A host of Australian companies used a National Plastics Summit to commit to initiatives to reduce single-use plastics and increase recycling rates.
The March 2 summit, organized by Australia's federal government, brought together about 200 industry representatives who met in the nation's capital, Canberra. There was also a student summit.
With the government facing criticism for inaction on climate change, the summit was an attempt to demonstrate positive action on waste reduction.
However, it coincided with an announcement that one of Sydney's largest recycling plants, Polytrade Recycling Pty. Ltd., which recycles materials collected by municipal councils in residents' yellow-topped wheeled garbage bins, will close a Sydney plant at the end of March because of a collapse in market prices for recycled plastics, following China's ban on foreign waste.
A key announcement at the summit was the Australian Packaging Covenant Organization leading the development of an ANZPAC Plastic Pact, a new program within the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's Global Plastics Pact Network.
APCO said the ANZPAC Plastics Pact will be formally launched in late 2020 to work with businesses, governments and nongovernment organizations in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Island nations to "develop a common vision of the circular economy for plastics."
APCO said only 16 percent of plastic packaging is recycled in Australia and ANZPAC will provide the "significant intervention" required to meet Australia's national plastic packaging target of 70 percent of all plastic packaging being recycled or composted by 2025.
Other commitments made at the summit include:
• Pact Group Ltd., Australia's largest rigid plastics manufacturer, announced a A$500 million (US$330.1 million) investment in existing and new facilities for sustainable packaging, re-use and recycling initiatives over the next five years.
• Retail giant Coles Supermarkets announced A$430,000 (US$284,000) in new funding for Melbourne-based REDcycle to triple the amount of post-consumer soft plastic it collects. REDcycle supplies the plastic to product manufacturers.
• Nestlé will partner with waste management company IQ Renew in a trial to see soft plastics collected from more than 100,000 homes and repeated earlier commitments to reduce its use of virgin plastic by one-third by 2025 and to procure globally A$2.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) of recycled food-grade plastic.
• McDonalds will phase out 585 metric tons of single-use plastics by removing plastic knives and forks from its Australian stores by the end of the year, on top of a previous global commitment to remove 500 million plastic straws.
• Australia Post pledged to make all plastic postage bags from recycled material by December 2020.
• Beverage manufacturer PepsiCo pledged A$650,000 (US$429,000) to support Greening the Green, a partnership with Clean Up Australia, REDcycle and Replas, which manufactures a range of products from recycled plastic. The three-year national program aims to educate consumers on soft plastic recovery and recycling.
• Cleanaway, Pact and Asahi Beverage Group announced details of a plastic pelletizing facility in Albury-Wodonga on the New South Wales-Victorian border to pelletize about 28,000 metric tons, or about 900 million bottles a year.
• Qantas will remove 100 million single-use plastic items, such as cups, cutlery and meal boxes, by the end of 2020 and replace them with compostable items.
• Unilever will halve the amount of virgin plastic it uses by buying more recycled plastic and reducing the amount of plastic in its packaging by more than 100,000 metric tons.
The Canberra-based Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) was cautiously optimistic about the summit's commitments.
Acting CEO Geoffrey Annison said the food, beverage and grocery sector is investing heavily to meet Australia's 2025 National Packaging Targets.
"The sector is taking an active role as part of the waste solution and companies — large and small — are working to improve the sustainability and recyclability of packaging," Annison said. "However, this transition is costly."
He wants the federal and state governments to provide incentives and co-invest to improve recycling capacity and help businesses switch to more sustainable packaging.
He wants better recycling infrastructure in Australia and said the food and grocery industry needs "achievable time frames" and a whole-of-supply-chain approach.
Jeff Angel, executive director of the Sydney-based Total Environment Centre and Convenor and director of the Boomerang Alliance, a network of environmental organizations, told Plastics News waste reduction targets must be mandatory.
"The summit added some momentum to the task of tackling Australia's plastic waste problem and the problem of low recycling and plastic pollution is acknowledged, but there is a long way to go," he said.
"We have ambitious voluntary national targets. However, the summit reinforced our view the targets won't be met unless they are made mandatory," Angel said. "The voluntary approach won't achieve sufficient buy-in from industry and governments are balking at assured purchasing of products with recycled content."
The federal opposition Labor Party's shadow assistant minister for the environment Josh Wilson agreed that greater action is needed.
"We can't just talk rubbish, we need to make change," Wilson said. "If the government doesn't get its skates on, we are going to see more stockpiling of plastic, which is a fire risk. We're going to see more plastic going into landfill and potentially into our oceans."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, opening the summit, said Australia needs to take responsibility for its plastic waste and foreshadowed budget announcements in May to encourage demand for recycled products and expand industry capability.