The measured plastic exit provides a quick, sharp shock

Dominique Lamm

As society continues to move away from plastic, it is important to ensure a smooth transition for businesses and the general public. Because of this, the National Plastics Plan should have minimal setbacks.

By Dominique Lamb, CEO of the National Retail Association.

Shopping in Australia is constantly changing, reflecting cultural, technological and other influences, including changes in the community's attitudes towards the environment or other social reasons.

One cultural shift lately has been that of people who have non-traditional business hours and therefore shop outside the standard 9am to 5pm window, while technology has increasingly transformed consumer behavior – think self-service checkouts and the advent of online -Retail.

In terms of environmental concerns, one of the most fundamental reforms of the retail sector in recent years has been the phasing out of plastic use. Companies of all shapes and sizes across the industry have had to comply with measures banning single-use plastic items.

With the exception of NSW, every state and territory has banned the delivery of plastic bags, while South Australia recently became the first state to extend a ban on single-use plastic items to straws, cutlery and stirrers. The ACT, Queensland and Victoria have already passed similar laws that will come into effect soon.

In addition, the federal government has now announced further bans on plastics. Their report “National Plastics Plan” describes far-reaching measures to drastically reduce plastic waste and to find practical alternatives. Many of the initiatives apply to retailers across the industry, including those who run smaller businesses like convenience stores or cafes.

The most widespread reforms affecting retailers include phasing out polystyrene food and beverage containers by December 2022 and requiring at least 80% of products on store shelves to bear the Australasian recycled label by December 2023 and 100% of the packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

It is clear that all levels of government across the country are moving in the same direction when it comes to curbing our reliance on plastic. Even in NSW, where single-use plastic bags are still allowed, the government's argument is practical rather than philosophical. With many large retailers in place with their own plastic bans, NSW believes the legislation is unnecessary as the industry is headed in that direction anyway.

In the NRA we are often asked about our position on guidelines to curb the amount of use by the plastic society. We take a pragmatic approach: we understand the need to raise environmental standards, but we recognize the need to properly implement these reforms. Significant lead time is required to ensure that companies have ample opportunity to understand how new laws will affect them and to devise alternative strategies. Without adequate government-business consultation, hasty reforms can cause significant disruption for both retailers and their customers.

For example, when a large industrial chain announced in 2018 that it would stop delivering plastic bags, it quickly realized that such a change could not be made overnight. Consumers simply haven't been given enough time to prepare for the change and take it into account. After facing significant setbacks in deciding on a significant setback for customers, the large retailer was temporarily forced to offer free reusable bags.

It is important that you take people with you if you plan to make fundamental changes to the way people shop. We believe, therefore, that the National Plastics Plan will experience minimal public backlash given the strong lead times and timeline set. The NRA looks forward to working constructively with all levels of government as society continues to move away from plastic to ensure a smooth transition for businesses and the general public.

About Dominique Lamb

Dominique Lamb is the CEO of the National Retail Association and has extensive experience advising industrial relations and labor law for a number of small, medium and large companies in a variety of industries.

The National Retail Association

The National Retail Association (NRA) is Australia's largest and most diverse industry association. As a not-for-profit organization, its members range from small, family-owned and operated businesses to leading national brands.

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