A new global comparison of plastics waste management has been released overnight, with Australia scoring 7th place for its efforts to control plastic pollution, behind European countries, Japan, the UK and the US.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), a key contributor to the report, said the new global index showed Australia still has a long way to go if the Prime Minister truly wants the nation to be leading the world in the fight against plastic.
“This landmark global index shows that Australia needs to rapidly accelerate action to save our ocean wildlife from being buried in plastic.” said Shane Cucow, AMCS plastics expert.
The Plastics Management Index (PMI), which is a project of Back to Blue, an initiative of Economist Impact and The Nippon Foundation, measures the efforts made by 25 countries to stop plastic pollution. Its goal is to assess each country’s capacity to minimise plastics mismanagement or leakages across the plastics lifecycle, while promoting the optimal production and use of plastic as a resource. In so doing, it measures progress in policy, regulation and business practice, while also incorporating consumer actions and perspectives.
Germany is the top performer overall, ranking first for governance and third for capacity to manage plastics. Europe leads in efforts to manage plastics, while Asia lags – despite producing half the world’s plastics.
While Australia was found to be performing above the global average, it ranked poorly for efficient collection and sorting of plastic (16th place), plastic waste management (14th place) and private sector commitments (10th place).
Mr Cucow said a large part of the problem was that Australia had avoided dealing with the problem for so long.
“For too long, Australia’s governments ignored the problem, shipping our plastic waste overseas for other countries to deal with. Now that they’ve stopped taking our trash, our inadequate recycling infrastructure is now completely overwhelmed and we’re scrambling to catch up.
“Yet recycling alone won’t solve the problem. At the end of the day, despite good intentions most companies are still producing more plastic packaging than we can ever hope to recover.
“While some states have taken critical steps such as banning dangerous single-use plastics, as a nation we are still relying too heavily on companies taking voluntary action – an approach which has proven to be a failure time and time again.
“To take the lead, Australia needs to set mandatory targets for cutting plastic, introduce incentives to reduce the use of virgin plastics, and we must rapidly accelerate our efforts to build the modern recycling and composting infrastructure that we are missing,” Mr Cucow said.
The report also highlights a need for improved global governance and resource sharing, with most lower-middle-income countries struggling across the board, facing a range of governance, systemic capacity and stakeholder engagement challenges.
Mr Cucow said that the report highlighted above all else the need for a global plastics treaty.
“One thing is abundantly clear, the world cannot continue on this path to a polluted planet. We are on track to have more plastic than fish in our seas and if we don’t act together the consequences will be disastrous.
“Without one clear global framework and binding global targets for plastic reduction, we have seen piecemeal action that has not delivered the pace of change required.
“We welcome the report’s strong recommendation calling for a legally binding Paris-style agreement and a global body to oversee plastics pollution,” Mr Cucow said.
The Plastics Management Index assesses each country against 3 categories: governance, which assesses a country’s mix of laws, regulations and incentives for plastics management; systemic capacity, which measures a country’s ability to collect, sort and recycle plastic waste, and its investment in capacity-building efforts; and stakeholder engagement, which looks at international and national efforts by governments to combat plastic waste, along with the endeavours made by the private sector and consumers.
Access the full report and country by country data at https://backtoblueinitiative.com/