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Biodegradability of plastics: discussion paper

This paper on biodegradability of plastics was produced in collaboration with The University of Queensland.

Plastics have become a core component of the functioning of modern society. However, the increased demand for and use of plastics has resulted in extensive plastic waste throughout the world, which has been described as one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time.[1]

There are many facets to the problem of plastics, including that fossil fuels are typically used in the manufacture of these materials, the enormous amounts of plastic pollution existing globally, and the very low plastic recycling rate in Australia.[2]

Biodegradable plastics present a potential solution to some of the issues relating to plastics, although there are a number of challenges that mean that the scope and role of biodegradable plastics in an increasingly circular economy is not straightforward.

This discussion paper describes what is meant by biodegradable plastics and considers issues arising from the current state of play in terms of knowledge, policy, law and expectations. This enables gaps and potential solutions to be identified and encourages consideration of whether ‘biodegradability’ is a useful concept in the pursuit of (and demand for) sustainability. Ultimately, if it is, consideration will need to be given to what role it could or should play from a practical, policy and regulatory perspective.

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[1] Laura Parker, ‘The world’s plastic pollution crisis explained’, National Geographic, available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/plastic-pollution

[2] In Australia in 2016-2017, less than 10% of plastics that were consumed were recycled: https://www.energy.gov.au/households/reducing-waste


Dr Louise Camenzuli

Head of Environment and Planning

Rosie Syme


Rachelle Downie

Special Counsel

Jennifer Chan

Law Graduate


Environment and Planning Responsible Business and ESG

This publication is introductory in nature. Its content is current at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should always obtain legal advice based on your specific circumstances before taking any action relating to matters covered by this publication. Some information may have been obtained from external sources, and we cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such information.

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