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Plastics: Finding a sustainable solution

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues facing the planet. Here in Australia just 18 per cent of the plastic we put on the market is successfully recovered for future use. By 2040, if we fail to act, the volume of plastic on the market will double, the annual volume of plastic entering the ocean will almost triple, and ocean plastic stocks will quadruple. It is clear that to safeguard a sustainable future we must act now to change our relationship with plastics.

Plastics: Finding a sustainable solution
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IT IS important to recognise that plastic plays an important role in our global supply chains. It helps us keep food fresh to feed 8 billion people worldwide, delivers our life-saving medicines safely and securely, and transports our precious and hazardous goods. While plastic when managed appropriately is not inherently harmful, the way we have handled plastic at end of life has not been effective enough to ensure that it has not created harmful effects in our environment.

Changing the way we manage plastics requires a paradigm shift across industry, government and the community.

Indeed, many businesses are already well on the way to changing their relationship with plastics, as they work to meet powerful consumer demand for sustainable alternatives and adhere to new state and territory legislation to phase out certain problematic and unnecessary plastic items.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the initiatives and programs currently designed to help businesses change their approach to packaging sustainability.

ANZPAC Plastics Pact

To help address the plastics crisis in Oceania, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) launched the Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands Plastics Pact (ANZPAC). Developed in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, ANZPAC is the 11th pact in the foundation’s global Plastics Pact network, joining pacts in the US, Canada, South Africa, Chile and across Europe.

ANZPAC is a collaborative solution that brings together key players in the region behind a shared vision of a circular economy for plastic, where plastic never becomes waste or pollution.

The ambitious new cross-regional program will work to fundamentally transform our response to plastic by: eliminating the plastics we do not need; innovating to ensure that the plastics we do need are reusable, recyclable, or compostable; and circulating the plastic we do use, keeping it in the economy and out of the environment.

The pact represents the complete plastics supply chain, from leading brands, packaging manufacturers and retailers to resource recovery leaders, government institutions, and NGOs. More than 70 organisations have so far signed up to ANZPAC, including many of Australia’s largest and best-known businesses.

ANZPAC members will work towards four clear, actionable targets by 2025:

1. Eliminate unnecessary and problematic plastic packaging through redesign, innovation and alternative (reuse) delivery models.

2. 100 per cent of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025.

3. Increase plastic packaging collected and effectively recycled by 25 per cent for each geography within the ANZPAC region.

4. Average of 25 per cent recycled content in plastic packaging across the region.

The phase out of unnecessary and problematic single-use plastic packaging

While plastic packaging has many benefits for society, problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging represents a highly damaging issue, with a range of associated negative environmental and economic impacts. In 2019, approximately 50,700 tonnes of unnecessary and problematic single-use plastic packaging were produced, making up 5 per cent of the total 1 million tonnes of plastic packaging placed on the Australian market.

The phase out of singleuse plastic packaging is an initiative that is being led by APCO through the 2025 National Packaging Targets. Since these targets were agreed, APCO has worked with the whole plastic supply chain to produce an agreed list of materials for phase-out, including agreed timelines for this to take place.

The Australasian Recycling Label Program

The Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) Program launched in 2018 and has since recruited more than 500 organisations to join the program, including many of Australia’s best-known brands and retailers. The ARL Program is an on-pack labelling scheme that helps consumers to recycle correctly and supports businesses to design packaging that is recyclable at end-of-life. The program was developed by APCO in partnership with Planet Ark and PREP Design and is endorsed by all Australian governments to help make recycling easier and empower consumers to make effective disposal decisions about packaging at the end of life.

The ARL Program features two key elements:

  • The Packaging Recyclability Evaluation Portal (PREP) – an online tool that assesses packaging recyclability in the Australian and New Zealand recovery systems.
  • The Australasian Recycling Label – an on-pack label that provides clear and simple instructions about how to recycle all of the separable packaging components.

Along with helping build consumer trust and credibility, the ARL takes the confusion out of recycling with easy-to-understand instructions about how to correctly dispose of all parts of a product’s packaging.

Consumer awareness of the ARL has grown significantly and is particularly high among younger audiences. Consumers also say the ARL helps them to recycle more – with one in five reporting they would recycle a lot more if the ARL was on their packaging. Three-quarters of Australians want to see the label on every item of packaging – while just under half say the ARL would influence their decision to buy a product.

This widespread uptake was one of the factors that was commended in a recent report from the UN Environment Programme. The ARL Program was recognised as a world-leading consumer education initiative, celebrated for its clarity, reliability and accessibility.

In summary, by addressing these plastic issues, we will reduce litter and waste, improve the economics of recycling, increase employment, lift recycling rates, and help to boost recycled content in packaging.

For those in businesses that provide counsel to clients, it is important to remain aware and informed of the fast-paced changing landscape of sustainable packaging, to better support your clients as they navigate this space. They themselves may be undergoing changes to their packaging or beginning their journey to improve it over time.

The reality is that consumers are increasingly expecting businesses to be working to achieve best practice in sustainable packaging.

Want to find out more? For more information, visit www.apco.org.au or get in touch at [email protected]

Brooke Donnelly CEO, Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation

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