Australia’s leading ocean conservation organisation has expressed alarm at a new report showing that Australia is not going to meet its 2025 plastic packaging targets.
A new progress report from the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has shown that Australia’s recycling of plastic packaging has flatlined, with only 16% of plastic recycled in 2019-20, down from 18% in the previous year.
Of 1.1 million tonnes of plastic packaging placed on the market that year, that represents only 179,000 tonnes recovered.
Alarmingly, only 60% of plastic packaging was found to be easily recyclable. Products with recycled plastic content also remain low, with post-consumer recycled content accounting for only 3% of plastic packaging on the market.
Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) plastics expert Shane Cucow said the report should be a sharp wake-up call for government and business.
“We’ve seen a lot of companies talking about sustainability, but this report shows that collectively we are still asleep at the wheel,” he said.
“We’ve been encouraged by moves to ban key single-use plastics and investments to build new recycling infrastructure, but it is still too little, too slowly when it comes to plastic packaging.
“One thing is abundantly clear. If we keep on the way we are, we’ll never make it past the halfway point as the tidal wave of plastic continues to fill up our oceans and our landfills.
“The report showed that even with currently planned recycling upgrades occurring around Australia, we will still only be able to recycle 36% of plastics annually – far short of Australia’s target to recycle or compost 70% of plastic packaging.”
Mr Cucow said that it was time for the Australian government to take decisive action.
“The evidence is clear, voluntary targets are not working. Without real incentives and clear penalties, it is too easy for companies to put this in the too hard basket.
“There’s simply not enough demand for recycled plastic because virgin plastic is cheaper and easier to obtain. It’s time for the Australian government to level the playing field with a levy on virgin plastic and mandated targets for recycled content.”
In particular, the report highlighted that without a sharp increase in the recycling rates for soft plastics like bread bags, chip packets and other food packaging, Australia would not meet recycling targets.
“Only 4% of soft plastics are currently getting recycled in Australia, yet soft plastics are the single most lethal consumer plastic for ocean wildlife like whales and turtles,” added Mr Cucow.
“We need a dramatic increase in our capacity to recover and recycle soft plastics, introducing measures such as kerbside collection of soft plastics and compostables for every household.
“It’s also high time all the big product manufacturers took responsibility for the environmental devastation their packaging is causing, and took more decisive action to cut their plastic packaging in real terms.
“It’s not good enough to just whack a recycling label on your soft plastic packaging and call it a day, when Australia is drowning in a sea of plastic.”
The APCO Collective Impact Report is available here. Supporting materials are available on the APCO website https://apco.org.au/
Australia’s 2025 National Packaging Targets set voluntary targets for packaging recovery and design:
100% of packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable
70% of plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or composted
50% average recycled content is included in packaging
Phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging