Sustainability & Environment
Many retailers have been proactive in improving their environmental footprint for many years, providing consumers with access to more sustainable alternatives, in-store recycling, ethical sourcing, and company-wide sustainability policies.
Though most retailers strongly support sustainable initiatives, it is a complex and sometimes overwhelming challenge as they are faced with ever evolving – and sometimes conflicting – research, products, materials, processes and regulations.
Governments in multiple states and territories are currently either implementing or considering bans on a range of plastic items.
The National Retail Association is involved across all jurisdictions, representing retailer perspectives and ultimately encouraging national consistency to prevent negative impacts and confusion.
Download our Summary Table on current and proposed legislation affecting single-use plastic.DOWNLOAD
Many areas of sustainability currently affect retailers, and the NRA is actively engaged in numerous projects and regulatory consultation.
Key Terms & Definitions
- Degradable plastics
Plastic which includes a chemical additive to accelerate the fragmentation of the material into smaller pieces, triggered by UV, heat, oxygen, water or microbial action. Includes “oxo-degradable” and “oxo-biodegradable” plastics. Current research suggests degradable plastics of any kind are potentially worse for our environment as they break into microplastics. Many governments around the world are moving towards bans on all forms of degradable plastics.
- Compostable plastics
Plastic which is made from a material which has been proven to break down completely into natural substances within a set timeframe, environment and toxicity rate. “Compostable” plastics must meet Australian Standard AS4736 (commercial composting) or AS5810 (home composting). An example of a commercially compostable plastic is polylactic acid (PLA). Commercially compostable plastics do NOT biodegrade if littered.
- “Biodegradable” plastics
While claims of “biodegradability” are often used, there is no Australian Standard for biodegradability as the ability to biodegrade depends on many factors. The ONLY Australian Standards are those relating to compostability.
There is no clear definition of “reusability”, that is, how many times something must be reused. Claims of reusability should be carefully assessed.
- “Sustainably sourced”
Multiple factors can influence if a product is sustainably sourced such as renewable materials, low-resource materials, ethical practices, modern slavery practices, and many more. In regards to paper and timber products, certification is available through the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC).
- Degradable plastics
Update Nov 2020
- Following MEM’s agreement to the National Waste Policy Action Plan back in November, stakeholders are keenly awaiting the establishment of governance arrangements and resourcing that will put the ‘Action’ into ‘Action Plan’.
- Consultation has closed on the December 2019 Regulatory Impact Statement for the proposed COAG waste export ban.
- The National Plastics Summit was held at Parliament House in Canberra on 2 March. At the Summit several key announcements were made by industry on how they will help address the plastic challenge:
- the Pact Group announced it will invest $500 million in facilities, research and technology to increase the use of sustainable packaging. The result will be that Pact will have 30 per cent recycled content across its product portfolio by 2025 and keep nearly two billion plastic containers out of landfill.
- McDonald’s will phase out plastic cutlery by the end of 2020, preventing 585 tonnes of plastic waste each year. This is in addition to McDonald’s previous commitment to phase out 500 million straws every year and takes their total annual plastic reduction to 860 tonnes.
- Nestlé will partner with waste management company IQ Renew in a trial that will see soft plastics collected and recycled from over 100,000 homes, diverting approximately 750 tonnes of soft plastic otherwise headed for landfill.
- On 9 February, nine research projects dealing with waste and recycling were announced under the Government’s CRC-P program, including projects covering recycling microfactories, chemical recycling and using recovered plastic in building materials.
- The NRA is part of QLD’s Single-Use Plastics Stakeholder Taskforce to help develop appropriate legislation to phase out certain single use plastics.
- June 2020: QLD Department of Environment & Science received an overwhelming response to its discussion paper for submissions.
- Has introduced Waste Reduction and Recycling (Plastic Items) Amendment Bill 2020 banning certain single use plastic items and continuing a series of stakeholder workshops. Legislation put on hold due to election.
New South Wales:
- Recently released Plastics Plan
- The NSW Government confirmed that single-use plastic shopping bags will be banned and other items are under consideration.
See the NRA submission here >
- Recently released 20 Year Waste Strategy – submissions now closed.
- The NRA is part of the ACT’s Single-Use Plastics Stakeholder Taskforce to help develop appropriate legislation to phase out certain single use plastics.
- Exposure Draft of Plastic Reduction Bill 2020 soon to go before Parliament, expect it to come into effect (if passed) no earlier than mid-2021.
- See NRA submission >
- Recycling Victoria Plan (circular economy policy) released.
- Infrastructure Victoria is continuing to develop advice to government on how to build a better recycling and resource recovery industry for Victoria.
- The EPA is preparing for the commencement of the new Environment Protection Act on 1 July 2020. The Act provides for a major revamp of the EPA, deals extensively with waste for the first time, and establishes a General Environmental Duty for all corporations. Draft Regulations include Victoria’s implementation of the National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure, and include a packaging recycling target of 70% for liable parties that are not signatories to the Covenant.
- The Single-use and Other Plastic Products (Waste Avoidance) Bill 2019 has passed parliament as it expected to come into effect on 1 March 2021.
- The NRA made multiple submissions at various stages on behalf of the retail industry.
- The NRA is continuing to participate in:
- the review of SA’s beverage container deposit scheme.
- SA’s Single Use Plastics Stakeholder Taskforce
- Please note that changes have been made to the Bill submitted to Parliament which the NRA believes are problematic. More detail here >
- See NRA media release re passing of SA Bill
On 8 November, the WA Government released its released Western Australia’s Plan for Plastics, proposing action on:
Short-term actions to be implemented from 2020 to 2023 include the phasing-out of plastic:
- thick plastic bags
- polystyrene food containers
- helium balloon releases
Medium-term actions to be introduced from 2024 to 26 include the phasing-out of plastic:
- barrier/produce bags
- polystyrene packaging
- cotton buds with plastic shafts; and
- oxo-degradable plastics (plastics designed to break up more rapidly into fragments under certain conditions)
The plan also includes actions on prepacked fruit and vegetables, takeaway food containers and plastic packaging.
- Tasmania’s draft Waste Action Plan includes commitments to replace the current voluntary regional council waste levies with a legislated state-wide waste levy by 2021 and to introduce a Container Refund Scheme in Tasmania by the end of 2022.
- The City of Hobart by-law banning single use plastic packaging and foodware in Hobart has commenced. Read more on the by-law >
National Waste Policy
We commend the Australian Government, states/territories, and local government involved in the National Waste Policy Action Plan for the recognition of the complex challenges and for launching a national pathway for government, industry and consumers.
More information:NATIONAL WASTE POLICY
Plastic Bag Bans
Seven of eight Australian states or territories will have bag bans in place by the end of 2019.
The NRA supports bans on lightweight plastic shopping bags if they are nationally consistent and support is provided to retailers.
More information:PLASTIC BAG BANS
- Single-Use Plastics
Container Deposit Schemes
Multiple states and territories have introduced schemes which enable and incentivise the recycling of beverage containers. These schemes involve extensive government and business collaboration and are proving to be highly successful in increasing recycling rates.
More information:CONTAINER DEPOSIT SCHEMES
National Plastics Plan
About the Plan
There are actions we can all take to reduce the effects of plastics on our environment.
The National Plastics Plan outlines these actions and key milestones we are working towards to reduce Australia’s plastics problem.
The plan’s goals are to:
• reduce plastic waste and increase recycling rates
• find alternatives to the plastics we don’t need
• reduce the amount of plastics impacting our environment.
To achieve this, Australia will:View the National Plastics Plan Summary
• phase out the most problematic plastics
• work to make our beaches and oceans free of plastic
• bring in legislation to ensure Australia takes responsibility for its plastic waste
• invest to increase our recycling capacity
• research to find new recycling technologies and alternatives to the plastics we don’t need
• support the community to help Australian’s recycling efforts.
The plan is being implemented through a variety of coordinated strategies including waste levys and export bans.
Many areas of sustainability currently affect retailers, and the NRA is actively engaged in numerous projects and regulatory consultation.SUMMARY OF CURRENT IMPACTS ON RETAIL >
Product Stewardship Schemes
What is Product Stewardship?
Product stewardship acknowledges those involved in designing, manufacturing, and selling products have a responsibility to ensure those products or materials are managed in a way that reduces their environmental and human health impacts, throughout the life-cycle and across the supply chain.
It aims to drive environmentally beneficial outcomes through good design and clean manufacturing, including the use of components and materials that are easier to recover, reuse and recycle.
Product stewardship provides an opportunity for businesses to do more, strive for more, and achieve more.
There are currently eight regulated and one voluntary accredited product stewardship scheme in Australia, plus 18 unaccredited schemes and 13 in development.
Opportunities & Challenges for Retail
Environmental impact is becoming a key consideration when customers decide whether to buy a particular product over that of a competitor. Consumers are increasingly discerning in terms of product materials, packaging, and the retail supply chain in terms of carbon footprint, sustainable and ethical sourcing, product stewardship (end-of-life) and waste products. Recent regulatory interventions, such as bag bans, have demonstrated high levels of public support.
As the public demands more change, sustainability and environmental impact is an increasing focus for local, state and national governments, not only in Australia, but across the world. The challenge for retailers is the need for a consistent regulatory approach across jurisdictions and across all types of retail businesses to reduce complexity, minimise costs and provide clear messages to their teams and customers.
As with many sectors, there is increased pressure to improve sustainability from employees within retail businesses. Many retailers are starting to promote their sustainability credentials to attract and retail staff, particularly Millenials or Gen Y, which represent a high proportion of the retail workforce.
Though it can be challenging, retailers who ignore increasing demand from consumers, government and employees for more sustainable approaches risk declining brand appeal, increased regulatory intervention, and missed opportunities.SUMMARY OF CURRENT IMPACTS ON RETAIL >
NRA Position & Advocacy
Consumers and governments are increasingly demanding industry action on sustainability. We believe collaboration, negotiation and coordination between stakeholders enables us to create practical, viable and commercially-aware outcomes for all.
The NRA supports positive initiatives to improve environmental impact across the retail industry, however these changes must be:
- nationally consistent
- fair for all retailers regardless of size
- carefully considered and researched
- commercially viable and realistic
- supported by retailer & consumer education
- supported by investment in Australian innovation & infrastructure
The NRA plays an active role in bridging the gap between retailers and governments to influence, develop and implement initiatives designed to improve sustainability and environmental impact across the retail sector. We also directly engage and inform retailers about significant changes to regulatory requirements, and most importantly, how to manage these changes.
The NRA are currently involved in a wide range of projects, partnerships, working groups and taskforces to represent retailer interests:
- Founder of the National Retail Sustainability Committee
- Partnership with the QLD Government to assist retailers to manage and comply with the QLD bag ban (since 2017)
- Partnership with the WA Government to assist retailers to manage and comply with the WA bag ban (since 2018)
- Partnership with the VIC Government to assist retailers to manage and comply with the VIC bag ban
- Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP) (since early 2019)
- Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Victoria (since Nov 2019)
- Industry Association Members of the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO)
- Industry Member of SA Single-Use Plastics Industry Reference Group
- Industry Member of WA Container Deposit Scheme Advisory Group
- Industry Member of ACT Single-Use Plastics Industry Reference Group
- Industry Member of VIC EPA Small Business and Manufacturing Reference Group
- Industry Supporter of Moving the Needle (reduce textile waste) program
- Industry Member of Battery Stewardship Council
To enquire about any of our projects and advocacy, please contact David Stout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Retail Association Sustainability Committee
The National Retail Sustainability Committee seeks to minimise impact on the environment, whilst maintaining reputation and meeting the current and future expectations of customers.
The Sustainability Committee aims to:
- bring together experts from across the retail industry, government and associated stakeholders to continue the momentum of positive sustainability regulations;
- consider the impact of retail activities upon sustainability, the community and environment;
- consider the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives, such as policy and industry mechanisms;
- contribute expertise to ensure sustainability policy is commercially viable and delivers sustainable outcomes;
- provide a non-competitive forum for key industry and government stakeholders to network and share insight;
- engage in ongoing dialogue between peers and specialists via the NRA’s private Sustainability Committee Linkedin Group.
Launching in early 2019, the NRA Sustainability Committee holds 3 meetings each year, alternating between Melbourne and Sydney.
To enquire about attending the next meeting, please contact David Stout at email@example.com.
Organisations & taskforces we currently work with:
Detailed decision guide on plastic disposal
Detailed decision guide on plastic disposal from University of Technology Sydney.
Submission: ACT Single-Use Plastics Draft Bill
As per our submission to the ‘Phasing out single-use plastics’ the NRA supports the ACT Government's review of single-use plastic, and support most aspects of the legislation. However we submit that some challenges and queries persist.
Submission: QLD single-use plastics (July 2020)
The Queensland Government is proposing a ban on the supply of specific single-use plastic products, starting with straws, cutlery, plates and stirrers. While retailers support most of these bans, the NRA has made submissions to highlight challenges and considerations...
Submission: Victoria Container Refund Scheme
The National Retail Association (NRA) welcomes the opportunity to provide feedback on the introduction of a Container Refund Scheme for Victoria and our inclusion on the Advisory Group.