On 12 September 2019, the Senate referred the Product Stewardship Amendment (Packaging and Plastics) Bill 2019 (the bill) to the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report by the last sitting day of March 2020.
On 16 September 2019, the Senate granted an extension of time to report until 14 May 2020. A further extension was granted on 26 March 2020 to the second sitting Wednesday of 2021 (17 February 2021).
Purpose of the bill
The Explanatory Memorandum states that the bill would amend the Product Stewardship Act 2011 (the PSA Act) to establish:
…a mandatory product stewardship scheme for manufacturers, importers and distributors of consumer packaging and certain single-use plastics; and prescribes targets, prohibitions, design requirements, labelling requirements, and financial contributions in relation to packaging and products identified under the scheme.
The bill is a Private Senator's Bill introduced by Senator Peter Whish-Wilson. In his Second Reading Speech, Senator Whish-Wilson outlined what the bill would achieve:
In essence, this Bill does two things: it makes the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation's 2025 National Packaging Targets mandatory; and it emulates the European Union's directive that bans and otherwise restricts the most problematic of single-use plastics.
Senator Whish-Wilson argued that the bill would respond to:
…the twin crises that are a result of our current approach to packaging and plastics: a recycling industry that is in disarray; and a torrent of plastic waste that is choking our oceans.
These crises have arisen because the environmental harm caused by end‑of-life plastic and packaging is external to the market. Production and consumption is largely disconnected from disposal. Retail is about selling products, not what happens afterwards.
This Bill tackles these market failures head-on by establishing a mandatory product stewardship scheme that will require manufacturers, importers and distributors of consumer packaging and certain single-use plastics to deal with the problem.
The Recycling and Waste Reduction Act
On 8 December 2020 the Parliament passed a suite of legislation that repealed the PSA Act, and subsumed its provisions and functions in a new Commonwealth Act, the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020 (RWR Act). The establishment of this Act, which commenced on 1 January 2021, has effectively superseded the bill currently being examined, as the PSA Act it would amend has been formally repealed and therefore no longer exists.
The RWR Act includes a waste export ban, which prohibits the export of unprocessed waste materials on the following timeline:
glass from 1 January 2021;
mixed plastics from 1 July 2021;
whole used tyres from 1 December 2021;
single resin or polymer plastics from 1 July 2022; and
mixed and unsorted paper and cardboard from 1 July 2024.
In repealing and subsuming the provisions of the PSA Act, the RWR Act sets out a framework of obligations for manufacturers, importers and distributors of certain products, as well as for the accreditation of voluntary product stewardship arrangements.
The committee considered the provisions of this suite of legislation establishing the RWR Act before it was considered and passed by the Senate.
Although the RWR Act has superseded the bill currently being examined, the committee is concluding its inquiry with this report.
Administration of the inquiry and acknowledgement
The committee called for submissions on its website in the usual manner and wrote to a number of organisations inviting submissions. The committee received 67 submissions from organisations and individuals, which are available on the inquiry page of the committee’s website and listed at Appendix 1. The committee also received 4551 form letters from individuals and 1879 short statements for this inquiry in support of the bill. It has published the form letter and some examples of short statements on the committee’s website.
The committee held two hearings in Canberra, on 29 July and 24 August 2020. A full list of witnesses that gave evidence at these hearings can be found at Appendix 2 of this report. The Hansard transcripts of evidence from these hearings can be found on the committee’s website.
The committee thanks all the organisations and individuals that participated in this inquiry by making submissions and giving evidence at public hearings.
Evidence received by the committee was strongly supportive of the intention of the bill to reduce plastic waste in the environment and drive reform in the waste recycling and manufacturing sectors. This included support from stakeholders from state, territory and local governments, business and industry, environmental organisations, and individuals.
Some stakeholders supported particular provisions of the bill that would:
make manufacturers responsible for their packaging;
reduce the amount of plastics being used and consumed;
increase recycled content in packaging; and
reduce plastic products in land and marine environment, and in landfill.
Some evidence supported the national approach adopted by the bill, which it was argued would give consistency to the legal requirements and policy initiatives across all jurisdictions.
Some submitters also supported the bill’s provisions that would make the current voluntary National Packaging Targets mandatory. It was suggested that the current voluntary targets, which are administered by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), have not been widely adopted or implemented by industry.
Some evidence cited the economic benefits of boosting the recyclables sector, which would not only reduce costs for consumers and businesses, but drive employment and positive outcomes for industry.
However, there were concerns raised about the bill, including that:
APCO’s established system of voluntary targets provides a flexible and agile approach to managing waste and recycling, which is best-positioned to encourage industry to improve packaging standards and management of recyclables;
the bill is premature, as a number of relevant Commonwealth-led initiatives and policies have recently been implemented, and these should be given a chance to drive change before further regulatory change is considered;
there are significant barriers to participation of industry stakeholders in a mandatory scheme, including a ‘lack of clean glass from kerbside collections, which limits the recycled content in local bottles, the lack of availability of recycled food grade plastic packaging, a need to review quality standards of recycled content, ensure traceability around the supply chain, and a general lack of local processing infrastructure’;
the Australian recycling and manufacturing sectors do not yet have the capacity to handle the large volume of recyclates that mandatory targets would generate, without significant government investment; and
the provisions of the bill could lead to perverse outcomes, including a potential increased use of some paper materials by industry and private enterprise, which could in turn increase the total volume of waste generated.
The committee notes that the PSA Act, that this bill aims to amend, has been repealed by the RWR Act (which came into force on
1 January 2021). This means that this bill has been superseded, as the legislation it aims to amend no longer exists in Australian law.
The RWR Act is landmark legislation for Australia’s waste management system and recycling industry. The Act has initiated an export ban to encourage the management of prominent waste streams within Australia. It also incorporates the scope of former PSA Act, while strengthening the former legislative approach to product stewardship.
These reforms will encourage industry to be more responsible for the waste it generates, including through improving design standards, and the increased recovery and re-use of recyclables. This will not only deliver positive outcomes for our environment and human health, but also lift employment and drive growth in our recyclables industry and related sectors.
The committee inquired into the legislation establishing the RWR Act in October 2020. At that time the committee noted that:
Participants in this inquiry consistently told the committee that this legislation is an important and transformative Commonwealth initiative. It was clearly recognised that its implementation would be a significant step forward for Australia’s approach to recycling and waste management and have positive effects on the sustainability of our national product stewardship arrangements.
The government has indicated it may introduce stronger regulatory solutions, should the existing voluntary arrangements in the RWR Act not be successful. For instance, in introducing the RWR bill, the Minister for the Environment, the Hon Sussan Ley MP, stated that the new legislation:
…provides the incentive for industries to act and to demonstrate leadership but it also sends a clear signal that the time to show that leadership is now.
Those industries that do not step up and do not take part can assume that the government will step in for them, and enforce its own regulatory scheme.
To support this legislative reform, the government has developed a range of transformative policy initiatives to Australia’s recycling and waste management framework. This includes the initiatives announced on
6 July 2020, including:
$190 million for a Recycling Modernisation Fund, which aims to generate $600 million in private investment in the recycling industry, the creation of 10,000 jobs, and enable the transformation of Australia's capacity to process and recycle waste products;
$35 million to implement National Waste Policy Action Plan commitments;
$24.6 million to improve data on national waste, to track recycling outcomes and national waste targets.
The government has recently reached Recycling Modernisation Fund agreements with Tasmania, New South Wales and Western Australia, which will jointly fund infrastructure to drive transformation of our waste and recycling capability.
The committee recognises that this comprehensive suite of legislative and policy reforms has superseded the bill currently being considered.
The committee recommends that the Senate not pass the bill.
Senator the Hon David Fawcett