On the 9th of June 2023, Australia's state environment ministers and the federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, met in Sydney to discuss cooperation towards achieving a "Nature Positive Australia to leave our environment better off for our kids and grandkids."
The ministers agreed to work towards the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework targets. These included:
By mid-2024: setting ambitious national targets in line with the Global Biodiversity Framework
By 2024: Have a roadmap developed to protect and conserve 30% of Australia’s land
Strengthen Australia’s marine protection, and identify shared marine and coastal protection, pollution abatement and restoration actions to include in a national Sustainable Ocean Plan.
One of the key proposals from the meeting was in regards to plastic packaging, with the Environment Ministers' Meeting Agreed Communiqué stating that the ministers had agreed to:
"Shift Australia toward a safer, circular economy* by putting in place a new packaging regulatory scheme that will for the first time, develop mandatory packaging design obligations, so packaging is designed to minimise waste and be recovered, reused, recycled and reprocessed."
[*Emphasis in original.]
This move towards a 'circular economy' was highlighted as "a big challenge" within the Communiqué with only 12% of plastics being recycled in Australia between 2020 and 2021.
In a press release, Ms. Plibersek explained the new plastic packaging guidelines:
"These new rules will help make sure packaging waste is minimised in the first place, and where packaging is used it is designed to be recovered, reused, recycled, or reprocessed. The rules will include mandatory packaging design standards and targets – including for recycled content and to address the use of harmful chemicals in food packaging. This is about designing out packaging waste from the start. More than 70 per cent of the environmental impacts of an item are locked in at the design stage, before anyone ever purchases a product, and well before reuse or disposal is considered. Environment ministers expect the companies responsible for producing packaging to take responsibility for their waste."
Ms. Plibersek also noted the harms caused by plastic:
"It’s clear that voluntary targets and design guidelines aren’t working. Three million tonnes of packaging is sent to landfill each year – equivalent to around 200 billion chip packets. We have plastic packaging littering our oceans, choking animals, and taking up to 1000 years to break down in landfill."