Insights by AUSPACK

Brooke Donnelly, CEO of APCO, spoke at the AUSPACK 2019 Business and Industry Conference

The four components needed for sustainable change, according to APCO CEO

Posted on June 26th, 2019 in Insights by AUSPACK

Environmental factors are a huge area of growth and potential for the packaging world. Changes to the way the industry works have been fast-tracked since the China National Sword Policy was announced with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) setting a target for 100% of packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Brooke Donnelly, CEO of APCO, spoke at the AUSPACK 2019 Business and Industry Conference about the four key factors that will help Australia meet this goal.

The current state of affairs

During her presentation, Brooke highlighted several startling facts about the current waste flow through the Australian system.

Based on figures from 2017 and 2018, of the 4.4m tonnes of packaging waste create annually, 44% was going to landfill, 33% to secondary markets and 19% was being exported.

Brooke said, “In terms of a sustainable packaging model, this is not what we want. You can see that 44% landfill is a problem, so is the 33% secondary material utilisation. That essentially is saying, that 33% has a home, it has an end market that’s valuable enough that we’re recovering and doing something with it. But it’s only 33% of that stream so that’s an issue.”

To improve this, we need to look at creating more of a circular economy that focuses on packaging design, systems, education and material circularity.

Packaging design

There are several factors that make packaging design good or bad for the environment. Too much packaging can be an issue, the materials used can cause problems and the end goal of the packaging can also have an impact.

By using recycled and renewable materials, designing for reuse and recovery, and creating something with litter reduction in mind, manufacturers around the country can all improve their products and packaging.

The end goal of packaging is one area that APCO has noted a clear need for improvement. Brooke described the three sub-targets they had to reach their 100% goal in 2025. She said, “We talked about 70% of plastic packaging being recycled or composted. Soft plastics is one of the lowest performing collection waste streams in Australia, so we really need to drive recognition and commerciality of that.”

“Another target was around 30% average recycled content across all packaging. We need a pull in the market to give a home to these materials. There’s no home if the home doesn’t have a value. Looking at recycled content is about understanding how we can get that content into certain materials.”

“The final target was about phasing out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative delivering methods.”

For more help, APCO has published sustainable packaging guidelines on its website.

Systems

As part of their research, APCO realised that there was potential for partnerships across industries that could improve Australia’s recycling rates. Although similar products are used in various different ways, decision makers rarely look outside their own specific industry when looking to collaborate on waste management but thinking outside the box could bring huge rewards.

Brooke said, “We really help businesses identify and develop the operational systems required for this work. Some of the key resources in this area is about strategic partnerships, bringing together organisations that otherwise would have absolutely no alignment with each other than they have a similar end of life material.”

Public education

Improved systems and product design alone won’t make a difference if the public isn’t sure what to do with waste materials when they’re done with them. By educating the public and making it easier for them to know what to do with certain materials, we can increase the collection and secondary material utilisation rates.

Brooke said, “The Australasian Recycling Label is the flagship piece of work for APCO in terms of helping industry and government to communicate with consumers and communities about packaging and how to deal with packaging at end of life.”

Material circularity

At the moment, much of Australia’s packaging is in a linear system: materials are sourced, used and then discarded. By closing the loop, materials can be reused time and time again, reducing the need to source new materials and cutting down on the amount sent to landfill.

“There’s no point in recycling a piece of packaging unless it has a home to go to that has a value. Material circularity is about dealing with the end market and actually creating a sustainable ecosystem for post consumer recycling and ensuring that if you’re creating something, at end of life it’s designed to have a home and a functional purpose as it finishes one and transitions into another.”

Three key takeaways:

  • Product design as a huge impact on sustainability.
  • Work with those outside your industry to improve material recycling and reuse.
  • Aim for material circularity to reduce landfill waste.

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