Packaging the new normal: APCO

With much debate surrounding how COVID-19 will shape Australia in the long-term, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation is exploring opportunities to accelerate sustainable packaging, writes CEO Brooke Donnelly.  

There has been much debate about how COVID-19 will shape our country in the long term.

For professionals in the packaging and resource recovery industries – one of the most persistent questions has been whether COVID-19 will accelerate or hinder efforts for packaging sustainability in Australia?

It’s a challenging question to unpack. We are after all in largely uncharted territory – professionally, economically and socially.

In the short term there have certainly been consequences. Under lockdown many consumers faced a greater reliance on single use products, while greater restrictions emerged around reusable packaging formats, most notably coffee cups.

Once the immediate risks are gone, it will be imperative that industry provides a united voice to discourage these from becoming long-term behavioural patterns.

For the recycling industry, lockdown conditions have also meant added stress to the kerbside system.

In May ACOR reported a 10 per cent growth in householder kerbside recycling, as well as unprecedented levels of contamination in some locations, especially from soft plastics.

Meanwhile for the restaurants and food industry, many businesses have been required to navigate takeaway packaging for the first time.

For the team at the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) lockdown has meant a period of adaptation. Practically there have been delays, particularly for our projects requiring data collection and trials.

Likewise, our members have been forced to navigate new challenges. With many industries across Australia adversely affected, or even shut down due to COVID 19, it has been a timely reminder of the essential role packaging plays in the Australian economy.

Australian manufacturers produce more than 3.3 million tonnes of packaging annually, or around 61 per cent of all packaging used in Australia.

As well as being a dynamic and thriving local manufacturing industry in its own right, the packaging industry plays a vital role underpinning many other Australian businesses delivering essential products.

Yet despite these challenges, progress is continuing at a remarkable rate. At APCO we launched Our Packaging Future, the strategic roadmap for delivering the 2025 Targets, and Considerations for Compostable Plastic Packaging, a new report developed in partnership with ABA and AORA.

We have also facilitated 12 working and advisory group meetings, bringing together representatives from the complete packaging value chain.

Our events program is one of APCO’s most important industry engagement tools, so we were particularly proud of the decision to move these events to a weekly webinar format.

These sessions cover all things sustainability and give our community a regular opportunity to stay in touch, continue learning and keep collaborating. Switching to an online platform has allowed us to reach approximately two thousand participants – a far greater and more geographically diverse group than before.

These are challenging times, however, I think we can all agree that technology has proven functional, resilient and can open our minds to new ways of doing business as we transition to the new normal. The sessions are open to everyone and registrations are available on the APCO website.

It has also been inspiring to see some Members rise to the challenge of COVID in creative and inspiring ways.

Packaging manufacturer Detmold has switched its manufacturing operations to the production of hand sanitiser and surgical face masks for front-line health workers.

Pact Group has also demonstrated remarkable agility and converted production lines at three of its Sydney plants to produce hand sanitiser for the first time. The team is producing around two million units of sanitiser per month, with 95 per cent sold in Australia.

Meanwhile, APCO member THE ICONIC has maintained a strong focus on its sustainability goals, with the launch of its 100 per cent recycled content delivery satchels in May.

The move is a major milestone for the brand’s target for 100 per cent recycled content in all shipping packaging by 2022, and a demonstration of clear leadership in the online retail space.

As we all prepare to re-enter the new ‘normal’ world of work (whatever version of normal that may be), it has been inspiring to see people ask what can we learn from this time, and how can this challenge be embraced as an opportunity?

Looking ahead, many businesses facing financial strain will need to find operational efficiencies.

Waste – the process of creating and then sending something to landfill – is fundamentally a business inefficiency. By changing our mindset to view waste as a strategic and operational flaw, circular design could provide a powerful opportunity for businesses to financially navigate this challenging time.

Our interconnected, globalised society is one of the unique challenges of managing COVID-19. The pandemic has demonstrated the deeply interdependent relationships of our economy, society, and the environment.

As governments and businesses look to rebuild, there are powerful insights to be taken about how deeply connected and systemic our solution to Australia’s waste and recovery challenges needs to be.

Finally, while it’s a devastating example, the pandemic has illustrated the potential of collective action and how powerfully Australians can come together to address a challenge. So let’s harness that approach for building a sustainable future for Australia.

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Survey shows level of recycling confidence: ACOR

The Australian Council of Recycling commissioned Prime Creative Media before and after COVID-19 to get an updated measure of industry confidence.

In the wake of COVID-19, some organisations have identified the potential for new business over the next six months, but it comes against a broader backdrop of concern about public policy settings for recycling, a new report by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) has shown.

ACOR which represents dozens of people contributing to the $15 billion resource recover industry, commissioned Prime Creative Media through its title Waste Management Review to undertake a measure of industry confidence of Australia’s recycling sector.

From January to March 2020, Prime Creative Media surveyed more than 500 respondents working in municipal waste (MSW), commercial and industrial (C&I) and construction and demolition (C&D) waste.

The trends have shown that while almost half of all organisations across MSW, C&I and C&D are positive about their organisation’s performance, more than a third of respondents across all streams are very negative about the public policy and government setting.

Respondents ranked issues most important to them and the top three issues across employees working in MSW, C&D and C&I.

Key issues highlighted by respondents were a need for greater reinvestment of state waste disposal activities into resource recovery, grants/loans for resource recovery and pro-active purchasing of recycled content by the public sector.

In ACOR’s second follow-up – COVID-19 Industry Pulse Check – 41 per cent of just under 100 participants indicated they were somewhat impacted by COVID-19, 35 per cent very impacted and 16 per cent unsure of the impact.

Businesses are also somewhat confident about identifying new business opportunities over the next three to six months, with 35 per cent indicating some level of positivity.

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said that with the Council of Australian Government’s ban on the export of unprocessed materials, re-investment into the sector is critical now more than ever.

“If we want to optimise recycling’s environmental and economic benefits….we need to better line up industry interests and their social outcomes and public policy,” he said.

“Implementation of the National Waste Policy with all stakeholders around one table is an opportunity in that way.”

Key findings: 


You can read the full results of the survey here.

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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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NCTCE launches free webinar series

The National Cleantech Conference & Exhibition (NCTCE) is launching a webinar series to highlight cleantech innovation and opportunities ahead of the March 2021 event.

Commencing 28 May, program topics include: how are local government sustainability leaders preparing for the ‘next normal’? Building back better – what does COVID-19 mean for cleantech? and why is clustering more important than ever? How the European Cleantech industry is adapting to the post pandemic era.

“With so much innovation and ‘pivoting’ happening in the cleantech industry as a result of these unprecedented times, we could not wait until 2021 to share these great stories with our NCTCE community,” an NCTCE statement reads.

According to NCTCE organisers, despite devastation wrought by the coronavirus, a post-COVID world offers huge opportunities for the cleantech industry.

“As the world collectively realises that we can’t return to ‘normal’, many are seeing this as a magic moment in time to re-shape economies, societies and improve the way we work and live,” the statement reads.

“New technology, sustainability and collaboration will most certainly be part of this new landscape. Best of all, it looks like our political leaders are finally listening to scientists.”

The curated program of live, interactive virtual events will tap into NCTCE’s speaker alumni, industry innovators and thought leaders.

“Some sessions will ponder the ‘big questions’ whilst others will drill down on innovations and case studies from each of the various cleantech sectors,” the statement reads.

“You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions, network (virtually), learn and be inspired – all from the comfort of your own WFH desk.”

Webinar details: 

Thursday 4th June – Building back better – what does COVID-19 mean for cleantech?

The current COVID-19 health crisis has been identified as an unprecedented opportunity to align the immediate Australian pandemic response with the imperatives of sustainability.

This includes the opportunity to develop a new industrial policy mix and stimulate innovation and investment in sustainable technologies.

What are the opportunities for the Australian Cleantech industry and, more importantly, how can they ensure the voice of industry is heard?

Facilitated by: Paul Hodgson, GM Innovation and Stakeholder Engagement NERA and NCTCE Advisory Panel Member.

Panellists: Dr Sarah Pearson, Innovation Lead and Deputy Director-General, Queensland Department of State Development, Tourism and Innovation. John O’Brien, Partner, Energy Transition & Decarbonisation, Deloitte Financial Advisory. Stephen Robertson, Director-Stakeholder Engagement and Strategy, Planet Ark Power.

To register click here.

Thursday 18th June – How are our cleantech innovators preparing for the post-COVID-19 world?

A post-pandemic world offers both immense opportunity and challenge for cleantech innovators and producers.

While it has served to shine a light on the next crisis and the role cleantech can play, crucial investment and research funding is now being channelled into more immediate and short term recovery projects, or has dried up altogether.

Hear from Australian cleantech innovators on how they are powering through the crisis and preparing for the ‘next normal’.

Facilitated by: Yasmin Grigaliunas, CEO and Co-Founder, World’s Biggest Garage Sale

Panellists: Graham Ross, Co-Founder, Blocktexx. Further panellists to be announced

To register click here.

For more information on the NCTCE webinar series click here

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Fed Govt delays glass waste export ban

COAG’s export ban on unprocessed glass has been delayed due to restrictions related to COVID-19, and will now commence 1 January 2021.

According to Environment Minister Sussan Ley, COVID-19 restrictions made it “impossible” for parliament to pass legislation in time for the original 1 July 2020 deadline.

“We will introduce new legislation later this year to implement the waste export ban, giving interested stakeholders an opportunity to review the draft legislation,” she said.

The schedule for implementing the export ban on waste plastic, paper and tyres remains unchanged.

As part of the national response to the COAG export ban, the Federal Government is asking industry and state and territory governments to work together to bring forward project proposals that deliver a national solution for mixed-paper recycling in Australia.

“Australia has a once in a generation opportunity to improve waste management and recycling through national leadership and by funding infrastructure investments and encouraging new technologies,” Ms Ley said.

Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister Trevor Evans said Australia exports approximately 375,000 tonnes of mixed wastepaper and cardboard each year, but the ban will see a shift to recycling these materials domestically by 2024.

“The Federal Government is particularly interested in paper-recycling facility proposals that adopt new innovations for recovered paper and generate new jobs in rural and regional Australia,” he said.

Applications to the Federal Government are due 31 July, with a decision on successful projects expected at the end of August.

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Alex Fraser responds agilely to COVID

Alex Fraser has thanked its customers for their support of its COVID-19 hygiene and social distancing measures, as the company experiences a spike in demand amid Victoria’s continued infrastructure boom.

Construction has long been held in high regard by governments, the community and businesses as an invaluable outlet to stimulate economic growth in times of crisis. In Australia, the COVID-19 health crisis has fast become an economic one, as the Federal Government, states and territories leaped into action to reduce community transmission via stage 1, 2 and 3, restrictions.

Governments have assured communities and the road construction sector that vital infrastructure pipelines will continue. Construction was also been declared essential under stage three restrictions, with new guidelines introduced to the sector, agreed to by a number of unions and industry associations.

The NSW Government has extended construction hours so they can adhere to social distancing by spreading their work throughout the week.

Over in Victoria, the state’s premier Daniel Andrews has said construction will play a major role in Victoria’s economic recovery following COVID-19.

“It’s probably too early to tell what the impacts of this coronavirus will be on a whole range of different projects: both government projects — level crossings, road and rail, hospitals, schools — and also private sector projects,” Mr Andrews told ABC.

“When we get to the other side of this, the biggest construction boom in our state’s history will need to be even bigger. We will need to do more to protect jobs, to create new jobs, and to make sure that we bounce back from this as strong as we possibly can.”

As the pipeline charges on, the state’s biggest transport project, the Metro Tunnel Project is keeping Victorians in work, with the last two tunnel boring machines hitting the pavement.

The Frankston line also remains shut from late May as part of the biggest level crossing construction blitz – the Level Crossing Removal Upgrade (LXRA).

Alex Fraser is supplying thousands of tonnes of recycled products for construction and maintenance projects across Victoria like the LXRAs. The company is currently experiencing a spike in demand across its three Victorian sites, and has agilely responded to ensure the health and safety of its customers and its people.

Recent projects include supplying the Southern Program Alliance almost 200,000 tonnes of tonnes of recycled construction materials on the Mentone and Cheltenham Level Crossing Removal Upgrade (LXRA).

The project, expected to be completed in early 2021, is using recycled materials and is expected to save 170,000 tonnes of material from landfill, 1110 tonnes of Co2 emissions, and 185,000 tonnes of natural resources.

Works commenced in April 2019, as contractors removed level crossings at Balcombe Road in Mentone and at Cheltenham’s Charman and Park Roads. The construction of the two new stations is complemented by a 3.5 kilometre shared use path and expansive public space.

It’s not only rail projects capitalising on the benefits of recycled products; major roads projects – like the Mordialloc Freeway, Monash Freeway and Western Roads upgrade – are utilising thousands of tonnes of recycled materials, including millions of glass bottles from kerbside collections.

“We’re reprocessing priority waste streams into high quality construction materials to supply rail and road projects with a range of high-spec, sustainable products that cut costs, cartage, and carbon emissions, and reduce the strain on natural resources,” said Alex Fraser Managing Director Peter Murphy.

Mr Murphy said the Alex Fraser team was focussed on helping their customers finish their projects safely and on time.

He said customers had demonstrated an enthusiastic and proactive approach towards the changes put in place to ensure safe operations during COVID-19, including the switch to electronic payments, reducing the use of dockets and bringing their own PPE and radios to sites.

He said that Alex Fraser customers’ immediate and accepting response to the company’s introduction of COVID-19 safety measures demonstrated great community spirit and goodwill.

“We’re been very encouraged by our customers’ response to our hygiene and social distancing measures,” Mr Murphy said.

“Our employees have done a stellar job at implementing a wide range of new controls to our workplaces, very quickly. Many of these involved changes to the way we interacted with our customers, who have all been understanding and supportive.”

Image: the Alex Fraser team at Laverton’s Sustainable Supply Hub meet for a pre-dawn toolbox meeting to discuss COVID-19 safety.

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