The 2021 national plastics plan in a nutshell

national plastics plan

By Dimitris Dimoliatis and Mike Ritchie, MRA Consulting Group

Just over a year ago, the government released Australia’s National Plastics Plan 2021. The plan relies on voluntary actions and aims to provide guidance for increasing plastic recycling, finding alternatives to unnecessary plastics and reducing the environmental impact of plastic.

One year on, and it looks like most of its targets will be missed, including the phasing out of EPS packaging and containers, the certification to Australian standards of all compostable packaging and the phasing out of  PVC labels.

Although its implementation has been less than ideal, the pan itself provides a strong foundation for tackling plastic waste in Australia. We take a look at the plan’s key points.

Plastics in numbers

  • 5 MT of plastic waste generated annually.
  • 5 MT of plastic used in FY2018-19 of which, 60 per cent was imported.
  • 1 MT of which is single-use plastic.
  • 70 billion items of soft plastic used each year.
  • 84 per cent of plastic used is sent to landfill per year, only 13 per cent is recycled.
  • About 130 thousand tonnes (5 per cent) of plastic ends up in the ocean.
  • Plastic production is expected to double in the next decade.

Reducing the impact

  • Phase out problematic and unnecessary plastics by 2025.
  • Eliminate single-use plastics from beaches.
  • 2021 plastic design summit put forward sustainable product designs.
  • Industry to transition to easily recyclable plastics.
  • By 2025, 100 per cent of plastic packaging should be recyclable, reusable, or compostable.
  • Export ban of unsorted mixed plastic from July 2021 and unprocessed single polymer or resin plastics from July 2022.
  • Support recycling industry and plastic stewardship schemes.
  • Solutions for regional plastic waste collection and reprocessing.
  • By 2025 70 per cent of plastic packaging to be recycled or composted.
  • By 2025 50 per cent of average recycled content included in packaging (20 per cent for plastic packaging).
  • Review the existing regulatory arrangements (Used Packaging Materials NEPM and Australian Packaging Covenant) to reduce the environmental impacts of packaging.
  • Establish an Australian Circular Economy Hub and market place by the end of 2021.
  • Establish nationally consistent performance standards for material recovery facilities.
  • Industry to use more recycled plastics.
  • Include the value of materials’ processing in the prices of products.

Residential plastics

  • 80 per cent of supermarket products to display the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) by the end of 2023.
  • The Government will investigate companies involved in “Greenwashing”.
  • Standardise kerbside recycling collection in Australia.
  • Roll out Recycle Mate app in 2021 to help residents identify the recyclability of products.
  • Australian Government to continue working on CDSs with state/territory governments.

Plastics in oceans and waterways

  • A new global agreement to co-ordinate global action on marine litter and microplastic pollution.
  • Use microfibre filters on residential and commercial washing machines by the middle of 2030.
  • Reduce cigarette butt littering via potential stewardship schemes.
  • Find solutions to prevent plastic debris entering waterways via stormwater.
  • Establish a national monitoring protocol and database for plastic pollution.
  • Industry to participate in Operation Clean Sweep to eliminate pre-production plastic resin pellet, flake, recycled chip and powder loss.
  • Continue to implement the Marine Debris Threat Abatement Plan.
  • Establish an Indonesia-Australia Systemic Innovation Lab on Marine Plastic Waste.
  • Reduce shipping waste by implementing the Marine Litter from Ships and the Ship-Generated Garbage in the Pacific Action Plan.


  • By 2022 – Phase out EPS packaging and containers, certify to Australian Standards all claimed compostable packaging and phase out PVC labels.
  • By 2023 – ARL to be displayed on at least 80 per cent of supermarket products by 2023.
  • By 2025 – Phase out single-use plastic packaging; 100 per cent of packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable; 70 per cent of plastic packaging to be recycled or composted; and increase recycled content in plastics (average 50 per cent of all packaging and 20 per cent of plastic packaging)
  • By mid 2030 – Mandate microfibre filters on residential and commercial washing machines.

Grants and funding

  • $600 million (from The Recycling Modernisation Fund) to be invested in Australia’s recycling industry.
  • $7 million (National Product Stewardship Investment Fund) to support 10 projects
  • $16 million to help Pacific Island countries.
  • $14.8 million to remove ghost nets from Northern Australia.

The way forward

For the Plan to achieve its goals, it is important that the Commonwealth mandates these actions, transparently monitors progress towards each target, and updates the plan to include cigarette butts and soft plastics; revise the targets and introduce new ones as needed; and add sustainable procurement guidelines to avoid the use of plastic where possible.

As with most waste systems, there are significant differences in how each state and territory approaches plastic management. It is time the Commonwealth steps in to facilitate the harmonisation of state and local government actions across Australia. A unified approach will go a long way to achieving the plan’s goals and can act as a template for further harmonisation in waste management.

For more information, contact:

Mike Ritchie is MD of MRA Consulting Group.

Dimitris is a Principal Consultant and heads MRA’s Carbon team.

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