On World Environment Day, WMRR Calls for a Comprehensive Mandated EPR Scheme for Soft Plastics in Australia

5 June 2023

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) has today, called on all Australian Environment Ministers to put in place a fully funded and regulated, mandatory national extended producer responsibility scheme for soft plastics (indeed all packaging), that places clear and enforceable obligations on the manufacturers and producers of this material. 

Soft plastics are the fastest growing plastic packaging category, almost always single-use, with very low recycling and recovery rates. Australia has seen first-hand, with the cessation of the REDcycle scheme that it is probably the most challenging market segment to address on the Circular Economy journey. To achieve meaningful progress, we must however reduce our use of plastics, increase reuse models and fundamentally redesign our approach to plastic packaging across its whole lifecycle.

“WMRR does not deny that there have been significant challenges in dealing with soft plastics, which is why strong action needs to be taken now," said Ms Gayle Sloan, CEO of WMRR. “As the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) noted in its 2020 Roadmap, developing a circular economy for soft plastics is hampered by the material’s diversity, complexity, single-use nature, and low market value. Phasing out or redesigning problematic formats is an important part of the solution.” 

Which leads us to the much-touted Australian Food and Grocery Council’s (AFGC) National Plastics Recycling Scheme (NPRS) for soft plastics. “This scheme, despite all the noise, simply seeks to have the council-funded kerbside system turned into the primary collection mechanism for soft plastic packaging in Australia. The NPRS does not constitute an EPR scheme as it fails to create a comprehensive approach that addresses the full life cycle of plastics. 

“This scheme appears to be “product stewardship” in name only, with councils expected to cover much of the cost and all the risk." Said Ms Sloan.  The AFGC’s proposed NPRS does not impose any clear or enforceable obligations on members or other soft plastics producers. Much like the REDcycle program, involvement with this scheme would allow AFGC members to peddle their environmental credentials without any accountability for the materials collected through the scheme, for example, there are no obligations on producers to utilise Australian recycled content collected or adhere to the CEFLEX design standard. The scheme also fails to establish national infrastructure for reprocessing or address the most difficult and challenging part of the system, namely the creation of demand and end markets for the Australian collected material.” 

WMRR is calling on all Environment Ministers to work together now, to address the entire system and not continue to fall into the trap of the prior Commonwealth governments and simply focus on the collection systems, without putting equal or greater focus on waste avoidance and minimisation at the design and production stages, and on end market development including the use of Australian recycled materials. 

“On World Environment Day 2023 we need comprehensive action, not simply knee-jerk reactions,” said Ms Sloan.