Research & Reports

Only half of packaging waste is recycled, according to new report

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) have launched a new report, which was developed in partnership with the Institute of Sustainable Futures (ISF), to map out the current state of post-consumer packaging in Australia.

The Packaging Material Flow Analysis (MFA) highlights a compelling need to improve packaging recovery and recycling rates across all material streams.

In 2017-18, Australia generated an estimated 4.4 million tonnes of total packaging waste, with 68 per cent of this collected, and 56 per cent of the collection total recovered by recycling efforts. This ranged from 32 per cent for plastics and up to 72 per cent for paper streams – highlighting the significant opportunity to improve waste management practices to achieve higher recovery rates.

“To achieve the 2025 National Packaging Targets, we need to first understand the journey materials take along the entire supply-chain and establish a baseline of data to measure change and interventions. This report is the first step in this process,” said Brooke Donnelly, APCO CEO.

A critical first step in achieving the 2025 National Packaging Targets, the report outlines the current journey of Australia’s packaging waste from bin to landfill or reprocessing, identifies significant data and infrastructure challenges in the system and models five potential solutions for the future.

“There is great potential to step-up material recovery from the current overall recovery rate of 56 per cent and at the same time increase demand for recycled materials to drive the transition to a circular economy for packaging,” said Dr Nick Florin, ISF research director and co-author of the report.

“APCO, as the central product stewardship organisation, is well placed to support this coordinated transition that involves cooperation between consumers, designers, recyclers and packaging manufactures.”

The MFA also highlighted significant data and infrastructure gaps that need to be addressed before the 2025 Targets can be achieved. These findings will be used to inform additional packaging and recycling research to develop a complete picture of the current system.

“We can’t implement effective and meaningful changes to the system if we don’t first have a complete and accurate picture. A collaborative approach will be critical to building this,” Donnelly said.

“The challenge ahead of us requires a complete transformation of the current system. Over the next 12 months APCO will be leading an ambitious agenda of projects to build on the findings of the MFA.

“We look forward to working closely with all stakeholders as we transition to a circular model for packaging in Australia.”

The MFA is one of several APCO initiatives being conducted during the Foundation Phase of the targets (2019-20) – the groundwork stage that focuses on research, engaging stakeholders and setting baseline and frameworks.

Throughout 2018, APCO also facilitated a series of five, year-long industry working groups attended by more than 80 industry members from across the value-chain and government to explore solutions to problematic packaging types (including glass, polymer coated paperboard, soft plastics, biodegradable and compostable packaging, and expanded polystyrene).

In 2019, APCO will be coordinating 22 new projects to build on the findings of the MFA and the 2018 Working Groups. These will include further detailed research into packaging consumption and recycling to establish baselines for the 2025 targets, developing targeted design resources to improve packaging recyclability, and developing strategies to address problematic packaging, including plastics.