Packaging for the planet

The pressure on the finite resources of our environment and the looming dangers of climate change are influencing our collective thinking. A recent IPCC report into climate change estimated that emissions from the global food system comprise between 21 and 37 per cent of the world’s human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.

These pressures are being felt across the supply chain, as businesses, packaging manufacturers and retailers become more conscious of their environmental impact. Brands are today engaging with a public that is increasingly aware of the impact of their packaging choices.

Here in Australia we have responded to these global changes with the development of the 2025 National Packaging Targets – announced by industry and government in 2018 to develop a sustainable approach to packaging in Australia. The overarching target is for 100 per cent of packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and businesses across the country are responding to the challenge by asking what operational changes they need to make in order to drive this transformation. 

Building a circular economy approach to packaging is about moving away from the traditional “take-make-dispose” model to one that is regenerative by design. 

Over 1500 businesses – including a range of FMCG organisations and their suppliers – are working with APCO to optimise their packaging sustainability and supporting the delivery of the 2025 targets. Collectively these businesses represent some $360 billion in annual revenue in the Australian marketplace. And in the last 12 months from within this group we are starting to see real leadership and innovation to drive improved sustainable outcomes.

Coles and Woolworths’ decision to phase out single-use plastic bags has translated to an 80 per cent drop in the consumption of plastic bags nationwide – preventing billions of bags from entering the environment. And in June this year Aldi stepped forward with the announcement of targets to reduce packaging by a quarter by 2025, and to phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics by the end of 2020.

From within the brand space, Coca Cola Amatil made the strategic decision to get ahead of the national targets with the landmark announcement that seven out of 10 of its plastic bottles will be made entirely from recycled plastic by the end of 2019. It’s a decision that will drive market supply and create investment to eventually create new markets and new jobs in Australia.

Looking to the manufacturing community, Pact Group is another organisation that’s leading the way with recycled content, as the largest user of recycled resin in the southern hemisphere. The team is currently conducting an exciting new research trial to explore the use of recycled milk bottle plastic content in the manufacture of wheelie bins – with up to 250 milk bottles (the average use of every Australian household) used to manufacture each bin.

Finally, at a broader supply chain level, transport and logistics expert Chep is an organisation that’s long been reaping the commercial benefits of sustainable leadership. One of the largest pallet businesses in the world, Chep’s reusable packaging model sees them rent pallets to customers around the globe and then collect almost every unit back after use to inspect, repair and send back out into the supply chain again. The team is now bringing this circular economic approach to the wider supply chain, collaborating with a range of customers to develop closed-loop solutions to their packaging challenges.

While these initiatives represent different approaches to this challenge – research, design, innovation or collaboration – what they collectively demonstrate is that Australian industry is waking up to the clear business case for sustainable packaging, and recognising that now is the time for more Australian businesses to adopt an approach that’s good for the environment, good for business and good for Australia.

Globally, businesses and governments are asking where the tangible opportunities are to build this new approach. The next challenge is to bring this global perspective – scaling up the circular approach – to the business community in Australia. Now’s the time for Australian businesses to engage with this new way of operating and embrace the strategic opportunity that sustainable circular packaging presents.

Brooke Donnelly is CEO of the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation.

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