Australian Retailers Applaud National Environment Ministers' Decision

Australia's largest retail peak body, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has welcomed outcomes from today's Environment Ministers' Meeting, which will accelerate Australia's transition to a circular economy, but has also cautioned against adding unnecessary complexity that would impede the transition.

ARA CEO Paul Zahra said while retailers have made solid progress in transforming packaging and embracing circularity, a lack of harmonisation and collaboration across the states and territories has made the changes more complex and costly than necessary.

"Australia's efforts towards a circular economy require strong alignment between industry, all levels of government and educated Australian consumers. Solving environmental challenges is a shared responsibility and we will only achieve the desired outcomes when we work together," said Mr Zahra.

"Minimising the environmental impact of packaging is a critical issue for our sector, but the current approach has limitations that have resulted in an uneven playing field, constrained innovation and slowed the transition to sustainable packaging.

"Provided government regulation does not cost more than co-regulation, we welcome the shift to regulate packaging design and mandate minimum recycled content standards. We believe this will provide retailers and suppliers with the certainty they need to swiftly and confidently implement positive change.

"We also acknowledge the common intent of all levels of government around product stewardship, which will play a key role in the transition to a circular economy. With more than 100 schemes already in place, retailers are well-versed in implementing and managing these schemes, which are already making a positive difference for consumers and the environment.

"However, the ARA remains cautious about the proposed recycled content traceability framework, which will add complexity and cost for retailers who want to use more recycled content, potentially creating an undesirable outcome where virgin material remains more attractive.

"The proposal to develop robust processes around traceability has our overall support but this is a very ambitious initiative without any global precedent. It is critical that any framework starts as voluntary to incentivise the early movers who will invest in innovation and infrastructure, without presenting an unacceptable and potentially unavoidable compliance risk for the rest of the sector," said Mr Zahra.

The communique also outlined measures to improve planning and response to reduce the environmental impact of natural disasters.

"We commend the natural disaster planning measures announced today. However, we renew our call for national resilience planning measures to be established in collaboration with industry to help steer and support communities through climate-related crises such as bushfires and floods.

"Collectively, governments, business and community organisations have learned a lot from the recent disasters. We know these risks are increasing but we have yet to see a national framework with a set of agreed protocols around our response when these disasters strike.

"Whether it be managing the impact of natural disaster, accelerating the transition to a circular economy or embracing product stewardship, we will only be successful if governments, industry and communities understand the plan and work together," said Mr Zahra.

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