Australia needs EU-style plastic tax, research group says

Iranpolymer/Baspar An Australian research group has called for a European Union-style levy on virgin plastic packaging to raise funds to find alternative materials to plastics.

The Australia Institute is a Canberra-based public policy think tank conducts research on a broad range of economic, social and environmental issues.
Its report, Plastic Waste in Australia, says despite government policies aimed at creating a circular economy, only 14 percent of plastic waste is kept out of landfills.

“Recycling plastic is inefficient, expensive and hazardous, and there is little demand for recycled plastics. Policies to cap or phase down use of plastics, including a plastics tax, are needed,” the report says.
Nina Gbor, report co-author and the institute’s circular economy and waste program director, told Plastics News an EU-style tax on plastic packaging could raise nearly A$1.5 billion (US$989 million) annually.

“This revenue can go towards research and development into compostable, alternative materials to plastics and into recycling plastics. The EU has mapped out a solution we can implement” in Australia, she said.

Asked whether the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water, which has just released its report, Drowning in Waste, should have been more aggressive in its recommendations, Gbor said: “Choosing to remain handcuffed to the fallacy that we have no other alternatives but to keep using virgin and recycled plastics is not a solution.

“We can take an aggressive stance by implementing measures and specific targets to drastically reduce plastic use over time and gradually phase out plastics altogether.

“Understandably this is a difficult position to take but it’s the path to genuinely resolving the multifaceted issues from plastics and recycling it.”

Gbor said her report labeled plastics recycling as greenwashing because plastics are made from fossil fuels.

“The Australia Institute’s position is to end fossil fuels due to emissions and pollution. If we are sticking to emission reduction targets, aiming for an eventual end to plastics use is a good plan.

Aggressive investments

Gbor said more than 16,000 chemicals are used in plastic manufacturing and 4,200 of those are “considered to be highly hazardous to human health.” Another 11,000 of those chemicals had not yet been assessed.

“We have the opportunity to aggressively invest in research and development of plant-based alternatives to plastics that are compostable, have minimal emissions, and are non-toxic to humans, marine life and land,” she said.

“This may seem unrealistic but, with the advancements in tech, design and circular products we have seen in 2024, it’s not as far-fetched as one might think. We just have to be bold and direct our resources into genuine solutions to the plastics pollution crisis and persevere in this direction,” Gbor said.

An institute media release said the report’s analysis found the Australian Government could raise A$1,300 (US$857) per metric ton of virgin or unrecycled plastic through a levy on businesses that import or manufacture plastic packaging.

“If recycling was the solution to the plastic waste crisis, it would have been solved by now. Instead, it just encourages the production and consumption of even more waste that is choking our landfill and oceans,” Gbor said.

An EU levy introduced in 2021 requires member states to pay 800 euros per metric ton of plastic packaging waste that is not recycled.

“In Australian dollars, that equates to A$1,300 per [metric] ton. Given Australians [generate] 1.179 million tonnes of virgin plastic packaging waste a year, the government could raise A$1.46 billion through a user-pays levy,” Gbor said.

Voters polled by the Australia Institute backed stronger measures to crack down on plastic waste. Of 1,002 people surveyed, 85 percent support legislated waste reduction targets for producers, suppliers and retailers. A similar proportion backed laws requiring plastic products to contain recycled material and 78 percent endorsed a ban on plastics that cannot be recycled in curbside bins.

Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia CEO Gayle Sloan agreed a levy on virgin plastic is a good idea but said a raft of measures is needed.

“WMRR supports policies that decouple from reliance on virgin materials and keep materials and products circulating longer while minimizing environmental impact. We recognize there will be [several] policy levers pulled that will drive the uptake of recycled products and materials,” she told Plastics News.

“The increased use of recycled Australian materials has many benefits — a reduction in the use of virgin material would mean less strain on the planet’s finite resources — and increased use of Australian recyclate would create additional demand for recycled material, which in turn makes recycling more economically viable and creates green jobs in Australia,” Sloan said.

“A levy on virgin is a good idea, similarly mandated content targets, as both will help to drive the uptake of recycled content. The levy by creating an economic incentive to increase the competitiveness of recyclate and the content target to provide certainty to those that make and use recyclate.”

Sloan said Australia needs a suite of incentives and regulation to drive the fundamental shift in behavior required to improve management of material to address over production and over consumption, to meet the nation’s resource recovery and carbon targets by 2030.

“One of the great challenges we face is a lack of demand for recycled material. An incentive on the greater use of domestic recycled, or a disincentive on the use of virgin, would be welcomed by [the waste management] industry and help create certainty for the major investment required to build the infrastructure,” Sloan told Plastics News.

“The EU has legislated both these levers and others, such as sustainable design requirements, all of which we should adopt in Australia to [give] the entire plastics supply chain certainty and create a level playing field for all those that operate within it.”

The institute’s Gbor said Australia’s plastic consumption is increasing, not falling. “Just 14 percent of Australia’s plastic waste is recovered through recycling, composting or by being turned into energy, falling from 18 percent in 2008.

“The government needed to act yesterday and should start by following the EU’s lead,” she said.
“The estimated A$1.5 billion in tax revenue that’s recommended in our report could be used for recycling in the meantime and investing in plant-based or biomaterials that are non-toxic and compostable with as few emissions as possible.”

Gbor said research showed Australians support tougher action to curb plastic waste, and taxes and schemes requiring producers to fund the collection and recycling of plastic they produce are working overseas.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button