The Australian federal government has launched the National Plastics Plan, which seeks to deal with plastic pollution in various areas. According to the government, the plan will be aimed at banning single-use plastics on beaches, ending expanded polystyrene packaging and introducing microplastic filters for washing machines. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the plan is that the government intends to bring biodegradable plastic to an end. Most countries that have plastic pollution reduction plans tend to be lenient on biodegradable plastic products. But experts have warned that biodegradable plastic is not any better than regular plastic.
The term “biodegradable plastic” is used to mean plastic derived from plant-based materials and is said to be biodegradable after use. It is also often called bioplastic. While some people may think that biodegradable is good, there are no standards that regulate the type of products that can be labeled as biodegradable. Some of these products can take several decades or centuries in landfills before breaking down.
The recently unveiled plan seeks to bring together industry players to forge a way forward in dealing with the problem. Its implementation will lead to the phasing out of “fragmentable” plastic by July 2022.
The other area of concern for the Australian government is recyclable plastic. Many companies produce plastics in huge quantities and label them as recyclable. The problem is that only 18% of plastics in Australia are recycled while just 9% of plastics are recycled globally. Recycling plastics is a process that still faces plenty of challenges. First, recycling is very expensive compared to making new plastics from fossil fuels. As a result, most companies prefer investing in fresh plastic.
In Australia, the recycling system is well-developed, but it faces challenges of cost and waste separation at residential levels.
The National Plastics Plan will also seek to deal with compostable plastic. The Australian government already has regulatory standards and certifications for this type of plastic. Unfortunately, most of the standards only apply to plastics that can be composted within an industrial facility. The plan hopes to help recover more plastic through methods like composting, but the government has yet to outline how it will support specialized collection and composting systems.
Image via Brian Yurasits