This month, the Australian government released its first National Plastics Plan, setting out a new standard for how Australia will tackle the plastics issue.

The Plan provides a comprehensive approach designed to keep plastic in the economy for as long as possible, and out of landfill and the environment. There are important sustainability deadlines that Australian retail businesses need to be aware of and meet by making practical changes in their operations. One of the most pressing deadlines that businesses need to be aware of is the phase out of single-use plastic packaging.

The phase out of single-use plastic packaging is an initiative that is being led by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) through the 2025 National Packaging Targets, which were agreed by industry and government in 2018.

APCO is a co-regulatory organisation that works with government and industry to reduce the harmful impact of packaging on the environment. Additionally, several states and territories have passed, or are developing legislation, that will ban many of the single-use plastic packaging items identified by APCO for phase out, including expanded polystyrene food and beverage service items and fragmentable plastics. 

Many Australian businesses are already making these changes in their packaging. In 2019, Woolworths and Coles phased out single use plastic bags while Officeworks successfully phased out all polystyrene packaging from home brand furniture and shredders.

APCO CEO, Brooke Donnelly has set out what businesses need to be aware of and how they can get started.

Why do we need to phase out single-use plastic packaging?

In 2019, approximately 50,700 tonnes of single-use plastic packaging were produced, making up 5% of the total 1 million tonnes of plastic packaging placed on the Australian market.

While plastic packaging has many benefits, single-use plastic packaging has associated environmental and economic impacts. The embedded costs of the materials, energy and labour that go into making those products are lost from the economy after a single use.

By tackling these problematic items, we will reduce litter and waste, improve the economics of recycling, increase employment, lift recycling rates, and help boost recycled content in packaging. In Australia, we need to shift our approach to packaging away from single-use, disposable plastic packaging to more durable reusable and recyclable packaging.

What needs to be phased out

Since the 2025 National Packaging Targets were agreed in 2018, APCO has worked with the whole plastic supply chain to produce an agreed list of materials for phase out and agreed timelines to meet that phase out. These items that businesses and government are working to phase out include:

1.      Lightweight plastic shopping bags

2.      Fragmentable plastics

3.      Expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging for food/beverage service and fresh produce 

4.      EPS loose fill packaging 

5.      Moulded EPS packaging for white/brown goods and electronics

6.      Rigid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) packaging

7.      Rigid polystyrene (PS) packaging

8.      Opaque polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles

9.      Rigid plastic packaging with carbon black.

How can businesses get started?

APCO has a range of tools, programs and resources to help retailers make these changes in their business, covering concerns like which alternative materials businesses should use, and how businesses can work with their domestic and international supply chains.

In December 2020, APCO published ‘Strategies for Problematic and Unnecessary Single-Use Plastic Packaging’, a practical resource to help Australia’s packaging supply chain phase out this packaging through innovative, sustainable solutions. The guideline contains an easy-to-use framework that helps businesses work through the best solutions, whether that’s through redesign, elimination, replacing it with better alternatives, or exploring alternative models like reuse.    

What else can we do?

In 2021 APCO is developing a new program called the ANZPAC Plastics Pact, which is designed to tackle plastic pollution across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Bringing together businesses, policymakers and NGOs across the region, ANZPAC will revolutionise the way plastics are designed, used and reused, united behind a common vision of a circular economy for plastics, in which plastic never becomes waste or pollution.

The program is part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s global Plastics Pact network, a community comprising of over 1,000 organisations, across 10 Plastics Pacts, spanning 21 countries, representing over 30% of global GDP. Businesses are currently invited to join the ANZPAC Plastics Pact as a Founding Member, ahead of the Program’s public launch in May. For more information visit

To find out more about the 2025 National Packaging Targets, APCO Membership or the phase out of single-use plastic packaging, visit