By 2050, the amount of plastic consumed in Australia will more than double. Despite government policies aimed at creating a ‘circular economy’, just 14% of plastic waste is kept out of landfill. Recycling plastic is inefficient, expensive and hazardous, and there is little demand for recycled plastics. Policies to cap or phase down the use of plastics, including a plastics tax, are needed.
In recent years the Australian Government has released several plans aimed at reducing the amount of plastic waste. These plans include the 2018 National Waste Policy, the 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan, the Australian Packaging Covenant, and a goal to recycle or reuse 100% of plastic waste and end plastic pollution by 2040.
What is common to all of these policies is that they focus on recovery, particularly recycling, and not on reducing the production and consumption of plastics in the first place.
The inexorable increase in the growth in plastics waste shows that existing policies are not working. Existing approaches to dealing with plastic waste – including energy recovery (using it for fuel), composting, and recycling – are not making a significant contribution to reducing the amount of plastic waste that is created. Only about 15% of all plastic waste generated over the last 20 years has been recovered through recycling, composting or energy recovery.
These forms of plastic waste recovery have not kept pace with consumption and waste because they are difficult and costly, and unlikely to ever match current levels of plastic waste.
If Australia is to turn the tide on plastics waste, more effective policies that reduce production and consumption are needed.