“Recovery has not kept pace with the increase in waste,” the report says. “Only 14% of plastic waste generated in 2020–21 was recovered – this is a decline from a high of nearly 18% in 2008. Over a 20-year period the rate of recovery has, at best, remained stable, and at worst – as an Australian Government report states – is ‘even trending down’,” the authors added.
As to why plastic recovery has not kept pace with consumption and waste production, the report’s authors say ‘to put it simply, plastic recovery is difficult and costly… In other words, plastic policy in Australia has historically focused more on increasing recycling rather than reducing consumption. But the problem is that there is too much plastic and, as this research makes clear, we cannot recycle ourselves out of the problem. Reducing plastic consumption needs to be an explicit policy goal if waste is to be reduced’.
In response, the authors suggest Australia follows the footsteps of the European Union and the United Kingdom in introducing a plastic tax to help reduce plastic packaging. It estimates that if Australia taxed virgin plastic packaging at the same rate as the EU (€800 per tonne), it would translate to a tax of approximately AUD 1,300 per tonne.
The latest Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation report estimates that 1.179 million tonnes of plastic packaging was placed on the Australian market in 2020-2021. Of this, approximately 1.12 million tonnes are estimated to be sourced from virgin feedstocks.
“If the estimated consumption of virgin plastic packaging was taxed at this rate, it would raise $1.457 billion. To put this into context, the Australian Government’s Recycling Modernisation Fund – which is for many kinds of waste besides plastic – is worth just $250 million. Such a tax on plastics would provide nearly six times that amount,” the report says.
The authors conclude that making virgin plastic more expensive would encourage companies to move towards more sustainable materials or more recyclable forms of plastic. It would also, they argue, make recycle plastic more competitive with virgin, ‘therefore providing a financial incentive for industry to change its ways’.