Last Word

Championing packaging sustainability

Since the announcement of the 2025 environment ministers target, dialogue and debate have been intense. Throughout the process one question has been voiced the loudest: just how will Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) deliver? APCO’s Chief Executive Officer Brooke Donnelly explains.

Three months have passed since Australia’s environment ministers announced a landmark 2025 recycling target to see 100 per cent recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025.

In the process, the ministers endorsed Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) to lead the charge on creating Australia’s 100 per cent reusable and recyclable future for sustainable packaging.

The process has moved some of our key industry issues, China and the challenge of building a circular economy – firmly into the public spotlight. Dialogue and debate have been intense and throughout the process one question has been voiced the loudest: just how will APCO deliver?

Since 1999 APCO has been bringing together industry and government to work collaboratively to drive improved outcomes for the packaging waste stream in Australia. Currently APCO represents more than 153 separate ANZIC industry codes across fast-moving consumer goods, logistics, telecommunications, retail, IT, packaging, waste and recycling, and is directly accountable to all environment ministers in Australia. Having worked on countless product stewardship and environmental campaigns over the years, we know simply imposing regulation on industry doesn’t necessarily produce the best results. Shared value creation has been proven to be the most effective way of engaging businesses to embrace change.

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In July we released the “Toward 2025” Discussion Paper outlining our proposed approach. This has been circulated to almost a thousand businesses and key stakeholders in a two-month consultation process. Rather than simply imposing a mandatory system onto Australian industry, this is an opportunity to ensure we have a diverse group of stakeholder voices as we develop a robust plan for 2025.

And the good news is that every day more businesses are joining the movement. Behind the scenes the uptake of our Packaging Recyclability Evaluation Portal (PREP) has grown six-fold in the last four months. An online portal that allows packaging designers to determine whether a packaging component is recyclable at kerbside, businesses gain access to PREP when they adopt the Australasian Recycling Label, which recently featured on series 2 of the ABC’s War of Waste. It’s a process that allows brands to get their packaging right from the outset and drives the right design behaviours to assist the waste and recycling industry by lowering contamination rates and providing consistent, high quality recyclable materials to support our Australian industry.

Looking to the wider APCO community, it’s worth taking a moment to pause and consider some of the incredible collaborative work and progress that’s currently taking place. Unilever have recently made a landmark commitment to introduce 25 per cent recycled plastic into its product packaging, creating a new life for approximately 750 tonnes of recycled plastic per year. From 2019, popular home and personal care brands like OMO, Dove, Sunsilk and TRESemmé will incorporate locally recycled, High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) plastic into their packaging.

Meanwhile both Coles and Woolworths have implemented the ban of single-use plastic bags. The process has been the subject of much public debate and scrutiny, though let’s not lose sight of the result. The ban will prevent single-use bags from entering our environment, killing our native wildlife and adding to the profusion of micro plastic and other litter issues. Further, by organisations stepping up and doing this in a voluntary capacity, it frees up resources and enables government and industry to develop further plastic reduction programs that drive even greater environmental benefits.

As we shift towards a circular economy we must also transition our narrative on waste from a material with no value to that of a valuable resource. Assigning a visible cost such as 15c to plastic bags is a hard conversation to have with your customers, however it is one that has to happen. It is difficult for anyone to view something as a valuable resource if it is not assigned a recognisable value. We must all understand that consumption drives waste and waste has a cost to our planet and to everyone’s back pocket. Conscious consumption and awareness of the impact and cost of waste production is essential to shifting away from our current linear model of managing waste in Australia.

In isolation these announcements seem to represent only incremental steps, but together they drive meaningful change that contributes to the long-term transformation we’ll need to reach our 2025 targets. Crucially, none of these changes could have happened if the companies were working in isolation. Whether you’re an small and medium-sized enterprise or a multinational organisation, we need to unlock the power of collaboration and partnerships and APCO is uniquely placed to facilitate this.

This year has already been a remarkable year for environmental progress and we are expecting to see even greater change ahead. Developing a plan to meet this target is a shared responsibility – government, industry and consumers all have an important role to play. Championing sustainability collaboratively is the only way we are going to realise this target.

For more information, visit the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation website.

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