APCO calls for co-regulation on packaging targets

APCO packaging targets

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has released its Review of the 2025 National Packaging Targets, and is calling for a stronger co-regulatory framework, which strikes a balance between industry-led action and effective government regulation.

“We’ve seen some fantastic contributions from many businesses so it is disappointing that the headline data indicates targets will not all be met,” APCO CEO Chris Foley said.

APCO members have reported considerable action that supports the transition to a circular economy for packaging and the 2025 Targets are a key driver.

Despite positive action by some, the report identifies the need for further improvement of packaging design and the expansion of business-to-business recycling as key opportunities.

“It is time for many businesses to do more to reduce the impact of their packaging and improve its recoverability,” Foley said.

The need for a whole of packaging system approach to overcoming barriers to progress has also been identified.

“The task at hand is much bigger than any one business. Collaboration and cooperation across the packaging industry, government, waste and recycling sectors is needed to drive change” according to Foley.

The report outlines four key findings:

  1. While the 2025 targets are driving a transformation in packaging in Australia, they are not on track to be met by 2025.
  2. Longer-term vision is needed to guide action.
  3. Collaboration is needed across the entire packaging system.
  4. Strong and coordinated interventions are needed on essential packaging material streams.

The report also prioritises actions needed across the supply chain to drive effective, whole-of-system movement towards a circular economy for packaging. It also clearly identifies those responsible at each step.

“APCO is focusing its resources on helping businesses and bringing the entire system together to close the gap on targets for the benefit of the environment, the community and the economy. If industry cannot do better as a whole, governments will pursue harder regulation,” Foley said.

“It is clear a stronger co-regulatory framework that brings in and aligns the entire packaging system and creates an even playing field for all will help to further reduce environmental impacts and deliver community and economic benefits.

“The review of the co-regulatory framework underway at the moment is an opportunity to reset. This is a once in 25-year opportunity to help strengthen compliance, protect public interest and ensure accountability across the packaging system while supporting innovation, competition and investment.”

Recommendations delivered as part of the co-regulatory review that could form part of a new, stronger co-regulatory framework include centralised oversight and increased participation across the system, actions to reduce free riders, and stronger integration of design standards.

On hearing of the news, Jeff Angel from the environmental group the Boomerang Alliance said the blame squarely falls on the packaging sector for the targets being out of reach, because the sector lacked commitment and investment over 20 years of voluntary arrangements.

“There have been failures across the board. Lack of action on redesign of products, new reprocessing capacity and collection infrastructure has led to a dismal outcome. Millions of tonnes of plastic, paper and cardboard are not being recycled and instead ending up in landfill,’’ said Angel. “If there is one thing we agree with APCO on, it’s that we need a systemic change across the entire product chain from product design to end destination to create a circular economy.  This will only be achieved by government mandating the targets, with industry funding and strong regulation, including penalties.  Any push to change the targets to a later date must also be resisted – that will just demotivate those business that are pressing ahead and cause more environmental damage.

“APCO are making a ‘’call to action’’. It’s never too late, but the packaging sector’s prior greenwash and ineffectual behaviour has made the task all the harder.  Boomerang and its allies will be keeping up the pressure on the sector and government to bring in a regulated producer responsibility scheme.’’

The release of the review was also welcomed by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

“Now is the time to redouble our efforts and work collaboratively across sectors to ensure we achieve a circular economy for packaging,” said Suzanne Toumbourou, ACOR CEO. “We welcome APCO’s call to action, which outlines a longer-term vision, collaboration across the entire packaging system, and strong and coordinated interventions for essential material streams.

“Stronger regulatory interventions are necessary to support the uptake of the Sustainable Packaging Guidelines and embed minimum standards for Australian recycled content in packaging. A stronger regulatory framework, supporting circular design and robust end markets for recycled material, is a step in the right direction.”

The National Retail Association has also welcomed the review. Director of Policy, David Stout, said the review outlines the significant amount of work undertaken by APCO and industry to deliver targets and highlights the need for more collaboration and co-regulatory support.

“If you look at any sustainability report from business, they’re doing a lot of positive things. Businesses lead the charge in both compliance and exceeding expectations, and we have seen hundreds of examples of this from across the supply chain,” said Stout. “We’ve been on the ground, engaging with businesses across Australia on the single-use plastic bans and we commend business for investing time and resources to adopt more sustainable initiatives.

“Industry has collaborated and successfully implemented initiatives including the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL), State and Territory single-use plastic bans and Container Deposit Schemes (CDS) and, the National Plastics Recycling Scheme (NPRS).”

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