Melbourne, Australia — Australia's eight state, territory and federal environment ministers have signed a joint agreement that sets a target to achieve 100 percent recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging across the nation by 2025.
The ministers have given Sydney-based Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation Ltd. (APCO) responsibility to oversee meeting the target. APCO is a non-profit body established by industry associations and brand owners in 1999 to reduce packaging waste and increase recycling and reuse.
APCO said the ministers' agreement, delivered after a joint meeting in Melbourne, is in response China's waste import restrictions.
The ministers said China's restrictions affect about 1.3 million metric tons or 4 percent of Australia's recycled waste. They said 35 percent of that waste is recyclable plastics, much of which do not meet China's new limits on contamination.
The ministers agreed to:
• Reduce the amount of waste generated and make it easier for products to be recycled
• Encourage waste reduction strategies through greater consumer awareness, education and industry leadership.
• Increase Australia's recycling capacity.
• Increase demand for recycled products and collaborate on creating new markets for recycled materials.
• Explore opportunities to advance waste-to-energy and waste-to-biofuel projects.
The ministers' statement said Australia's voluntary phase-out of polyethylene microbeads, announced in 2016, is "on track" and 94 percent of cosmetic and personal care products no longer contain microbeads.
"Ministers remain committed to eliminating the final 6 percent and examining options to broaden the phase-out to other products," they said.
In 2016, ministers threatened a legislated ban if the voluntary phase-out was ineffective.
APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly said the China issue is an opportunity for Australia to "shift to the next level in packaging resource recovery, recycling and end use."
She said the ministers' commitment is "a monumental call to action and one of the most ambitious and decisive environmental targets in Australia."
APCO, which has more than 900 corporate members, will support more innovative packaging design, enhance consumer education, and bolster re-use and incorporation of recycled content within end markets, Donnelly said.