Collaborating with confidence: APCO

Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation CEO Brooke Donnelly talks about the Collective Action Group and systemic models for action on packaging resource recovery.

A lack of policy centralisation has been a concern for the waste and resource recovery industry since the 2009 National Waste Policy stalemate. In response, following the 2018 Meeting of Environment Ministers, the Federal Government announced it would shift its policy direction by taking an increasing role in waste reduction and recycling policy.

The then-Environment Minister Melissa Price announced that in order to facilitate a unified direction on waste and recycling, a new National Waste Policy would be developed. Current Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans said an action plan would be devised through interjurisdictional collaboration later this year.

As part of this change in direction, the Federal Government also formally committed to the National Packaging Targets.

The National Packaging Targets aim to have 100 per cent of Australian packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 or earlier. Its an ambitious goal, given only 56 per cent of Australian packaging was recovered for recycling in 2017-18, according to a UTS Institute of Sustainable Futures study.

Additionally, the study shows of that 56 per cent, 34 per cent was exported overseas.

Endorsed by the Australian Local Government Association in 2018, the targets also seek to achieve a 30 per cent average recycled content rate by 2025, and have 70 per cent of Australia’s plastic packaging be recycled or composted by the same year.

Phasing out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through design, innovation or the introduction of alternatives is the final target.

Despite the bold goals, Australian Packagaing Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO Brooke Donnelly is confident the targets can be meet.

“We’re in a position where we need to drive change while we have the opportunity, hitting the ground running,” Brooke says.

“Australian industry is vibrant, proactive and really driving the activity towards a circular economy transition, which will help us all achieve the targets.”

APCO, which has been tasked with leading the implementation process, has recently established the Collective Action Group (CAG) to oversee strategic delivery of the targets.

The group is comprised of 12 leading representatives from across industry and government, including Coles, Nestle, Coca Cola Amatil, Planet Ark, the Australian Council of Recycling, SUEZ and Visy.

Additionally, representatives from the Queensland Department of Environment and the Federal Department of Environment and Energy are members.

“We have two representatives from each sector of the packaging supply chain, such as brands, community, resource and recovery and retail and manufacturing,” Brooke says.

Managing multiple high-level stakeholders with potentially competing interests can be challenging, which is why APCO employs a best-practice model of governance for all CAG meetings.

“We have a really great chair, Dr Anne Astin, an independent chair with experience in product stewardship and co-regulatory organisations,” Brooke says.

“Dr Astin understands and appreciates getting the best from member diversity and is implementing a very structured approach.”

The first meeting of CAG was officially opened by Trevor Evans, the Federal Government’s Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management in June.

“It was really great to have Minister Evans with us – it’s wonderful to see his appointment and also his energy and engagement with supporting the industry,” Brooke says.

“It’s difficult to get such senior executives in one room at the same time, so it was a really lively and informed discussion, which is fantastic.”

Brooke says CAG’s first job will be developing a set of agreed definitions for key terms such as “problematic” and “unnecessary”.

“While agreeing on definitions might appear simple, it can be quite challenging and is a critical part of the process,” she says.

“Developing a full and shared picture of the packaging landscape is the only way to achieve effective change.”

The CAG will then work to establish baseline metrics for each of the four targets, before developing and endorsing the Sustainable Packaging Pathway white paper.

To create the white paper, Brooke says the CAG will co-design a systemic model for how Australia can transition to an advanced sustainable packaging ecosystem. The white paper will then outline the steps towards making the 2025 packaging targets a reality.

“The CAG will provide advice and guidance to support the outcomes, which are the results of the 22 priority project areas in 2019,” she says.

Project areas include consumption and recycling data, materiality testing, economic analysis of system interventions and sectorial circularity project delivery.

According to Brooke, project areas are managed through six APCO advisory groups that sit under the CAG. She says all APCO research flows up to the advisory groups for analysis, before it again flows up to the CAG.

The CAG will also oversee the results of comprehensive infrastructure mapping of the current resource recovery sector for packaging and explore alternative models.

“By the time we get to the white paper, which builds on the 2018 work APCO did on problematic material issues, we will have worked with over 200 organisations and every level of government,” Brooke says.

“A huge and diverse group of people will have participated in the development of the eventual roadmap.”

Brooke says while the targets are complex and challenging, cooperation is the key to achieving them.

“It’s our job and everybody’s job to contribute. If we all just do a little bit better today we can get there,” Brooke says.

“It’s all about creating a collaborative space so we can get to the targets.”

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