A first for our industry, the Australasian Packaging Conference 2020, run by the Australian Institute of Packaging, kicked off on an all-new live platform today.
The four-day event was opened by AIP president Jason Fields, who welcomed the audience – which had tuned in via the livestream or Zoom platforms on the AIP website – with some sobering statistics on the impact of COVID-19 on the world, and on the packaging industry and those it serves.
He noted that during this very challenging year, while the spotlight may not be on sustainable packaging and the pursuit of a circular economy, the work in sustainable packaging design and design for recovery must continue, because “the spotlight will return and we need to be ready”.
For packaging professionals, the four day conference will prove a rich resource on the latest developments across all aspects of the industry, from material developments, to technology innovation and also progress made on important initiatives like the National Packaging Targets, Save Food Packaging and Food Waste, and Circular Economy.
These were all topics covered by keynote speaker Pierre Pienaar, president of the World Packaging Organisation, who gave a global perspective on packaging that is fit for the future.
“Plastic has its place in our world, and that’s not in our waterways, our environment,” he said.
He reminded the audience that packaging is necessary for food safety and quality, for protecting food, extending its shelf life, and reducing food waste.
“But we need to develop solutions that reduce packaging volumes and impact without compromising on protection,” he said.
“The WPO sees a future without waste by increasing plastic recycling and identifying alternative alternative materials to plastic.
Pienaar gave an overview of what the WPO working on, including global projects to reduce food waste and packaging waste, and to increase packaging education.
“We target unnecessary packaging, we encourage phasing out materials that are not recyclable, and focus on the development of mono-material packaging.”
Across the world WPO is supporting the design and implementation of affordable and effective mandatory Extended Producer Responsibility schemes.
“Our focus for 2021-2023 is identifying key countries that require WPO assistance in achieving these EPR outcomes,” he said.
On food waste, he said WPO is 100 per cent committed to reducing food waste, citing how its WorldStar awards program has a category that focuses specifically on save food packaging design (the gold winner of which hailed from Australia – Sealed air’s chicken portion pack for Hazeldene’s chicken Farm examples of food packaging design). Pienaar said that according to the UN, up to 25 per cent of the world’s food waste can be eliminated through packaging.
The WPO’s focus on reducing packaging in the environment involves a three-pronged approach: increasing recycling rates, improving collection rates, and increasing the recyclability of materials used in packaging. Citing EU figures to make the point, Pienaar said plastics are the material that present the biggest challenges specifically in the areas of recyclability and circular design, recycling infrastructure, and availability of recyclates.
He spoke also of government response around the globe to public concerns about packaging waste, notably single-use plastic waste, and regulators are adopting various approaches for minimising and managing packaging waste.
In Australia, the government approach has been to focus on recovery and recycling of packaging; and has set a target of 100% packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable.
China has banned and limited imports on packaging waste and proposes to ban single-use plastics by 2022.
In India, legislation favours recyclable substrates and formats, and there’s a push for increased number of awareness campaigns and collection points, but plans for a ban on single-use plastics have been shelved for now.
In the US, important jurisdictions are implementing bans on plastic bags, while bills around reducing single-use packaging waste and increasing recycling are being motioned.
In the EU, a packaging and waste directive has been introduced, and there’s talk of implementing a ban on selected single-use plastics.
He noted that in Thailand a ban on single-use plastic bags at major stores came into effect on 1 January 2020, and the government is aiming for a full ban by 2021 to reduce “plastic leakage’ into the environment.
Latin America, he said, has relatively low commitments to sustainability with few regulations in place.
The bright light comes from the response of FMCG companies, who are actively promoting high recyclability and recycled content in their packaging.
In closing, he shared the confronting image of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, underscoring his opening statement that this is not where plastic belongs.
This provided the perfect segue for the next keynote speaker, Pete Ceglinksi, CEO and co-founder of Seabin Project.
Ceglinski opened with an explanation of how the Seabin works: it’s effectively a garbage bin that floats on the surface in marinas that filters water and captures plastic waste and other debris. He explained that the Seabin concept has evolved since its initial design, and now includes technology that enables monitoring and measuring of litter in the water at the various locations and how this is linked to weather patterns and human behaviour.
He explained that the Pollution Index by Seabin Project is a global data platform to measure the health of our waterways and in turn, our oceans. “Data sets provides by a network of over 19 countries fill critical knowledge gaps needed by decision makers to justify the change we all want to see: cleaner oceans and a better value of life.”
He said that Seabin Project has now extended to 54 countries, which sees a daily collection of 4.5 tonnes of plastic waste.
Ceglinksi said: “What we are doing affects everyone, it’s everybody’s problem, and the only way for us to find a solution is through partnership and collaboration.
He said the approach of Seabin Project is to stay positive in its messaging, not to name and shame a particular company whose waste might be prevalent in the collections.
He also said Clean Up is the “last resort” action, the focus should be on early intervention measures like increased visual communication, litter prevention, education, data monitoring and community engagement.
“We need more voices, we need to scale up. We need to raise awareness and then funnel that into the change we want to see.”