Co-regulation as a driver for sustainability

Australian Packaging Covenant CEO Trish Hyde explains the industry side of co-regulation, and how this framework, through open discussion and collaboration, makes an effective regulatory model to deliver real and sustainable environmental outcomes.

Mid way between voluntary industry schemes and full regulation sits the interesting world of co-regulation. As the name suggests, co-regulation requires something from both industry and government. This includes certain self-regulation actions to deliver on the agreed outcome.

In the case of the Australian Packaging Covenant (APC), we are working toward an Australia where packaging resources are used and disposed of wisely to minimise our environmental impact. However, unlike voluntary schemes, in co-regulation there is an alternative regulatory mechanism to encourage industry participation and discourage free-riders.

From an industry perspective, co-regulation enables businesses to take ownership of their decisions and demonstrate their leadership.

At the APC, we see our role not as a policeman, but as the enabler of innovation, the in uencer of behaviour and the ignition for inspiration. Delivering member value is key.

One of the primary ways the APC does this is through the exchange of knowledge across members, sectors and the supply chain.

From theory into action: the tides of plastic

To understand how this co-regulatory framework operates, take the issue of plastic packaging. According to The New Plastics Economy report released in January 2017 by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 30 per cent of plastics packaging will never be recycled or reused if we do not fundamentally redesign the packaging or find innovative ways to recover the materials. This staggering figure demands immediate action. However, finding solutions for those specific problem materials needs consultation with industry to understand how to bring about environmental, economic and social sustainability.

At the recent APC think tank in Sydney, industry, academics and governments openly collaborated and proposed solutions to common barriers to packaging sustainability, including the creation of self- sustaining circular economies. One of the goals of the think tank was to tap into the combined expertise of the participants and facilitate a dialogue about the barriers and opportunities for management of soft plastics in Australia.

Closing the loop requires the retention of value in materials and one example discussed was embracing innovative ways to improve the value of recyclate – this would not only support the recycling of soft plastics, but also deliver valuable end-products making its recycling sustainable.

One of the simplest findings from the think tank about circular economies for soft plastics was its poor definition. From a consumers perspective it is easy – is it plastic and is it scrunchable? But this simple consumer-facing definition takes no account of the polymers involved, the size/value of end markets, and the scalability of any recovery systems that are sustainable.

To read more, see page 52 of Issue 11. 

Pictured: Australian Packaging Covenant CEO Trish Hyde.