Plastic recovery rates stuck in the slow lane, APCO warns

Some 2025 National Packaging Targets will not be achievable without interventions, a new report suggests.

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) says plastic remains a concern, with recovery rates showing no significant improvements over a three-year period.

“Modelling predicts a recovery rate of 36 percent with currently planned infrastructure and capacity improvements,” the report says.

“PET is the only polymer expected to reach a 70 percent recovery rate by 2024-25.”

The report says the recovery rate for paper and paperboard has increased to 68 percent compared to 63 percent in the previous two years, but add that expected strong consumption growth, combined with bans on the export of unprocessed paper may lead to a gap in local recycling capacity.

Just over 900,00 tonnes of plastic packaging went to landfill in 2019-20 the report says, largely because of gaps and barriers in the collection and recycling systems, including:

  • poor source separation of kerbside materials;
  • insufficient collection of non-kerbside household material;
  • Insufficient collection of commercial and industrial packaging;
  • inadequate sorting capacity in MRFs; and
  • insufficient reprocessing capacity.

The report’s authors say that in order to meet the 2025 targets, stakeholders will need to address challenges such as building capacity and capability in SMEs to address the technical changes required for sustainable packaging.

Implementing nationally consistent approaches to regulatory interventions by state and federal governments also remains a challenge.

Click here to read or download APCO’s Collective Impact Report.

In related news, single-use plastics will be phased out in NSW within a year after state parliament passed the Plastics and Circular Economy Act 2021 last week.

Lightweight plastic bags will be banned from June 2022, followed by plastic straws, cutlery, stirrers, cotton buds, plates, and bowls, and expanded polystyrene food service items from 1 November 2022.

Microbeads will be phased out of products such as handwash and make-up, with Environment Minister Matt Kean saying the legislation was a “game-changer” in the state’s fight against plastic waste.

The legislation is expected to stop 2.7 billion single-use items from ending up in NSW waterways and environments over the next 20 years.