Plans to implement strict new government rules aimed at cutting waste and boosting recycling have drawn praise from the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), describing the announcement as a positive step towards a circular economy with more clarity for the sector in its transition to sustainability.
An historic agreement was reached at a national meeting of environment ministers in Sydney on Friday, with plans to mandate obligations for packaging design and targets for recycled content.
The new rules will help make sure packaging waste is minimised in the first place, alongside designs that better allow for materials to be recovered, reused, recycled, or reprocessed.
This is noteworthy given an estimated 70 per cent of an item's environmental impacts are locked in at the design stage before anyone ever purchases a product, and well before reuse or disposal is considered.
The Federal Government notes that 'it's clear that voluntary targets and design guidelines aren’t working', and that it will be leading a national framework to direct Australia’s transition to a circular economy, informed by the work of the Circular Economy Advisory Group.
"We want to better protect nature and reverse decline – and that takes all levels of government working together," says Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, who last week also made announcements around a voluntary circular economy scheme for the fashion industry.
"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.
"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."
ARA CEO Paul Zahra says his association had long advocated for a national framework to reduce the cost and complexities of improving packaging recyclability.
"With the profound shifts in environmental challenges and customer expectations, retailers have a strong appetite to reduce waste and embrace more sustainable materials. It’s pleasing to know that they have the Federal Government’s support in undertaking this transition," Zahra says.
"Many businesses – particularly those that operate nationally – have found it extremely challenging to respond to incremental state-by-state bans, such as what we’re seeing with single-use plastics. Having a national approach reduces cost, complexity and increases compliance.
"Consumers and businesses alike are fully supportive of embracing a circular economy, and this decision takes us one step closer."
Zahra says it will be important for the Federal Government to complement this decision with increased investment in recycling infrastructure.
"The RedCycle issue showed us that no single business or entity can take on this vital job alone. We hope the government will commit to funding further recycling infrastructure to support this transition," he says.
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