Achievements amid challenges: APCO

APCO is currently planning how it will deliver its objectives to build a new circular economy for packaging in this new world of work, writes CEO Brooke Donnelly.

Right now, the APCO team – like the rest of Australia – is working hard to navigate the strange and unsettling new reality that is life under COVID-19.

Our first priority has been to ensure that everyone in our team and our community is as safe as possible. Secondly, we have been figuring out how we can continue to deliver our objectives – to build a circular economy for packaging here in Australia – in this new world of work.

At the time of writing, we were about to host a series of working group meetings – the first for 2020 and the first ever in an online format.

Despite the challenges, 2020 has already seen some significant sustainable packaging achievements delivered by APCO and our members.

In March, along with our APCO Board Chair – Sam Andersen, it was a pleasure to represent our membership community at the inaugural Plastics Summit, where several APCO Members made important public pledges.

During the Summit, we also announced that the APCO team will be leading the development of the ANZPAC Plastics Pact, the latest to join the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s global Plastics Pact network.

ANZPAC, which will formally launch to the public in late 2020, will work with businesses, governments and NGOs from across the plastics value chain in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Island nations to develop a common vision of the circular economy for plastics.

Under the ANZPAC program, participants will commit to deliver a series of concrete, ambitious and time-bound targets, which will be established and launched in the coming months.

Then under the ANZPAC Mobilisation Plan, participants will work to deliver a range of projects, clear reporting guidelines, and the development of the Circular Plastics Research Initiative, a new innovation hub that will bring together researchers, investors and industry to share knowledge and align efforts. Finally, all ANZPAC signatories will be required to commit to publicly report on their progress each year.

In April, we also unveiled during an industry webinar one of APCO’s most significant projects to date – Our Packaging Future, the new strategic framework outlining how Australia will deliver the 2025 National Packaging Targets.

Of the 5.5 million tonnes of packaging material placed on the market annually, 88 per cent is currently recyclable, yet just 49 per cent is recovered for use in future applications, with the rest ending up as landfill, or litter on land and in our oceans.

The strategies address issues of packaging design, improved collection and recycling systems and expanded markets for used packaging, and provide a systemic, whole-of-environment approach to building Australia’s sustainable packaging future.

The vision for this report is clear: to build a packaging value chain that collaborates to keep packaging materials out of landfill and maximise the circular value of the materials, energy and labour within the local economy.

This article was published in the May edition of Waste Management Review. 

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APCO releases June webinar schedule

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has released the June schedule for its Weekly Community Webinar series.

Launched in March, the webinars are designed to bring together professionals across the business, government and environmental communities and help the sustainable packaging community stay connected during lockdown.

To date, the sessions have been attended by more than 1800 professionals discussing topics ranging from sustainable packaging design and green communications, through to compostable packaging best practice and the importance of a packaging sustainability strategy and action plan.

APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly said despite lockdown presenting a number of serious challenges, progress is still occurring. She added that the willingness of thousands of industry professionals to come together every week to collaborate and learn “is a powerful demonstration of that.”

“It has been so rewarding to be joined by hundreds of professionals every week who are equally as engaged and passionate about this space. We look forward to seeing even more of you in June and July,” Donnelly said.

Webinar schedules will be released monthly. June’s schedule, including links to register, is available below:

3 June: World Environment Day special: Building a career in sustainability

This week is World Environment Day (5 June), the United Nations day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect the environment.

To celebrate, APCO is discussing what it takes to build a career in sustainability and how to deliver impactful sustainability initiatives and actions.

Speakers: Business Council for Sustainable Development Australia’s Andrew Peterson, APCO’s 2019 Sustainability Champion Award winner and Endeavour Drinks Group Sustainability Manager Diarmaid O’Mordha and Fiona Baxter, Packaging Development manager from Simplot.

To register click here.

10 June: Topic Deep Dive: Soft plastics

This week will discuss one of the biggest challenges – and opportunities – for the recycling system: getting Australia’s approach to soft plastics right.

Topics for discussion include practical actions brands can take around soft plastics, challenges and opportunities for meeting the 2025 National Packaging Targets, the critical role of closing the loop by buying back the end product and the vision for soft plastics recycling in Australia.

To register click here.

17 June: Science Based Targets

As companies worldwide strive to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in line with commitments made under the 2015 Paris agreement, Science Based Targets (SBTs) are emerging as an effective benchmark by which to plan and review progress towards a low-carbon business model.

A growing number of APCO members have made public commitments to SBTs, establishing a whole-of-business agenda for delivering emissions reductions.

Topics for discussion include challenges and opportunities for packaging to reduce the carbon footprint of a business, and how businesses can use SBTs in partnership with other APCO tools and resources.

Speakers will include leading practitioners of SBTs, including Jonas Bengtsson, CEO of Edge Environment.

To register click here.

24 June: Launching APCO’s FY21 Priority Projects

This week, APCO will unveil its new Priority Projects schedule. In 2021, APCO will facilitate 23 new projects developed to drive targeted and tangible progress on Australia’s 2025 National Packaging Targets.

The program was developed in consultation with, and will be overseen by, APCO’s 2020 Working Groups – a community of more than 160 participants, representing the entire packaging supply chain.

Topics for discussion include an overview of this year’s priority projects, and how each project connects to Our Packaging Future – the strategic framework for how Australia will deliver the 2025 Targets. The session will also cover insights for how organisations can contribute to and participate in this work.

To register click here.

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ARL ranked ‘world-leading’ in new UN report

The Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) has been rated as world-leading among consumer labelling programs in a new report from the UN Environment Programme, Consumers International and the One Planet network – 10YFP.

The ARL aims to clearly outline what product packaging is made from so consumers can make responsible purchasing decisions and correctly recycle material post-use.

Furthermore, businesses that pledge their commitment to the ARL gain access to a unique analysis tool that allows them to better understand the materials they use in their packaging and associated environmental impacts.

Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO Brooke Donnelly said APCO was “incredibly excited” to see the ARL program recognised as a world-leading consumer education initiative at the highest levels.

“The program was commended for its clarity, reliability and accessibility, and singled out as one of the few programs delivering considered, informative and useful information that could effectively increase responsible consumer behaviour,” she said.

“Congratulations to all of our 380 Members who are already part of the program and actively working to bring this first class program to life.”

The report, A Global Mapping and Assessment of Standards, Labels and Claims on Plastic Packaging, found only 19 per cent of assessed labels gave consumers quality information to make informed recycling and purchasing decisions.

“Globally, only about 9 per cent of plastic waste has been recycled and about 12 per cent has been incinerated. The vast majority ends up in landfill or leaks into the environment,” a Consumers International statement reads.

“Rising public awareness and concern about plastics has encouraged businesses to increasingly communicate this information about their packaging. However, the information is often unclear.”

Report lead authors Ellie Moss and Rebecca Harris have called for a global, multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder approach to tackling the growing problem of plastic waste and packaging.

The report outlines five global recommendations for action, including businesses following the Guidelines for Providing Product Sustainability Information in the their plastic packaging communications, and global consistency when it comes to definitions relating to the content and reusability of packaging and disposable items.

The report also suggests restricting the use of the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol, and having definitions and technical requirements used in standards related to recyclability, compostability, and biodegradability better reflect real world conditions, with more attention to accessibility and consumer understanding.

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APCO launches weekly sustainability webinar series

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APOC) has launched a new sustainability webinar series to help industry professionals stay connected.

APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly said the weekly APCO Community Meeting events are designed to bring together sustainability experts from across the business, government and environmental communities to explore ideas.

“These include packaging specific topics – such as sustainable packaging design and strategy, recycled content and labelling for resource recovery and also broader sustainability ideas, including building a circular economy in Australia, recycling in remote and regional communities, and how to communicate your green credentials,” she said.

According to Ms Donnelly, the APCO team have worked hard to build a community that works collectively to address “significant and pervasive” sustainability issues.

“In this new and changing world of work, we want all those who belong to the APCO community to know they have the support of this collective group, and to make sure no one is left feeling disconnected or isolated,” she said.

“We are now up to our sixth webinar in the series, and it has been so rewarding to be joined by hundreds of professionals every week who are equally as engaged and passionate about this space. We look forward to seeing even more of you in May.”

Webinar schedules will be released monthly. May’s schedule, including links to register, is available below:

6 May: Launch of the Compostables Guidelines

Certified compostable packaging will play a small but important role in the delivery of the 2025 National Packaging Targets. But it is also an area that poses significant confusion – for industry and end consumers.

‘Considerations for Compostable Plastic Packaging’ is a new APCO resource, providing clear direction forward on the role of certified compostable plastic packaging in Australia.

Speakers: APCO’s Lily Barnett, AORA’s Peter Wadewitz and Rowan Williams from the Australasian Bioplastics Association.

To register click here.

13 May: Deep Dive: PREP Assessment

This week will take a deep dive into the Packaging Recyclability Evaluation Portal (PREP) – the online verification tool that assesses how packaging will behave in the Australian and New Zealand resource recovery systems, and powers the Australasian Recycling Label.

In this session tailored to users assessing their packaging, such as packaging technologists and developers, the discussion we will explore some of the common technical queries that emerge when conducting an assessment.

Speakers: Australasian Recycling Label Program Manager Lily Barnett and PREP Founder Anthony Peyton.

To register click here.

20 May: The Importance of a Packaging Sustainability Strategy and Action Plan  

This week will address how and why having a packaging sustainability strategy and APCO Action Plan can help support organisations on their packaging sustainability journey.

To register click here.

27 May: Promoting Green Credentials

Research demonstrates that sustainability issues are among the fastest growing concerns for consumers worldwide. 2019 research from Monash Business School found 92 per cent of consumers believe sustainable business practices should be standard, and not the exception.

This session will explore why it is important for brands to effectively communicate their sustainability achievements, and the practical tools and processes for getting started.

To register click here.

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APCO report details steps to deliver National Packaging Targets

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has increased the National Packaging Target for recycled content levels from 30 to 50 per cent, as outlined in its new Our Packaging Future report.

“As Australia has already met the original 30 per cent recycled content target, a new all packaging average target of 50 per cent has been co-developed with key stakeholders in the packaging supply chain in order to drive increased demand and end-markets for post-consumer material collected in Australia,” the report reads.

“This increased target will encourage the use of an additional 1.3 million tonnes of material in packaging, from both local and imported sources.”

The report, which outlines critical steps required to deliver Australia’s National Packaging Targets, was unveiled by Assistant Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans and APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly at an industry webinar on 31 March.

According to Ms Donnelly, of the 5.5 million tonnes of packaging material placed on the market annually, 88 per cent is currently recyclable, yet just 49 per cent is recovered for use in future applications, with the remainder ending up as landfill or litter.

“Our Packaging Future combines data and insights from more than 200 authors and contributors, to identify the current critical challenges contributing to this gap. It then maps the strategies required to move away from our current take, make and waste approach to managing packaging,” Ms Donnelly said. 

“The strategies address issues of packaging design, improved collection and recycling systems and expanded markets for used packaging, and provides a systemic, whole of environment approach to building Australia’s sustainable packaging future.”

Key recommendations include launching a National Consumer Education Campaign, APCO convening a CDS National Working Group as a collaborative forum to facilitate consistency and alignment of future closed-loop schemes, and developing new reuse models for consumer and B2B packaging.

According to Mr Evans, governments around Australia are relying on APCO and its members to bring about a more sustainable approach to packaging.

“This report shows that about half of all packaging in Australia is not currently being recovered, and that is the gap we need to bridge to achieve the National Packaging Targets by 2025,” he said. 

Further recommendations include exploring and facilitating waste collection partnerships in regional and remote areas, including potential collaboration with other product stewardship schemes where kerbside collection is not feasible, and developing a traceability and verification program for recycled content in packaging and products.

“Our planet has finite resources to meet our ever-increasing consumption. Business as usual is simply not going to sustain our communities into the future. We will not accept a future defined by waste stockpiles, inefficient waste recovery economies, self-interest and fragmented regulation and policy approaches,” Ms Donnelly said. 

“The vision for this report is clear: building a packaging value chain that collaborates to keep packaging materials out of landfill and maximise the circular value of the materials, energy and labour within the local economy.” 

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APCO releases packaging progress data

Of the 5.45 million tonnes of post-consumer packaging placed on the Australian market in 2017-18, 2.67 million tonnes was recovered, according to a new report from the Australia Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO).

The report also reveals that Australia has exceeded the 30 per cent average recycled content National Packaging Target.

“Today’s benchmark data has confirmed post-consumer recycled content across all packaging was 1.9 million tonnes, or 35 per cent of total packaging,” the report reads.

“With the 30 per cent recycled content target now exceeded, APCO will deliver a consultation process with industry to develop a new, more ambitious target.”

According to an APCO statement, the Australian Packaging Consumption and Resource Recovery Data report maps the complete packaging ecosystem in granular detail, highlighting the performance of key areas within the system.

“The significant research project combines data from packaging manufacturers, packaging reprocessors, material recovery facilities, container deposit scheme operators, and includes analysis of Australian import and export data,” the statement reads.

Of Australia’s 5.45 million tonnes of packaging, more than half was paper and paperboard at 53.2 per cent, followed by glass packaging at 23.3 per cent, plastic packaging at 19.6 per cent and metal packaging at 3.9 per cent.

The report reveals that paper and paperboard have the highest recovery rate at 63 per cent, followed by metal packaging at 48 per cent, glass packaging at 46 per cent and plastic packaging at 16 per cent.

Additionally, the report details how Australia is tracking on the delivery of the 2025 National Packaging Targets – with new benchmark data in areas of packaging recyclability, recycled content uptake and plastic packaging recycling.

The targets aim for 100 per cent of all Australia’s packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 or earlier. The report shows that as of 2018, 86 per cent, or 4.7 million tonnes of all packaging in the market is recyclable.

According to APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly, the single biggest challenge identified in the data is the recycling rate of plastic packaging.

The National Packaging Targets set the target for 70 per cent of Australia’s plastic packaging to be recycled or composted by 2025.

APCO’s data reveals that currently, only 16 per cent of plastic packaging is being recycled or composted for future use.

“Comprehensive and robust benchmarking data is one of the critical milestones in our delivery of the 2025 National Packaging Targets – a process that shows how Australia is performing currently and, most importantly, what needs to change in order to make the 2025 Targets a reality,” Ms Donnelly said. 

“It’s encouraging to see such a significant majority of packaging – 86 per cent – is able to be recycled in the current system. However, what the data confirms for us is that plastic is the critical issue that needs to be addressed.” 

Ms Donnelly said APCO will release its 2025 strategic document in February 2020, which sets out a series of key strategies to support Australia’s delivery of the targets.

“Plastics will be a central focus for this plan, along with a range of interventions and recommendations designed to close the gap between recyclable (86 per cent) and recycled (49 per cent) packaging in Australia,” Ms Donnelly said. 

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APCO hosts annual sustainable packaging awards

Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans has reaffirmed the Federal Government’s commitment to drive the delivery of the 2025 National Packaging Targets.

Speaking to an audience of 180 at this year’s Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) Awards in Melbourne, Mr Evans congratulated APCO on its progress thus far.

Going “off script” Mr Evans told attendees that before entering politics he served as the National Retail Association’s CEO.

“It’s fair to say that all those years ago, APCO had a mixed reputation, as it looked to take the next steps in its journey,” Mr Evans said.

“I think I can be blunt in saying that under Sam and Brooke’s Leadership it has found direction and all of the passion and drive that it needs to take APCO into the future.”

APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly expressed similar sentiments, telling the crowd that over the covenant’s 20 years there had been both good and bad moments.

“Especially over the last two or three years, it’s been a very challenging time. There was a time where we weren’t sure we would be here this evening, that we wouldn’t be able to continue to do the work that we do,” Ms Donnelly said.

“But we’ve managed to come back from that and find a way forward – a way that is so much more progressive, that is acknowledging the contribution that industry can make, and how industry and government can work together collectively in this space.”

Ms Donnelly added that much of that work came to fruition with the 2025 National Packaging Targets.

“We went to the MEM meeting in April 2018, and got asked a very big question: we’ve got this problem, it’s called the China National Sword, what can we do about that?” Ms Donnelly said.

Ms Donnelly said National Sword represents a tipping point and a time where APCO as an organisation, and Australia as a country, had rethink its approach to waste and resource recovery.

“Kudos to the Australian Government for agreeing on a target – just one guiding light to get us where we need to be, and to empower and endorse APCO to be able to do the work to get us there,” she said.

This year’s APCO Annual Awards took place on the organisations 20th anniversary and showcased businesses leading the way in sustainable packaging design and innovation across 18 separate categories.

“Tonight marks the 20th anniversary of APCO, and reflecting on the importance of the organisation’s work, it might just be the time to put our heads together this evening and think about a more exciting name for your awards night,” Mr Evans joked.

The assistant minister said that if politics had taught him anything, it was the importance of selling your message. He then made two suggestions, the “Pulitzer Prize for Packaging” and the “Walkley’s for Waste”.

According to Ms Donnelly, finalists and winners were selected based on their performance in sustainable packaging design, recycling initiatives and product stewardship programs to develop sustainable supply chains.

The event’s premier award, Sustainable Packaging Excellence, went to supply chain specialists CHEP, for their work delivering a global reusable packaging model.

BioPak took out the Outstanding Achievement in Leadership Award for its commitment to sustainability initiatives, including the development of compostable packaging for single-use food service items.

This year’s event also featured two new categories – High Performing New Member, which went to Marechal Australia, and the APCO Sustainability Champion Award, a category recognising individual achievement.

The Sustainability Champion Award went to Endeavour Drinks Quality and Sustainability Manager Diarmaid O’Mordha.

Mr O’Mordha was recognised for his commitment to improving packaging sustainability across the wine industry supply chain, and working in partnership with APCO to develop the Sustainable Packaging Guidelines for the beverage industry.

“All of tonight’s winners and finalists have demonstrated industry leadership and excellence in sustainable packaging,” Ms Donnelly said.

“While these initiatives represent different approaches to this challenge – research, design, innovation or collaboration – what they collectively demonstrate is that Australian industry is driving forward with the positive business case for sustainable packaging.”

In his keynote address, Mr Evan’s also touched on the Federal Government’s plans and policy priorities in the wider waste and resource recovery space.

“This is an area of policy that has very quickly gone from zero to hero, and in a short period of time we are seeing that rapid transition. These issues take centre stage in the national conversation,” he said.

Mr Evans added that for too long, government’s across Australia have not be sufficiently forward thinking when it comes to waste.

“It is defiantly the case that the policies that have been brought to the table in the last few years have been diverging in all sorts of directions,” Mr Evans said.

“I’m sure many of you in this room wouldn’t need convincing about the need for harmonisation and national leadership across all of the jurisdictions and all the levels of government.”

In reference to the COAG export ban, Mr Evans said that while the phased ban represents a significant step forward, it needs to be backed up by a series of simultaneous policy changes.

“We need appropriate funding that will drive the investments that we need to see in Australia, to create confidence and certainty to help industry make those investments,” he said.

“The achievements on show tonight demonstrate the strength of Australian industry’s leadership on the sustainable packaging issue.”

The 2019 APCO Awards winners are:

• Sustainable Packaging Excellence- CHEP Australia
• Outstanding Achievement in Industry Leadership- BioPak
• Outstanding Achievement in Packaging Design- Panasonic Australia
• Outstanding Achievement in Sustainable Packaging Operations- Amgen Australia
• APCO Sustainability Champion- Diarmaid O’Mordha
• High Performing New Member- Marechal Australia
• Chemicals & Agriculture Sector- LyondellBasell Australia
• Clothing, Footwear & Fashion Sector- Hugo Boss Australia
• Electronics Sector- Dell Australia
• Food & Beverage Sector- Red Rooster Foods
• Homewares Sector- LEGO Australia
• Large Retailer Sector- Coles Supermarkets Australia
• Logistics Sector- CHEP Australia
• Machinery & Hardware Sector- RYCO Group
• Packaging Manufacturer Sector- Detmold Packaging
• Personal Care Sector- ABC Tissue Products
• Pharmaceuticals Sector- Amgen Australia
• Telecommunications Sector- SingTel Optus

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Looking to 2020 and beyond: APCO

Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO Brooke Donnelly provides an overview of some of the collaborative, sector-led projects that are helping to scale up the circular economy for packaging here in Australia.

The Collective Impact Model is at the heart of APCO’s work – a framework that engages a diverse range of participants who share the common interest of finding a new and sustainable approach to packaging.

This year a critical part of our focus has been to apply this approach at the sectoral level, by establishing and delivering a range of industry-led projects that can help highly motivated and willing sectors to address their unique packaging challenges.

APCO’s work with the wine industry began in 2018, with a two-day workshop at the Dorrien Estate to explore the impact of the 2025 targets for people working on the ground in the industry.

Combining site visits to packaging suppliers, retail operations and recycling plants, the session was designed to help participants see first-hand the entire packaging journey. By involving the complete value chain – including packaging suppliers, retailers, and wine producers and distributors – participants were able to recognise their stakeholders’ different needs and challenges, and identify any gaps in their own operations.

The most significant outcome of the day was the commitment to keep working together – and the Wine Industry Sustainable Packaging group has continued to meet regularly to explore the industry’s unique sustainable packaging challenges and potential solutions.

The group also agreed to work towards the delivery of several packaging-focused projects, including a pilot regional waste drop-off facility in the Barossa Valley, and greater data transparency, to help monitor the industry’s progress towards the 2025 Targets.

Also agreed was the plan to develop an industry-specific sustainable packaging guideline, and in October this year APCO and the Wine Industry Working Group launched the new resource together in the Barossa Valley.

Diarmaid O’Mordha, Quality and Sustainability Manager at the Endeavour Drinks Group, has been fundamental to the working group’s success. He explained that collaboration – often between unlikely partners – has been at the heart of the project.

“The idea was to set up a neutral, non-competitive space so we could develop a shared industry vision, with APCO leading,” says Mr O’Mordha.

“Working together, the industry can drive change from within, avoid the duplication of efforts, develop a platform to share information and set baselines to measure progress.”

“APCO were fantastic in connecting everyone – we couldn’t have done it without them. We were working with people in our industry we wouldn’t normally collaborate with because of commercial competition. But, with APCO’s role we were able to see ourselves as one ecosystem that everyone could benefit from – they helped put everyone at ease,” says Mr O’Mordha.

Food Services Industry

The food services sector has been another area of focus for APCO in 2019.

It’s an industry that’s undergoing a system-wide transformation globally, as businesses navigate challenges like growing public awareness around plastic waste. That’s alongside the tide of new packaging materials and operating models disrupting the way consumers engage with food service. At a policy level, many Australian jurisdictions are also considering state-wide bans on single use plastics. Businesses have been scrambling to adapt to the changing landscape, and navigate challenges like misinformation and the risk of greenwash in an effectively unregulated market.

They are all issues APCO has sought to help address with the Food Services Packaging Sustainability Guidelines, a new resource launched in October.

The guidelines were developed following extensive industry consultation, including a workshop hosted at the Qantas Campus in Sydney that brought together industry, government, and community stakeholders from across the country.

Designed through the lens of the waste hierarchy and incorporating practical case studies, the new resource will provide food service businesses with a step-by-step framework for navigating this rapidly changing industry, and support food service providers to begin making the change, while offering informed advice and tips on how to avoid making the wrong choices.

Looking to 2020, APCO has working partnerships in place with two highly motivated sectors within Australia, the dairy industry, represented by Dairy Australia, and the nursery industry, in collaboration with Greenlife Industry Australia.

Engaging sectors that are highly motivated, willing and able to address packaging sustainability will be key to progressing towards the transition to a circular economy for Australian communities.

By working together and combining material volumes, the model helps industry and government to scale up solutions and create economic tipping points to ensure solutions deliver viable interventions that are embedded as part of the institutional approach required.

The Food Services Packaging Sustainability Guidelines is available to download on the APCO website.

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