Govt to force change on packaging industry

·3-min read

The federal government will force the packaging industry to clean up its act after it failed to meet voluntary waste-busting targets it set for itself.

Work is underway on new mandatory regulations expected to apply nationwide, environment department senior executive Kate Lynch has told senators.

"The government is pursuing regulation - so it will be mandatory new packaging regulation - that we hope to apply country wide," she told a hearing late on Tuesday.

She said economic modelling had begun to ascertain "the best means to achieve that highly consistent nationwide, and enforceable approach".

State and territory environment ministers were onboard and had "collectively agreed to reform the packaging regulation system, nationwide".

"It may be implemented at a commonwealth level, as a national piece of legislation, or some other model may work. It might be implemented through each state and territory legislation. That's yet to be finalised."

Ms Lynch said environment ministers had agreed a new system should be "basically in place" by 2025.

Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has been hinting at the change for some time, with the industry recently admitting it would not meet it's own targets to slash the amount of waste going to landfill by ramping up recycling.

Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson has long been pushing for mandatory regulations and said it's been obvious for years that the industry would fail.

"They've failed for 25 years to ever achieve anything they set out to do," he told the hearing.

He later said it was a regretful "I told you so" moment.

"We had a massive brawl in the senate in 2020 when the Greens tried to amend the government's once-in-a-generation reform of national waste and recycling legislation to mandate packaging.

"This was inevitable's better late than never."

Veteran campaigner Jeff Angel leads the Boomerang Alliance of 55 of Australia's leading community and environment groups.

He says community cynicism has never been higher after the packaging industry's failures, and the collapse of the privately run REDcycle scheme for soft plastics.

''The last two decades have largely been a waste of everyone's time with the Packaging Covenant and an utter lack of compliance from government for non-performance.

''The community wants plastic pollution to stop and the recycling they support to be taken seriously."

In April 2018, the industry promised to dramatically reduce waste going to landfill by ramping up recycling.

But the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) last month admitted none of its four national targets would be met, as planned, by the end of 2025.

The targets included shifting to 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging, and ensuring 70 per cent of plastic packaging is being recycled or composted.

The other two concerned 50 per cent average recycled content in packaging, and the phase-out of "problematic and unnecessary" single-use plastic packaging.

AAP is seeking comment from APCO, which Ms Lynch said was involved in the reform process.