The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has welcomed the release of the Commonwealth Government’s National Plastics Plan today, which sets out a future ban on certain ocean polluting plastics like expanded polystyrene and microfibres.
The plan includes a commitment to phase out loose fill and moulded polystyrene packaging by July 2022, expanded polystyrene foodware by December 2022, as well as oxo-degradable plastics (also known as bioplastics) and PVC packaging labels by December 2022.
Under the plan, the government will also work with industry to put microfibre filters in all new washing machines by 2030, to capture plastic microfibres that are flowing into waterways from households across Australia.
The plan also includes a commitment to establish a taskforce on cigarette butts, the most commonly found plastic in ocean cleanup surveys.
Shane Cucow, plastics spokesperson for AMCS, said the plan tackles many of the smaller plastics that are known to be lurking in Australia’s ocean ecosystems.
“We are pleased to see the Morrison Government’s commitment to fight the insidious problem of microplastics in our oceans,” he said.
“Plastics like expanded polystyrene and oxo-degradable plastics are difficult to recycle and don’t fully degrade.
“Instead they persist in the ocean as small plastic pieces that are easily eaten by ocean wildlife.
“Recent studies have shown microplastics are becoming ubiquitous in species such as sea turtles, with some evidence suggesting these plastics could be impacting gene expression, growth and survival rates of some animal species.
“For years we have known that tiny plastics like microbeads in beauty products and microfibres from our clothes are flowing out into our waterways every day.
“By working with industry to phase out these problem plastics, the Morrison Government is taking sensible steps to address the microplastics crisis at the source.
While the action on microplastics and problematic materials was welcome, Mr Cucow expressed concern that the plan relied too heavily on voluntary targets and didn’t go far enough on plastic packaging.
“By not including mandatory targets for reducing plastic packaging, the government is missing a critical opportunity to address one of the worst types of plastics polluting our oceans.
“Recent estimates show only 18% of plastic packaging is currently recycled or composted in Australia.
“We encourage the government to move urgently to make Australia’s plastic reduction targets mandatory. At the end of the day, voluntary targets have not given manufacturers sufficient incentive to cut their plastic pollution, and our ocean wildlife are paying the price.”