Waterway pollution on top of Ministers’ agenda

Posted 30 November 2016

Plastic particle water pollutionAn agreement to take action on waterway pollution, including microplastics, packaging and emerging chemicals, has been reached between Commonwealth, state and territory Environment Ministers.

At the latest Meeting of Environment Ministers (MEM), ministers agreed they would regulate to ban microbeads if the current voluntary phase-out program did not succeed by mid-2017.

“Ministers agreed dumping products containing microbeads on the Australian market was unacceptable and that the industry must meet targets for the ban quickly and comprehensively,” an agreed statement read.

“Ministers discussed the importance of working directly with smaller manufacturers and importers, alongside peak industry bodies, to make sure all affected businesses understand and ensure that all products containing microbeads were captured under the ban.”

Packaging waste was also discussed, with a consensus in favour of a recent update to the Australian Packaging Covenant, while NSW and Queensland are set to finalise their position shortly.

“These reforms will ensure the Covenant promotes businesses working across their supply chain to reduce waste, design more sustainable packaging and increase the rate of recycling,” the statement read.

“Ministers welcomed the new five-year strategic plan and the significant investment of resources by industry to support the plan.”

Emerging pollutants associated with groundwater contamination were another key issue, with particular focus on the community and business impacts of contamination from fire retardant chemicals, including PFOS and PFOA.

“Ministers welcomed the release of the Commonwealth Environmental Management Guidance on PFOS and PFOA by the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy as an important step in the development of practical responses to the management of these toxic chemicals,” according to the MEM agreed statement.

“Ministers acknowledged the challenges of managing PFAS contamination and agreed to work more closely, including in the timely communication of information to the public and around ensuring that regulatory approaches are aligned and effective.

“All jurisdictions will have a critical role to play in the development of nationally consistent standards for environmental contamination and will support Victoria in hosting a summit in early 2017 and will report back to Ministers in mid-2017.”

At the next meeting, the impact of plastic bags on marine life will be considered in more detail, with ministers due to report back on progress to ban plastic bags.