what they collect and make money from selling recycled plastics. This would represent, not a compete answer, but a good start in cleaning up the current crisis.
The more we clean up, the less microplastics in the ocean and the less impact on our region from plastic pollution. Tourism in Pacific countries will also benefit, as the pollution is degrading natural assets.
Photos courtesy of Anya Phelan
Dr Anya Phelan for the UQ Business School has been working with communities in SE Asia to try and resolve their plastic pollution problems. She says, ‘’in SE Asia plastics use has outpaced waste management and infrastructure, and the situation is approaching catastrophic proportions.’’
We in Australia are not immune from overseas-sourced plastic litter. We have our own garbage patch along our coastline, particularly in locations remote from any settlements.
Plastic Litter Hotspots courtesy Tangaroa Blue
On Cape York (FNQ) remote beaches such as Chilli Beach and Cape Bedford are littered with marine plastics. Even as we go to the polls on 18 May, Tangaroa Blue volunteers will be at an annual clean up in the area.
Political parties support Pacific neighbours clean up
The good news at this election is that all the key political parties have promised to act and invest in helping our Pacific neighbours clean up. Funding will also be available for our domestic clean-up programs.
The Coalition has promised $16M and Labor $15m for Pacific litter clean up and plan to include this in Foreign Aid budgets. It is essential that we also support the development of community-based recycling operations. If a community can make money from safely recycling plastics, we ensure that their beaches will be cleaned up as a result.
Australia, with many other nations, has also promised to work with the UN Environment Program on reducing marine plastic debris. The funding for Pacific litter clean ups promised is a small but important step towards solving the problem of marine ocean plastics. We also want to make clear that such help is not short term, and needs to continue over several electoral cycles.
 What Hans Rosling in his book Factfulness called the economically richer Level 1 countries
 Tacking Ocean Pollution UQ Business School media release Jan 2019
A recent mailout to all voters from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has ironically highlighted a key issue that our federal politicians need to address – finding better solutions to our worsening plastic pollution problems.
'In an attempt to reduce the impacts of single-use plastic, the AEC mailout sent to 16 million registered voters was wrapped in a plastic film labelled ‘biodegradable. It’s disappointing the AEC did not look carefully at what it was buying. This plastic packaging is oxo-biodegradable plastic and is not biodegradable in landfill or the environment, as inferred by the manufacturer,' said Jeff Angel director of Boomerang Alliance.
'As a result, the AEC is contributing to even more excessive and unnecessary plastic being used, wasted or littered. Boomerang Alliance suggests that in future the AEC makes greater efforts to check the 'bona fides' of products it uses. Evidence that they are no better has been known for years. We encourage the AEC to strengthen their guidelines with regards to products boasting sustainable assertions.
'Also the DL sized mail out could have been sent without a wrap, with alternative copies available on-line and at outlets like post offices.'
A recent study by the University of Plymouth has shown that so-called oxo-biodegradable plastic bags are nothing but complete greenwash. The study revealed supposedly biodegradable plastic bags still intact after three years spent either at sea or buried underground.
Oxo-biodegradable plastics are conventional fossil-fuel based plastics with an additive that allows them to partially or fully break down but only under certain conditions. Ocean, terrestrial and landfill environments do not meet those conditions.
Marine environments don’t contain the right types of microorganisms needed to break down plastics, and soil and landfill conditions usually lack oxygen which limits the types of microorganisms that can exist there.
Boomerang views this type of greenwashing in all types of plastic consumer packaging, including bags and so-called eco-straws. In many cases it can actually be worse for the environment, as consumers believe it is biodegradable and is thus littered more often.
With global annual consumption of drink containers reaching 2 trillion, BA joined forces with environment groups in 20 countries across five continents to call for worldwide deposit refund schemes as a solution to bottle and can pollution thrown away every day.
At 9.00am local time on the 9 May 2019 in each country, over a 24-hour period, the network of international eco organisations released a series of aerial photographs and videos of messages written on hillsides, beaches and buildings calling for a ‘Clean Planet’.
Orchestrating the Australian action, BA joined forced with Beach Patrol Australia, gathering dedicated supporters to spell out 'Clean Planet' on Melbourne's Brighton Beach, highlighting the glaring fact that Victoria remains the only mainland Australian state or territory without a container deposit scheme. And the state is expected to landfill another 2 billion drinks container in 2019.
Dr Annett Finger from the Boomerang Alliance, who organised the action in Melbourne said: 'Each year that Victoria watches and waits, 2 billion containers are either landfilled or littered. Worldwide, refund schemes have been proved to be most effective at reducing litter and increasing recycling. What’s more, when Victoria joins the other states, we estimate that local communities and charity groups will receive a $50 million boost through the scheme.”
Meanwhile Dr Ross Headifen, head of Beach Patrol Port Melbourne added: 'We laid our bodies in the sand forming the words ‘CLEAN PLANET’. We did this because on average, a quarter to a third of the litter we pick up is drink containers and we are sick and tired of doing that. The community wants this. No more stalling - we need the state government to act and fix this now!”
The Clean Planet global initiative is aimed at raising awareness of the environmental impact of drinks packaging with a call for governments across the world to extend, update or introduce a deposit return system in each country.
Campaigners are demanding change through the introduction of a deposit return system in those countries that do not yet have one, and extending deposit systems in countries that already have one to make them more effective by including all cans, bottles and cartons.
A list of campaign groups involved in the Clean Planet action, in order of when each event will take place:
• Kiwi Bottle Drive (New Zealand),
• Boomerang Alliance & Beach Patrol (Australia),
• Green Earth (Hong Kong),
• Bali Fokus (Indonesia),
• Sea Movement (Philippines),
• DHZ (Iran),
• Zero Waste Romania (Romania),
• Green Liberty (Latvia),
• Mattoni (Czech Republic),
• Comuni Virtuosi (Italy),
• Infinitum (Norway),
• Recyling Netwerk and Plastic Soup Foundation (Netherlands),
• Propers Strandlopers (Belgium),
• Retorna and Clean Ocean Project (Spain),
• Sciaena (Portugal),
• Campaign to Protect Rural England (England),
• You have the bottle (Scotland),
• Marine Conservation Society (UK),
• Donde Reciclo (Argentina),
• Environmental Defence (Canada) and
• Story of Stuff (United States)
In a joint statement, the Clean Planet campaigners said: 'The scale of the pollution problem requires immediate global action. Now is the time for every government around the world to stand up and take action against the environmental devastation caused by drinks cans, bottles and cartons – we cannot wait any longer for a clean planet.
'Through effective deposit return systems that collect and accept every single type of drinks container, introduced right across the world, we have a chance to stop choking our planet with the trillions of bottles, cans and cartons that are produced every single year.'
The case for deposit return systems
When introduced, effective deposit return systems simultaneously boost recycling rates for drink containers to more than 90%, reduce the environmental damage they cause by stopping them from being littered and make producers of these products responsible for the cost of the wasteful packaging they create.
This leads to more recycled content in drink containers and more refillable containers used as part of a circular economy, creating jobs, reducing waste and slowing down the depletion of natural resources.
In 2015, it was estimated that 1.6 trillion drinks containers were sold across the world. Using growth projections based on the increase in the numbers drink container sold from 2014 to 2015, global sales of aluminium cans, glass and plastic bottles as well as drink cartons, pouches, sachets in 2019 look set to reach 1.9 trillion.
Yet ineffective waste collection and recycling systems across the world mean that a large number of these single-use products are left polluting the environment and many that are collected as waste are either sent for incineration or buried in landfill, rather than recycled.
**Photographs and videos of the global CLEAN PLANET messages will be available at 9.00am local time in each country taking place throughout the day on Thursday, 9 May 2019 in this Dropbox folder
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).1 In Australia, the CSIRO calculate that ‘two thirds of the marine debris found along our coastline is plastic, most from local sources.’2
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.
There are alternatives to single use plastic takeaway products. The primary option being to avoid single use items in favour of reusable food ware. If not possible, 100% compostable packaging is an available option. Fully compostable packaging is not derived from fossil fuels unlike other plastics.
Many food outlets, markets and public events right around Australia have already changed their practices and reduced their plastic footprint, through these practices.
‘The Boomerang Alliance believes after banning lightweight plastic bags and introducing a deposit scheme for drinks containers, the phase-out of single use plastics is the next step in reducing plastic pollution and litter.
As the largest component of litter, removing many single-use plastics will cut litter collection costs to Commonwealth, State and local Governments. Boomerang Alliance estimate that cost to be approximately $500 M spent annually on litter clean-ups.3
There are also the additional unrecognised costs associated with community litter clean ups, and the efforts made by ordinary Australians over a quarter of a century.
As the late Ian Kiernan AO stated at Clean Up Australia’s 2015 report, ‘ After 25 years of solid work by hundreds of thousands of citizens, it's about time for their government to acknowledge the efforts of these volunteers and demonstrate some leadership by stopping plastics and containers being discarded in the first place.’
The Commonwealth and all State and Territory jurisdictions have agreed to having all packaging 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.
Action, the next step
To meet these targets, the Commonwealth needs to act now and set a schedule to achieve those outcomes. In ‘away from home’ circumstances, the most obvious and achievable policy setting is to support reusable and compostable practices and set a phase-out date for single use plastics that do not meet those requirements.
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 practice 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 including 100% recycled content. 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 practice shift.
This year, the European Union 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 single use plastics, in addition to plastic bags. Etihad Airlines recently flew its first plastic free long distance flight.
In Australia, the recent encouraging trend has been the ban plastics bags in most jurisdictions, with only NSW currently resisting. Major retailers have already acted to remove lightweight plastic bags, which has contributed to an estimated 80% reduction in lightweight plastic bag use (from 2017). There are some questions however if the alternative heavier weight bags are reused by most shoppers, as intended.
Most states and territories have introduced a container deposit scheme for drink containers. These schemes are proving that litter rates significantly reduce when they are put in place. In NSW, Return and Earn is responsible for an estimated 33% reduction in beverage litter and in QLD litter surveys indicate a 35% decrease in beverage container litter since the introduction of the CRS. In South Australia, which has had a CDS since 1977, litter rates are generally less by a factor of three compared to other States4
Some states and territories are now considering their next steps in addressing litter and plastic wastes. Both South Australia and Western Australia are publicly canvassing plans to phase-out single use plastics. Most other jurisdictions are reviewing their own future policies with a single-use plastics phase-out a key consideration. Local governments from Cairns to Hobart are already acting. Many local authorities and public events have introduced plastic free events policies to reduce plastic use, litter and waste.
The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) and the Boomerang Alliance have formed a partnership to develop a Plastic Free Places community program to promote the switch away from single use plastic takeaway. The partnership is based upon a successful model developed in Noosa and extended to Byron Bay (NSW) and Bassendean (WA). This has demonstrated that the hospitality sector is able to play a positive role in reducing plastics and has willingly switched to alternatives. The Noosa project has removed nearly 3 million single use plastic items in 13 months of operation and continues to expand. Other community programs have produced similar results.
Commonwealth must play a role
The global trend and one that needs to be rapidly expanded in Australia is the phase-out of single use plastic takeaway items. To achieve the national targets set for packaging requires us to act now.
Australia can make a big leap forward if the next Commonwealth Government, with the support of other political parties, set a date for the phase-out of a range of single use plastic takeaway items commonly found in litter and waste streams.
The Boomerang Alliance has identified 6 items that should be included in a phase out: coffee cups and lids, straws, cutlery, cups and containers, plastic bags and plastic water bottles. All have readily available alternatives and, as many citizens and businesses are proving, the community is ready to change, if the Commonwealth sets the policy agenda.
We don’t accept that enough is being done but a start has been made at this election. We framed our key election asks as Saving Recycling and Phasing-out Single Use Plastics. As at 6 May we have promises from all the key parties to support and invest in recycling. We need similar promises on single use plastics.
To date Labor policies state the party is ‘open to extending phase-outs to single use plastics’. The Greens have committed to this policy by 2025. The Coalition has not made any statement.
1 Ellen Macarthur New plastic Economy Report 2016
2 Understanding the effects of marine debris on wildlife CSIRO study 2014
3 Turn Back the Toxic Tide Report-Boomerang Alliance/Dave West 2016
4 Understanding the effects of marine debris on wildlife CSIRO study 2014
Authorised by Jeff Angel, Boomerang Alliance, 99 Devonshire St, Surry Hills, NSW 2010
The Boomerang Alliance and its 48 national, state and local NGOs allies have welcomed recycling and plastic pollution taking centre stage, albeit briefly, in the election with today’s announcement by the Coalition and the previous policy releases by the ALP and Greens.Read more
A new study has exposed so-called 'biodegradable plastic bags' as nothing but complete greenwash.
After submerging these eco-sensitive shopping bags in soil and water over a three-year period, experts from the University of Plymouth’s International Marine Litter Research Unit found biodegradable bags could still carry 2 kilograms of groceries.
Imogen Napper, who led the study, said: 'After three years, I was really amazed that any of the bags could still hold a load of shopping. For biodegradable bags to be able to do that was the most surprising. When you see something labelled in that way, I think you automatically assume it will degrade more quickly than conventional bags.'
Researchers carried out tests on five different types of shopping bags currently offered by popular supermarkets - biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable, compostable, and high-density polyethylene.
Each of the bags had disintegrated into fragments. And experiencing the most decomposition, compostable bags ultimately broke down into macro and microplastics producing further environmental implications.
Jeff Angel, Director of Boomerang Alliance praised the study for shining the spotlight on products making sustainable claims far beyond their reach.
‘So-called biodegradeable bags don't degrade and compostable ones turn into microplastics,’ Mr Angel said before simply adding, ‘it's just greenwash.’
Mr Angel also encouraged theAustralian Competition and Consumer Commission to strengthen their guidelines with future products boasting sustainable assertions.
Mr Angel said: ‘Boomerang is currently opposing another attempt in front of the ACCC to bring in a misleading version into Australia.’
We produce too much waste and do too little recycling in Australia. A National Recycling Industry Development Program would boost the economy and create jobs across the nation.
After China implemented tighter restrictions on the import of Australian plastic and other waste and other nations followed suit, it is now Australia’s responsibility to manage its own waste. We could also be a world leader in implementing a circular economy and cleaning up the plastics contaminating our oceans.
Did you know despite one of the highest GDPs per capita, Australia lands in 17th place for the global recycling rank and our current rates are stagnant1? Councils say a “lack of funding, coupled with rock-bottom recycling prices, is hampering efforts to build better infrastructure and reinvigorate a dying market2. If Australia is to increase its recycling rate and help the plastic waste crisis, two critical policies will need to be implemented: (1) funding for a recycling industry and (2) mandating a “Buy Recycled” program for product manufacturers.
Recycling has been shown to be more economically profitable than landfilling. A survey by Access Economics in 2009, estimated that 9.2 employees were directly employed in the recycling sector for every 10,000 tonnes of waste in Australia, compared to 2.8 directly employed with landfill3. In Victoria alone, an increase in recycling of 80% would create 2,310 jobs4. However, due to the lack of recycling infrastructure, recyclable material is currently being stockpiled, dumped, imported into Asian countries illegally, incinerated…just wasted!5
Boomerang Alliance is calling for a minimum of $150 million to support a growing domestic recycling industry, including to improve infrastructure for the reprocessing of greater quantities of plastics.
In addition, Australia needs to build a market for the re-manufactured recycled material. Due to low oil and gas prices, virgin plastic is usually cheaper than its recycled counterpart. Australia should achieve a 30% average recycled content in products by 2025 - but packaging manufacturers need an incentive to work towards this goal. The best way to create that demand is through a “Buy Recycled” scheme that makes the production of plastic from recycled material cheaper and more necessary than virgin plastics. For example in France, where it is proposed to impose a tax on virgin plastics6. We can also impose recycled content requirements as has been done in the EU.
This won’t be easy to navigate through the political decision process. Taxes and regulation are not popular with business and some political parties. But it must be done and community support will be vital. We confronted the same opposition when campaigning for a container deposit system. Eventually the community won and now litter is dramatically down and many more bottles are being recycled with hundreds of new jobs. Australia needs an assured path that will deliver an efficient and productive local industry to recycle plastic and contribute to an economically and environmentally sustainable future.
1 Gray, Alex. “Germany Recycles More than Any Other Country.” World Economic Forum, 2017, www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/12/germany-recycles-more-than-any-other-country/.
2 Towie, Narelle. “One Year on: Where Is Australia's Recycling Going Now?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 Jan. 2019, www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/29/one-year-on-where-is-australias-recycling-going-now.
3 Access Economics 2009, Employment in waste management and recycling, July 2009
4 Environment Victoria Annual Report 2009-2010.” Environment Victoria , 2010, environmentvictoria.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Environment-Victoria-Annual-Report-2009-2010.pdf
5 Towie, Narelle. “One Year on: Where Is Australia's Recycling Going Now?” 2019
6 Rush, Claire. “France Announces New Consumer Incentive to Reduce Plastic Waste.” RFI: The World and All It’s Voices, RFI, 12 Aug. 2018, en.rfi.fr/france/20180812-france-announces-new-consumer-incentive-reduce-plastic-waste.
On Tuesday, Coles cheerily announced their new 'Fresh Food Container Program', claiming it will 'help customers reduce food and plastic waste at home, helping their household budget and the environment at the same time.'
To break it down, from Wednesday April 24, Coles patrons will earn ‘container credits’ when they spend $20 or more to be redeemed for a range of five different reusable storage containers from 600mL to 1.5 litres, as well as a specially-designed vacuum pump that removes air to tightly seal the containers, which at the end of their life 'can be recycled in the kerbside bin.'
'We know our customers want to reduce food waste for environmental and family budget reasons and these reusable containers are a great way to keep food fresh in the fridge or pantry without the need for more single-use plastic,” said Coles Chief Operating Officer Greg Davis.
'Coles has removed 1.2 billion single-use plastic bags from circulation since we phased them out of our stores last year, and since 2011 we have diverted more than 542 million pieces of flexible plastic from landfill through our recycling partnership with REDcycle.'