Key Australian Businesses Commit to Reducing Plastic Waste

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The Australian government and key Australian businesses vowed Monday to step up and tackle the nation’s waste problems during the first National Plastics Summit.

The summit, held at Parliament House in Canberra, saw industry leaders, government representatives, children and businesses come together across a series of panels and displays to discuss innovative recycling methods and ways to cut down on plastic packaging.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison kicked off the day of commitments by making a policy change.

Morrison announced he would amend the government’s federal purchasing policy to mandate federal government departments “consider environmental sustainability and use of recycled content” when buying goods.

“We will be changing the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines to make sure every procurement undertaken by a Commonwealth agency considers environmental sustainability and use of recycled content as a factor in determining value for money,” he told the Australian Broadcast Corporation, before suggesting that the upcoming federal budget would see new funds for nationwide recycling initiatives.

“The state of our recycling and remanufacturing facilities, as well as the economics behind our collections systems, are under severe strain, we need to invest in this industry,” Morrison added. “Investing in the sector is not just good for the environment; it is incredibly good for our economy as well.”

The government also pledged to inject $300,000 over three years to the environmental organisation Clean Up Australia.

Major industry pledges came from packaging manufacturer the Pact GroupNestlé and McDonald’s.

The Pact Group pledged $500 million AUD to new renewable packaging and recycling programs by 2025. McDonald’s, likewise, announced it would switch to fibre-based cutlery in all their Australian stores by the end of the year, in turn, eliminating 585 tonnes of single-use plastic.

Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, vouched to cut its use of new plastic by one-third by 2025. Nestlé also stated it would work alongside Australian recycler iQ Renew to test kerbside collections of soft plastics from 100,000 homes.

IQ Renew CEO Danial Gallagher said the trial would work to halt the quantity of soft plastics ending up in landfill.

“Most Material Recovery Facilities can’t separate soft plastic from other items in household recycling, so while soft plastic can be recycled, what we lack is a robust, scalable system to collect and process it using existing kerbside collection,” Gallagher said in a press release. “We’ve designed the trial so that at the front end, it will support householders to pre-sort their soft plastic and get it into a recycling stream, while behind the scenes, we’ll test using the sorted soft plastic as a resource in a range of different manufacturing processes.”

During the summit, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation revealed it would lead the implementation of a new program to help government, businesses and non-government organisations recycled or compost 70% of all plastic packaging by 2025.

The nationwide push toward sustainability comes after many of the nations Australia used to export waste to introduced export waste bans.

In 2018, Australia exported around 4.5 million tonnes of waste to countries like China and Indonesia. In that same year, just 12% of plastics were recycled — the vast majority of the remainder ending up in landfill.

When China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines banned waste imports, increasing masses of Australian waste were forced to sit at local recycling plants and wait to be processed. The piles soon became a fire risk — resulting in the closure of major processing stations and leaving over 30 Victorians councils with no other option but sending all recyclables to landfills. 

In two weeks, Morrison is set to meet with state and territory leaders to finalise a plan to ban the overseas export of recyclable plastic, paper, glass and tyres — a decision he hopes will increase local demand for recycled products.