Environment Ministers step in to cut packaging waste

In an Australian first, packaging will soon be subject to strict new government rules aimed at cutting waste and boosting recycling, thanks to a historic agreement struck at a national meeting of environment ministers today.

These new rules will help make sure packaging waste is minimised in the first place, and where packaging is used it is designed to be recovered, reused, recycled, or reprocessed. 

The rules will include mandatory packaging design standards and targets – including for recycled content and to address the use of harmful chemicals in food packaging.

This is about designing out packaging waste from the start. More than 70 per cent of the environmental impacts of an item are locked in at the design stage, before anyone ever purchases a product, and well before reuse or disposal is considered.

Environment ministers expect the companies responsible for producing packaging to take responsibility for their waste.

It’s clear that voluntary targets and design guidelines aren’t working. 

Three million tonnes of packaging is sent to landfill each year – equivalent to around 200 billion chip packets.

We have plastic packaging littering our oceans, choking animals, and taking up to 1000 years to break down in landfill.

Today’s agreement shows that environment ministers are working overtime to make up for the nine wasted years under the previous federal Liberal-National Government. Sadly, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments did nothing serious to reduce waste or boost recycling.  

At the same environment minister’s meeting today, it was also agreed to:

  • Send the textile and clothing sector a clear message that if they don’t take responsibility for their waste by the middle of 2024, Australian governments will regulate, as they are now doing for packaging.
  • Develop a national roadmap to improve harmonisation of kerbside collection, for Ministers to consider in 2024.
  • Support priority renewables and critical minerals projects to balance protecting our environment with faster, clearer decisions.
  • Provide consistency and better national protection for threatened species and ecological communities.
  • Take stronger action to tackle key invasive species like feral cats.
  • Develop a roadmap to protect and conserve 30% of Australia’s land.
  • Support the Federal Government’s new agency Environment Information Australia.

It’s terrific to have all Australian environment ministers working together to protect more of what’s precious, repair more of what’s damaged, and manage nature better for our kids and grandkids.

The full communique can be found here. 

Quotes attributable to the Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek:

“We want to better protect nature and reverse decline – and that takes all levels of Government working together.

“We need to dramatically reduce packaging waste, and the harmful chemicals that destroy our environment. We see packaging in the guts of dead birds, floating in our oceans, destroying nature as it takes generations to degrade.

“Put simply, we’re making too much, using too much, and too much is ending up in landfill.

“Even large companies like Nestlé, Unilever and Coca-Cola have told me they want to see regulation to help the world reach a circular economy.

“Until now, governments have ignored calls to step in and set mandatory targets. While some in the industry have stepped up to voluntarily reduce their impact, it’s just not enough. We’re changing that."