APCO’s packaging recycling label program

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation’s (APCO) national packaging recycling label Program will help drive consumer recycling behavioural change, writes Brooke Donnelly, APCO CEO.

Global politics on waste and recycling has been dominating news headlines in recent months, such as the announcement of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s long-term plan to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.

Another global announcement that will undoubtedly have a much greater effect on us here in Australia is China’s ban on the importation of certain foreign waste and recyclable materials. This is expected to have an enormous impact on the amount of recyclable material that is exported from Australia each year – so there’s no doubt it will shake the very nature of the recycling industry locally.

With all of these global announcements many have been asking – what is Australia doing?

There is no right or single answer to the current problems facing our waste and recycling industries. The issues are complex. Even the country itself, the very ground we walk on, contributes to the complexity of the problem. One of the best things about our country is its space – the wide-open plains, never-ending farmland and sparsely scattered cities. While this space is a great commodity, it makes the collection of recycled materials a more complex and daunting task when considering the sheer amount of ground that needs to be covered. According to 2016 World Bank figures, Australia’s population density was three people per square kilometre – far behind the UK figures of 271 people per square kilometre, 90 times that of our country.

Our geography, among other things, makes it impossible for us to simply look at other markets and adopt their approaches, however grand they may seem. We need to find a solution that is right for Australia with all its unique qualities.

So what is the best way forward?

A circular economy is obviously the most appropriate solution – where we as a nation can re-use our products and packaging in a way that means we don’t have to rely on the export of recycled materials, and we don’t keep contributing to our ever-growing landfill sites.

There are many steps involved in this process, and it won’t happen overnight. It requires a shared commitment between government, consumers and industry. And one of these groups cannot solve this issue in isolation. Consumer awareness is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Ambiguity around recycling methods and what packaging is and isn’t recyclable has caused confusion among consumers for many years.

Earlier this year, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) announced the launch of a national Packaging Recycling Label Program that will help to drive change in consumer recycling behaviour in Australia for many years to come. Executed in partnership with Planet Ark and PREP Design, it is the APCO’s first ever nationally consistent, evidence-based labelling program to encourage recycling and help consumers better understand how to recycle products effectively. The APCO truly believes this will have a profound impact on our environment. By bringing together the priorities of government and industry, we’ve been able to deliver a scheme that has real value for all parties and for the broader community as well.

Importantly, a unique feature of the Packaging Recycling Label Program is that it will offer committed organisations access to an analysis tool that will allow them to better understand the materials they use in packaging and their associated environmental impacts. By allowing a more thorough understanding of problematic materials and where they fit in the supply chain, businesses will be able to address issues more quickly and effectively.

Major brands from across a range of industries, including Australia Post, Blackmores, Nestlé, Officeworks, Unilever and Woolworths, have already pledged their commitment to implementing the program. Having such significant organisations on board so quickly really shows the leadership from within the business community for an opportunity to get involved in progressive sustainability.

It’s important to note that the Packaging Recycling Label Program, and more broadly consumer awareness, is just one piece of what is a very large puzzle. If Australia is to succeed in minimising the impact of packaging on our own environment, we must work together toward a collaborative solution that addresses all parts of the product life cycle – from sustainable packaging design right through to creating a valuable end market for recycled materials. It’s a challenge we all must rise to and the APCO looks forward to being part of it.