Labor to ban single-use plastic bags, microbeads

Labor to introduce national ban on single use plastic bags and microbeads from 2021.

A Labor government will introduce a national ban on lightweight, single-use plastic bags and microbeads from 2021 under its new plan to cut waste.

The move is part of a planned $290 million spend by Labor if elected to make Australia a world leader in tackling plastic use and boosting recycling.

The announcement follows the moves of many state and territories to phase out single-use plastic bags, as well as manufacturers phasing out microbeads, which are used in personal care, cosmetic and cleaning products such as heavy-duty hand soaps. It also follows Labor’s proposal last week to replace the minimum wage with a living wage.

Other initiatives under Labour’s broader Recycling and Waste Strategy include a $60 million national recycling fund, the creation of  national container deposit scheme and the appointment of a national waste commissioner.

Labor wants to see 70 per cent of Australia’s plastic packages recycled or composted by 2025, with government departments to be required to purchase recycled products. Last year COAG agreed to a set of 2025 targets to reduce plastics – including that 100 per cent of all Australia’s packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 or earlier.

The policy has been welcomed by ecolabel Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA).

“We celebrate leadership in moving away from microbeads and single-use plastics. Single-use plastics and microbeads can accumulate in the environment with terrible consequences for wildlife and their habitats,” GECA CEO Kate Harris said.

“At GECA, our vision is for a sustainable future for people and planet. We recognise that achieving this includes supporting positive and realistic continuous improvement from all levels of government, businesses, our fellow not for profits and indeed all communities seeking to create positive change.”

Pete Shmigel, CEO of the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) said the proposal is a “bold boost” for Australia’s recycling and remanufacturing industry.

“Labor has recognised recycling is a national issue and a national opportunity, and that we need to secure our domestic recycling sovereignty and future resources.”

Shmige said Labor’s initiative will lift Australia from its 17th position in the world in terms of recycling rates and grow the sector from the current 50,000 jobs.

National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has also thrown its support behind the new waste and recycling policies offered by Labor, however, the association has also called for a bi-partisan approach to advancing the industry

“The National Waste Recycling Industry Council is calling for a bi-partisan approach to harmonising the regulations protecting our industry. This process has been a clear success for work health and safety and heavy vehicle laws,” Rose Read, CEO of the NWRIC.

Despite these welcome changes, the National Waste Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) is concerned that Labor has committed to roll back the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF).

Conversely, the Coalition has committed $2 billion to the successor of the ERF – the Climate Solutions Fund. Through the ERF, a number of leading recycling initiatives have been funded, including returning composting to soils and harvesting renewable energy from biogas. Industry calls for the protection of this important program.

“Waste and recycling services are essential to all Australians. Therefore, it is critical that whichever party wins the upcoming federal election – they work proactively with industry to create jobs, serve communities, protect workers and reduce pollution.”

Last month Hobart City Council voted in favour of a by-law designed to restrict the use of single-use plastic takeaway packaging. The by-law encompasses the packaging in which takeaway food is supplied to consumers at the point of sale, including plastic cutlery; sauce sachets; plastic takeaway hot food containers and lids; plastic straws; plastic lined noodle boxes; plastic lined coffee cups; plastic lids on takeaway cups and plastic sandwich wedges.

The announcement followed Qantas Group’s plans to become world’s first airline to reuse, recycle and compost three-quarters of its general waste by the end of 2021, and the ACT government’s proposal to ban single-use plastics.

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