Australia’s top sustainability experts discuss the 2025 recycling targetPosted on August 7th, 2019 in Insights by AUSPACK
The environment was a huge talking point at the AUSPACK Business and Industry conference, with the ideas of increasing sustainability, eco-packaging and reducing food waste appearing in many of the talks.
One of the most involved discussions on the topic was led by Craig Reucassel (writer and presenter of the ABC’s War on Waste) as he discussed the challenges and opportunities facing the industry in the modern day.
Craig was joined on stage by:
- Brooke Donnelly, CEO of Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation
- Paul Klymenko, CEO of Planet Ark
- Dr Steve Lapidge, CEO of Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre
- Caitlyn Richards, Responsible Sourcing Manager for Coles
Australia is undergoing a massive change in regards to packaging, with ambitious government targets in place to make all packaging recyclable or reusable, 70% of those materials actually recycled and 30% recycled content used in packaging by 2025. Both Brooke and Paul are involved in making this happened, and they talked about why it’s happening and how to decide whether you should be aiming for recyclable or compostable materials.
Brooke said, “The pressure on business is actually coming from consumers having an expectation that their packaging is recyclable, compostable or reusable; that there is an end life solution. The pressure’s also coming down through the global supply chain, things like sustainable development goals, have been driving organisations to really find solutions and meet targets.”
While Paul added, “When it’s about plastic, that’s the most common question, ‘should I pick a recyclable plastic or a compostable one?’ At the end of the day, that is determined by the ecosystem that exists for those materials. What is the recycling system for it — in terms of can I put it through kerbside or do I have to take it somewhere? And from that collection, will it actually be useful?”
Food packaging and waste
One of the big questions posed by Craig was around food packaging. In many cases, it seems like there’s far too much and often unnecessary packaging seen in supermarkets (do bananas really need a plastic cover?) but, as Steve pointed out, it’s a fine balance between using too much and seeing an increase in food waste.
Steve said, “Packaging has a major role in reducing food waste, but we probably do use too much packaging and it’s about achieving that balance between minimising packaging without increasing food waste.”
“Most people probably know that about 50-80% of the carbon footprint of getting the food onto your plate is in the production of the food, it’s not the packaging. If we do away with packaging on something like meat, where it’s about 90% of the carbon footprint getting it onto your plate, then we waste all that energy and resources.”
Caitlyn, in her position at Coles, added that supermarkets are also on the sustainability journey and as well as the eco-benefits, they’re looking at things from a cost perspective.
She said, “We made a really ambitious target back in June 2018 around our packaging and waste. This was a directive from top down – we need to take a closer look at what we’re doing, making sure that everything we’ve got actually serves a purpose. It doesn’t make sense for us to be over-packaging, it’s an added cost if it’s not needed. We’re in a position where we are able to work really closely with our suppliers to develop an action plan for transitioning things out.”
Investment in recycling
Craig brought up the point that even if companies produce packaging that is 100% recyclable, and have clear labelling to how this, there might not be the facilities in Australia to deal with an influx of consumers trying to recycle more.
Caitlin said, “I think our response to that would be: if there’s no infrastructure in Australia at the moment, we just can’t call it recyclable. We can’t put a recycling symbol on it. Planet Ark developed ARL — the Australasian Recycling Label — and it identifies each packaging component and where it can go. For us, that’s been phenomenal. Unfortunately, we’re labelling things that aren’t recyclable, but at least our customers now know and they aren’t contaminating the stream.”
Brooke added, “From an APCO perspective, the actual program itself is supported by a very structured governance approach. We have a technical and a marketing advisory committee. Thanks to them, when we talk about something being recyclable it actually has to be able to be recycled. There is a benchmark within the program and that is that if 80% of population cannot access a service that enables you to be able to recycle that particular packaging, then it can be ‘technically recyclable’ but it can’t have a recyclable label on it.”
Three key takeaways:
- Australia has strong recycling targets and these are being influenced by many factors, particularly consumer demand
- Sometimes reducing packaging may have knock-on effects in other areas of waste reduction
- ARL will help show consumers what to recycle, but investment in infrastructure is required
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