What is Australia doing when it comes to packaging and waste?

What is Australia doing when it comes to packaging and waste? Actually, a little more than you may be aware of.

In recent times we’ve heard on the news about the mountain loads of waste we are now accumulating since countries like China are no longer accepting our plastic waste. So, what is Australia doing about this? So far it seems we’re primarily in the foundation stage of a 2025 strategic plan. But in simply having a plan, measuring progress and the packaging industry moving towards sustainable realignment, according to APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly, Australia has become a world leader. Let’s see how.

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) is a co-regulatory, not for profit partnership between industry and government that has been created with the aim of complying with obligations that have been set out in the Australian Packaging Covenant. That is, reduce the harmful impact of packaging on the Australian environment. The first Covenant was created in 1999.
The 2025 Packaging targets under APCO’s Strategic Plan 2017-2022 is set out in 3 phases (1) Foundation – currently in delivery. (2) Development, (3) Realisation – of the below targets.

  • 100% of packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable
  • 70% of plastic pack recycled or composted
  • 30% recycled content across all packaging
  • Problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics in packaging to be phased out.

As part of the above targets APCO urges the packaging industry to move towards a circular economy and eliminate the word ‘waste’ from their thinking. We need to have a collective effort to have a truly circular economy. According to APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly “In a circular economy, we don’t have waste. It becomes something else – part of a reuse model, where it has a second life, or it’s recycled into something different, or it’s composted”.

The point was further made by Donnelly that when it comes to plastics, there is no silver bullet and despite Australia being a world leader when it comes to sustainability. “It’s not about flicking a switch and making all these changes overnight and going for the easy solution”. “Our system is recognised as leading in world terms. We feel under attack, but we should appreciate how advanced we are.”

In terms of supporting the circular economy the Australian government has as recently as May this year committed $3m to support Planet Ark and APCO recycling projects which includes supporting the Circular Economy Hub. The Circular Economy Hub is a new online platform and marketplace that will be launched fully in 2020 that will enable buyers and sellers in waste resources to be matched and help them identify products with sustainable materials including recycled content. “This online marketplace functionality will help to build the critical end markets for recycled products in Australia and provide essential education to the supply chain about the availability of sustainable options”

So what are some examples of the circular economy in play?
Keith Chessell (Principal Consultant – Sustainable Packaging Design) says “There needs to be education as to what is happening with plastic…..We need to ask ourselves as an industry, is there a future for soft plastic? The answer is yes, but recycling is clearly key”.

Caitlyn Richards (responsible sourcing manager, sustainable products and packaging at Coles) says that all Coles branded packaging will be 100% recycled by the end of 2020,

Redcycle is the company that takes and recycles all of the soft plastics collected at stores like Coles and Woolworths around the country and partners with companies like Replas who produce a range of products using recycled materials like bench seats and promenades. They even currently have bench seats for sale at Coles made from the plastics customers have returned through the Redcycle programme.

Close the Loop collect printer cartridges and have so far collected 41 million of them. The vast majority of which have been converted into pellets used for road building. In fact, the recycled printer cartridges are in every state of Australia except NT. According to Peter Tamblyn of Close the Loop “the quality of the roads is better in terms of both the fatigue and the consistency – 65% better in fact, when it comes to fatigue”.

So, are we satisfied Australia is doing enough? Maybe not, but we are still in the foundation stage of the Strategic Plan. Since May when the government announced $3m of funding to go towards recycling education and resource recovery projects and supporting the Circular Economy Hub, there has been new announcements such as the creation and first meeting of the Collection Action Group (CAG). The main role being to work with APCO and to develop a white paper setting out the roadmap for critical interventions required to transition Australia to a circular economy for packaging – another step forward. It seems the change from single use plastics and making the transition to a circular economy will really come down to the packaging industry, product manufacturers and consumers as a whole. To find out more about what Industry is doing follow this Industry News. And let’s support those companies making the change.

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