30 June 2021
Governments are continuing to ramp up policy and regulation on single-use plastics. At the national level, governments have made their expectations clear with the Environment Ministers Meeting listing 8 priority plastic items to be phased out nationally by 2025, the National Plastics Plan setting ambitious timeframes for the phase out of some items by 2022, and the Minister’s Priority List for 2021-22 under the Commonwealth’s Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020 (RAWR Act) includes several types of plastic packaging. Three states and territories have enacted bans on some single-use plastics, others including NSW and WA are set to follow, while the City of Hobart’s bylaw banning some single-use plastics is enforceable from 1 July. APCO is participating in single-use plastics reference groups across several jurisdictions and is leading work to support implementation of the National Plastics Plan’s phase-out of some business-to-consumer expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging.
The National Plastics Plan
The release of the Commonwealth Government’s National Plastics Plan in March this year and the initial steps taken by the Government towards its implementation have underscored both the importance of action on single-use plastics to the Commonwealth Government and its expectation of strong industry leadership. The plan sets out a series of regulatory and other actions and targets relevant to APCO Members and stakeholders, including:
- Regulate unsorted mixed plastic waste exports (July 2021)
- First review of National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure 2011 and the Australian Packaging Covenant
- National Plastics Design Summit
- Regulate unprocessed single polymer or resin waste plastic exports (July 2022)
- Phase out non compostable plastic packaging products containing additive fragmentable technology that do not meet relevant compostable standards (AS4736-2006, AS5810-2010 and EN13432) (July 2022)
- Phase out expanded polystyrene (EPS) in loose fill and moulded consumer packaging (July 2022), and food and beverage containers (December 2022)
- Phase out PVC packaging labels (December 2022)
- Review progress of 2025 National Packaging Targets
- At least 80% of supermarket products to display the Australasian Recycling Label (December 2023)
- Achievement of the 2025 National Packaging Targets
Minister’s Priority List under the RAWR Act
Commonwealth Environment Minister the Hon Sussan Ley MP announced the list of priority items for 2021-22 on 22 June. The list is established under the RAWR Act and provides notice to industry about the Minister’s expectation that industry will develop product stewardship schemes to address the identified products. It includes actions that the minister recommends that industry take, along with timeframes for completing the actions.
Two of the priorities address plastic packaging. The recommended actions and timeframes included in the Minister’s list, as well as information on the status of APCO’s work on these items, are provided in the table below.
Class of products
Industry should implement a product stewardship scheme for plastic oil containers.
June 2022–June 2023
APCO has received a grant under the National Product Stewardship Investment Fund to deliver a product stewardship scheme for oil containers.
Nationally coordinated industry phase-out in place for the following problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics through elimination, redesign, replacement and innovation:
APCO’s Action Plan for Problematic and Unnecessary Single-Use Plastic Packaging was published in December 2020.
- EPS B2C loose fill and moulded packaging: APCO leading work to phase out (see below for more detail).
- Non-certified degradable packaging is being addressed through APCO’s Action Plan and state govt actions.
- EPS B2C food and beverage containers: APCO leading work to phase out (see below for more detail).
- PVC packaging labels: Being addressed through PREP and ARL program.
Implementing the phase-out of business-to-consumer EPS packaging by 2022
APCO is leading the development of a roadmap for industry’s phase-out of business-to-consumer EPS packaging within the ambitious timeframes set through the National Plastics Plan and Minister’s Priority List. This process has commenced with preliminary discussions with the Government and industry associations and an APCO webinar on EPS held on 8 June.
In discussions to date, the Government has emphasised two critical points:
- That it is serious about pursuing the phase-out of in-scope EPS.
- That it wants the phase-out to be industry-led and practical.
It is clear from these discussions that a phase-out is not the same as a regulatory ban. If industry steps up and proactively delivers the outcomes that the Government is seeking on EPS, then it can also make use of the flexibility that comes with a voluntary approach. For example, if key work is underway by July 2022 that will deliver a phase-out of EPS across inventories of in-scope products, then our expectation is that it will be possible to deliver this work as part of normal product cycles.
Over the coming months, APCO will be engaging with Governments, Members and stakeholders to develop:
- A roadmap for industry to implement the phase-out, which will include actions that will be taken prior to July 2022 to give effect to the phase out, a time frame for eliminating in-scope EPS from products, and criteria for exemptions where alternative packaging materials are not available.
- For those products where alternatives to EPS packaging are not available, a pathway for the development and implementation of an effective product stewardship approach to collect and recycle EPS.
- An approach to measuring and reporting on progress.
- A pathway for engaging all relevant companies in the phase-out, both to ensure its effectiveness and protect industry leaders from free-rider competition.
It is important to keep in mind that state and territory governments may decide to regulate bans that could require a more rapid transition out of EPS packaging. For example, on 13 June the WA Government announced its intention to fast-track a ban on EPS food packaging by the end of 2021 and some other EPS packaging by the end of 2022. APCO will be continuing to discuss the EPS phase-out with the WA and other governments over the coming months and will update our approach as required.
Single-use plastics: Environment Ministers Meeting Communique and state and territory regulation
The Commonwealth and state and territory environment ministers met on 15 April 2021. The Communique from their meeting included a list of eight ‘problematic and unnecessary’ plastic product types for industry to phase out nationally by 2025 under the National Waste Policy Action Plan. These are:
- Lightweight plastic bags
- Plastic products misleadingly termed as ‘degradable’
- Plastic straws
- Plastic utensils and stirrers
- Expanded polystyrene (EPS) consumer food containers (e.g. cups and clamshells)
- EPS consumer goods packaging (loose fill and moulded)
- Microbeads in personal health care products.
Regulatory bans on some single-use plastics have now been enacted in three jurisdictions:
- South Australia: See here for information.
- The ACT: See here for information.
- Queensland: See here for information.
Two jurisdictions announced in June that they will be developing regulatory bans in the near future:
NSW Plastic Action Plan
NSW has indicated its intention to develop new legislation to phase out some single-use plastic items, and to take other actions including establishing design standards and supporting APCO and its Members to achieve the 2025 National Packaging Targets.
Phase out period (from passage of legislation)
Single-use and problematic plastic items
Lightweight shopping bags
Plastic cutlery Expanded polystyrene food service items
Cotton buds with plastic sticks
Microbeads in rinse-off personal care and cosmetic products
Review in 3 years
Plastic bowls (including lids) and plates
Plastic cups (including lids)
Fruit stickers (non-compostable)
Heavyweight plastic shopping bags
The Plastic Action Plan also includes other actions relevant to plastic packaging and the achievement of the 2025 National Packaging Targets. These include:
- Design standards: The Plan commits the NSW Government to leading the nation in establishing a new legislative framework to set design standards to tackle harmful and problematic plastics. While the first design standard will address the phase out of microbeads in cosmetic and personal care items, future design standards could address items such as hard-to-recycle plastics that often end up in landfill, including in packaging, and consistent consumer labelling to inform the purchase and disposal of plastic items.
- Supporting the 2025 National Packaging Targets: The Plan commits the NSW Government to working closely with APCO to ensure achievement of the 2025 Targets. Importantly, it notes the importance of government action to ensure a level playing field to ensure that APCO Members are not unfairly disadvantaged by ‘free riders’, i.e. those companies that are not participating in the c-regulatory framework to achieve the 2025 Targets. The Plan commits the NSW Government to reviewing progress towards the 2025 Targets in three years, and considering mandating targets or design standards if necessary to address any issues. The Plan places particular emphasis on the 70% recycling target for plastic packaging and the target of an average of 20% recycled content across all plastic packaging by 2025.
See here for more information on NSW’s Plastic Action Plan.
WA Plan for Plastics
WA’s Plan for Plastics has set an ambitious timeframe for the implementation of regulation for its first tranche of banned items, and for the scope and timeframe of its second tranche.
The Plan states that new Regulations will be in place by the end of 2021 to deliver a state-wide phase-out of single-use plastic:
- Takeaway EPS food containers
- Thick plastic bags
- Plastic straws
- Helium balloon releases.
The Regulations will be amended in 2022 to deliver a state-wide phase-out of:
- Coffee cups/lids
- Polystyrene cups
- Cotton buds with plastic shafts
- Barrier/produce bags
- Polystyrene packaging
- Oxo-degradable plastics.
The Plan also lists complementary actions to be taken in relation to several other items:
- Prepacked fruit and vegetables: Targeted consultation commencing in 2021.
- Plastic beverage containers: Container Deposit Scheme implemented on 1 October 2020.
- Takeaway food and beverage containers: Targeted consultation commencing 2021; implement a Plastic Free Places program.
- Plastic packaging: Targeted consultation commencing in 2021; Encourage innovative actions to reduce plastic packaging; continue working with APCO to achieve the 2025 National Packaging Targets.
See here for information on WA’s Plan for Plastics.
Government support for uptake of the ARL
The Commonwealth Government has continued to demonstrate its strong support for the Australasian Recycling Label as a key vehicle for informing and educating consumers about recycling, encouraging businesses to transition to recyclable packaging and reducing contamination in kerbside recycling.
The National Plastics Plan commits the Government to working with industry to ensure all APCO members with annual revenue greater than $500 million are using the ARL by the end of 2023, resulting in 80% of supermarket products displaying the ARL and the recycled content label, which is scheduled for release in late 2021.
The National Plastics Plan also commits that the Australian Government will support uptake of the ARL by small to medium enterprises (SMEs). The Government is delivering on this commitment with $5 million in funding, announced as part of the Federal Budget in May 2021, to support SMEs to adopt the ARL and improve packaging recyclability and education in Australia. The new funding will be provided to a partnership of key industry bodies to support the development of a range of dedicated tools and resources. It will also help to make the program even more accessible and user friendly for existing Members.