Demand for global fix to plastic pollution

Two big supermarkets say they will take responsibility for thousands of tonnes of soft plastic stashed in warehouses across Australia.

Two big supermarkets say they will take responsibility for thousands of tonnes of soft plastic stashed in warehouses across Australia. Photo: Getty

Demands are being made for companies profiting off plastic to do more as environmental groups hope a global treaty will mean sustainable businesses aren’t at a competitive disadvantage.

Eight in 10 Australians think manufacturers and retailers should be made responsible for reducing, reusing and recycling plastic packaging, results from an Ipsos poll of more than 23,000 people in 34 countries show.

A total of 79 per cent of Australians want to ban unnecessary single-use plastics, 78 per cent support a ban on plastics that cannot be easily recycled, and 78 per cent want all new plastic products to contain recycled plastic.

Results from the survey commissioned by WWF and the Plastic Free Foundation come ahead of negotiations on what will be included in a United Nations treaty to combat plastic pollution.

Globally the survey shows seven out of 10 people believe the treaty should create binding global rules to end plastic pollution.

The results point to a level of frustration with the difficulty in making sustainable choices,  Kate Noble, WWF-Australia’s No Plastics in Nature Policy Manager says.

“People don’t want to be faced with 50 choices and have to read the labels on every product to work it out themselves,” Ms Noble said.

“A lot of substitution would be really sensible, pasta comes in a cardboard box, it also comes in a plastic bag.”

A plastic pollution treaty could replace a patchwork of national or voluntary standards with one set of global regulations for production, design and disposal of plastic.

In the past 20 years, plastic consumption in Australia has nearly doubled and is still rising, Ms Noble said.

“It’s time for companies that make and sell plastic to step up and take responsibility by getting rid of the plastics we don’t need and substituting for other materials where appropriate.”

Outcry over the pause of the REDcycle plastic bags program when it was revealed plastic bags were being stored in warehouses shows the expectation for effective waste systems, Plastic Free Foundation founder Rebecca Prince-Ruiz said.

“What the REDcycle issue shows us is we can collect it, the collection isn’t the problem,” Ms Prince-Ruiz said.

“Unless we’re buying packaging and product made out of recycled plastic, we’re not really recycling, we’re just collecting.”

The problem is recycled plastic is “considerably more” expensive than virgin plastic, but there are sections of the business community who want a level playing field, Ms Prince-Ruiz said.

One way to combat this is with a minimum level of recycled content in plastic products.

The UK already has a tax that applies to plastic packaging which does not contain at least 30 per cent recycled content.

In Australia, recycled content in post-consumer plastic packaging averages out to about three per cent, the latest data from the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation shows.

Negotiations for the plastic treaty are set to take place in a series of meetings, with the first starting in Uruguay on 28 November.

The negotiation process is likely to take at least two years, and Ms Noble hopes Australia won’t wait to make change.

“That will benefit Australian companies,” she said.

“The process of ratifying and putting those treaty obligations into national law will potentially be a lot smoother, and everyone will be taken along on the journey.”

During the two-year negotiation period alone, the total amount of plastic pollution in the ocean is tipped to increase by 15 per cent, the WWF says.


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