By Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will require government departments to use more recycled products, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, as Canberra looks to repair ties with Pacific island nations despite a refusal to step up efforts on global warming.
Morrison last year angered Pacific Island leaders when he declined to strengthen Canberra's target for reducing carbon emissions. The low-lying Pacific islands are on the frontline of climate change, battling rising sea levels that have forced some residents to move to higher ground.
Australia's previous dominance of the region has been challenged by China in recent years, as Beijing has forged stronger economic ties with small island nations and won favour by urging action to tackle climate change.
However, Morrison said on Monday that Canberra will boost demand for recycled products by requiring government departments to buy recycled materials that could otherwise become marine debris.
"We're a continent surrounded by the ocean. Our waterways are our lifeblood. The same is true for our Pacific family... this is such a big issue for our part of the world," Morrison said in a speech in Canberra.
In the Pacific "we have floating plastic waste which is nearly three times the size of France," Morrison said.
"Our Pacific family have not caused this problem, but they have to deal with the impacts of it on their fisheries, wildlife and islands. We are choking our oceans."
Australia recycles just 12% of plastics consumed locally, government data shows.
The policy will also aid Morrison domestically after he came under pressure over the government's environmental policies following a devastating bushfire season that killed 33 people and burnt out a vast area of the country.
Morrison stoked widespread public anger by refusing to directly link the bushfires to climate change, insisting removing flammable vegetation is "just as important, if not more".
(Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Richard Pullin)