Scott Morrison has asked environment ministers to set a date for an end to the export of Australia's plastic waste.
The prime minister says only about 12 per cent of materials are properly recycled in Australia and he wants that to change.
The Council of Australian Governments meeting in Cairns on Friday agreed to come up with a plan to protect oceans by banning the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres.
"This stuff won't change unless you say: 'There's going to be a point in time where you're not going to be able to put this stuff in a ship and send it off to someone else'," Mr Morrison said.
"We've got to start thinking about what we do when that happens, I would like that date to be as soon as is practicable."
Australia exported nearly 4.5 million tonnes of waste last year, with the vast majority of it going to Vietnam, Indonesia and China.
It cost $2.8 billion to send all this waste overseas.
Mr Morrison says the export changes will occur with industry partnership and consultation, with environment ministers to now develop a timeline.
The result could be more jobs in Australia's domestic recycling industry as well as benefits from innovative technology such as recycled products being used in road building and prosthetic arms.
Head of the Australian Local Government Association, David O'Loughlin, said councils have been waiting for national leadership on the issue for some time.
Pip Kiernan, chairman of Clean Up Australia, said it would go a long way towards boosting community confidence which had been shaken by recent high-profile problems in waste management.
Australian Associated Press