Australia, Events, Features

A shift in focus – two decades of the Australian Packaging Covenant explored

Twenty years ago, the Australian Packaging Covenant (APC) was heavily focussed on the avoidance of litter and cleaning up Australia. But two decades on, the priorities that influence the direction of the APC have changed.

APCO CEO Brooke Donnelly said while litter prevention still needs to be continuously addressed, the strategic direction of the APC is to support the creation of a circular economy for packaging in Australia.

As anyone who follows the 2025 National Packaging Targets will know, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) is at the centre of helping develop an approach to packaging that will deliver on the nation’s goals.

These goals being – to have 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025, to ensure 70 per cent of Australia’s plastic packaging will be recycled or composted and to have 30 per cent average recycled content in all packaging by 2025. As well as this, problematic and unnecessary single- use plastic packaging will be phased out through design, innovation or introduction of alternatives by 2025.

With these targets in mind, Donnelly said it was natural that APCO’s priorities would develop in line with Australia’s priorities.

“The Covenant has really evolved. If you look at what its original intent was, it was very focussed on litter and the avoidance of litter.

“Then it went through all parts of the sustainability movement – focussing on a range of other interventions.”

Following the implementation of the APC 2017 – 2022 Strategic Plan, it was clear that the organisation which was to deliver the work (APCO) would need to significantly change, Donnelly said.

“It’s like all organisations, they grow, they develop, they mature.”

Now out of its “teenage” years, APCO is balancing its support for new initiatives while ensuring former priorities are supported and continue to succeed. “We need to keep having conversations with people about their obligations around litter and we need to be even more direct about that than we have been in the past. If you look at some of the literature early on in the litter discussion it was, ‘you shouldn’t litter because it doesn’t look good in the environment,” Donnelly explained.

“The language around that has shifted and now it’s more prescriptive – ‘you’re actually causing environmental harm by littering. It’s not just bad behaviour, you’re actually endangering wildlife, you are causing long term environmental damage through the creation of micro plastics’.”

Through the China National Sword policy, public awareness of Australia’s growing recycling challenges has increased. This has boosted the urgency for all Australians to take action, Donnelly said.

“There’s a lot more to do, but we are doing the right things. We are looking at end markets and finding homes for materials. We are talking about the use of recycled content and we are looking at building domestic capacity here in Australia. We are doing all the right things, the reality is it’s a big ship to turn and it won’t happen overnight, but everything is going the way it should be.

“When we look at the China Sword, then you overlay that with the consumer momentum that has come from shows such as ABC’s War on Waste and when you put all those things together, it creates a perfect storm of activity and engagement that’s coming from not just one stakeholder group, but numerous levels. Community groups, government and stakeholders are all having the same interest at relatively the same time.

“It’s one thing for one group to want to do something and see that something is important, but it’s rare when you get different types of groups coming together,” Donnelly said.

It’s a collaborative approach that APCO continuously seeks to develop. It’s an approach that APCO celebrates through its awards program each year.

Celebrating collaboration and success

Not only is APCO celebrating 20 years of the Covenant, but it will also celebrate the success of its members through its annual awards ceremony – held in Melbourne on November 20.

All APCO members are eligible, with nominees selected based on each organisation’s sustainability performance throughout the year, which is assessed during the APCO Annual Report process. A series of workshops will also take place prior to the evening’s celebrations. One workshop stream will include discussions on soft plastics and recycled content and the other is an information session on sustainable packaging guidelines and the 2025 roadmap.

“That will be in the consultation phase at that stage, so we will have a draft of the roadmap, which we will work through. The Packaging Sustainability Framework, which is the reporting framework for all organisations that report to APCO, has also been through a review process this year so we will be working through that.”

The awards celebrations will focus on businesses small and large that have transitioned to a circular economy and made steps towards sustainable packaging. Donnelly said the awards are an important way of highlighting the work that is being achieved in this space.

“We’ve got to acknowledge the change of direction from brands and especially the major retailers and their focus on sustainability and how they’ve really stepped up in taking the lead and how powerful that is.

“They have an ability to influence their own supply chains and work collaboratively with them. You get a great follow-on effect from that kind of leadership as well. The most effective way to do the work is to influence your network and push out through a collective impact model,” Donnelly said.

“The awards ceremony is a great night and we’ve got lots of different organisations across the supply chain there. It’s a wonderful engagement opportunity to meet and talk to people, about the important work happening in the sustainable packaging space.”