Polystyrene foam, also called thermacol, commonly used to package consumer goods will be phased out in Australia by mid-2022 as part of a national plan to combat mounting plastic waste.
Conservation groups have welcomed many aspects of the plan, which also includes an end to polystyrene food and beverage containers by the end of 2022, but also criticised its largely voluntary approach to reaching ambitious goals, calling for those targets to be mandated.
The Morrison government also announced it would support “coordinated global action to address marine plastic” through the United Nations, which is developing a treaty on the issue.
The National Plastics Plan, launched in Brisbane by the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, and the assistant minister for waste reduction and environmental management, Trevor Evans, also included targets to cut plastic pollution from washing machine outflows and from cigarette butts.
By July 2022, Australia should have phased out plastic packaging products that do not meet compostable standards, as well as polystyrene used in loose and moulded forms for a wide range of consumer goods.
By December 2022, polystyrene should be gone from food and beverage containers, and PVC packaging labels will also have been phased out, the plan said.
She said plastic bottles, packaging and consumer goods were creating “mountains of pain” for the environment.
A spokesman for Ley said she expected industry to voluntarily meet the deadlines but the government reserved the right to regulate if needed.
WWF-Australia said the plan’s 38 actions were a breakthrough in tackling plastic pollution.
The government said it would work with industry to have microfibre filters fitted to all washing machines sold in Australia by 2030.
WWF’s plastics campaigner, Katinka Day, said it would put Australia at the forefront of efforts to cut microfibre waste but noted the target was nine years away and called on washing machine companies to move faster.
One study suggested up to 1.5m microplastic fibres were released when clothes from synthetic fibres were washed.
The government has previously announced targets for 2025 including that all packaging be “reusable, recyclable and compostable”, 70% of plastic packaging be recycled or composted and packaging materials have an average of 50% recycled content.
Day said the voluntary approach would not work and a “strong regulatory target” was needed. Evans disagreed, arguing the cosmetics and personal care industry’s voluntary phase-out of microbeads in products showed the voluntary approach could work.