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‘Intervene’: Pressure on retailers to clean up their act


Major supermarkets and multinational brands are under pressure to reduce packaging waste, with growing calls for the government to intervene.

Green senator Peter Whish-Wilson’s frustrations boiled over as he questioned senior officials about voluntary targets under an industrial plan.

“What gives you confidence that they’re going to solve this problem when they literally haven’t given anything about it for decades?” she asked executives from the environment department.

He was referring to the mandated objectives of the Australian Packaging Compact Organization, whose members include thousands of companies, from major packaging manufacturers and retailers to international brands.

Environment Department senior executive Kate Lynch agreed that some of the “ambitious” targets would not be met.

“But having the goals in place is still a useful exercise,” he told a Senate hearing on Thursday night.

The Green senator asked when Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek would decide it was time to “step in and regulate.”

He also questioned how Australia could support a legally binding international treaty on plastic pollution, without doing any of that at home.

“Don’t you see an irony in that?”

Climate Change Assistant Minister Jenny McAllister said the government did not believe progress to date had been adequate.

But she said that two things were happening.

“Our intention is to be a good international citizen and play our part in driving international action. But it is also our intention to work hard in our national environment, to put our house in order”.

The minister said there was broad agreement between the federal and state governments to pursue plastics stewardship agreements.

She said that Ms Plibersek was “thinking about regulatory arrangements” within that context.

Work was also progressing to increase the nation’s recycling capacity, one of the factors behind the collapse of the REDcycle soft plastics recycling scheme.

Senator McAllister said the collapse was extremely disappointing and it was only right for Coles and Woolworths to deal with the mountains of debris.

It also emerged that the department knew two weeks before the public that REDcycle was hoarding plastic.

The department became aware of concerns about REDcycle’s reserves when it met with the company and other industry figures in October.

That was two weeks before the suspension of the scheme on November 9.

The department provided advice to the minister at the time, but it was not made public.

The private company behind REDcycle has been put into liquidation.