The Annual Plastics and Waste Conference, organised by the Australia-New Zealand section of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), highlighted Australia’s current progress on plastics and packaging recyclability, and discussed what more is needed for the country to achieve its targets.
The second session of the Plastics and the Circular Economy virtual conference, held on 16 November, commenced with a keynote address by the CEO of the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) Brooke Donnelly, and included a video update from Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans.
Donnelly spoke on the country’s progress on the 2025 National Packaging Targets, especially highlighting the state of plastic packaging and our transition into a circular economy.
“One of the biggest reasons behind the movement towards sustainable packaging is the demand coming from consumers, with 92 per cent believing that sustainable business practices should be the standard, rather than the exception,” Donnelly said.
“And what we’re seeing is that this uptake has filtered itself into the policy space, and we are seeing a much clearer path forward, especially from a government perspective.”
Donnelly pointed to several key developments in recent years which have helped to push the country towards establishing a circular economy, such as the fallout from the China Sword Policy, as well as the introduction of the National Packaging Targets, the National Waste Policy Action Plan, and the National Plastics Plan, to name a few.
“There’s a consistent trickle up into the policy development space from that desire of consumers and communities to really drive sustainable practices and packaging,” said Donnelly.
“There’s a whole range of activities that have happened from both the government and industry, and consumers have been engaging more in creating new collection methodologies and participating in programs like REDcycle.
“We’ve seen organisations phase out single-use plastics, as well as legislation take place in regards to unnecessary and problematic plastics, which is happening at a state and territory level. On top of all that, we’ve also seen a massive uptake of the Australasian Recycling Label.”
At the political level, Trevor Evans noted, we’ve seen the federal government so far put $190 million on the table to rapidly upgrade the country’s domestic recycling capabilities through the Recycling Modernisation Fund.
The government has also allocated $167 million for the Australian Recycling Investment Plan, which includes $25 million for new industry-lead product stewardship.
“The pace of change and reform on waste and recycling policy over recent years has been fast and furious, and plastics remain a primary focus for the federal government’s reforms,” said Evans.
“The federal government is strongly committed to reducing waste, increasing recycling rates, and building capacity. We are addressing our approach to plastics on five key fronts – legislation, investment, industry targets, R&D and community education.
“We recognise that industry’s use of plastics, especially in packaging, can pose major environmental challenges. But we also see it as a major economic opportunity, and industry has a leading role here to find new innovations and solutions to give plastic longer life and more economic worth.
“There is real momentum now in Australia to ensure that 100 per cent of the packaging on our shelves is recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.”
There’s still plenty to do though, Donnelly says, and while things are shifting in the right direction, several key areas that need further action.
“To really achieve true circularity, we need to ensure that all packaging is designed for recovery at end of the life, and we need to reduce the losses at each and every stage of the recovery process,” Donnelly explained.
“The other key area that needs attention is the fact that we have about 24 per cent of the material that’s flowing through the system not actually making it into the recovery phase to be recycled or reprocessed into new materials.”
For more on the SPE ANZ conference, you can read here what Prof Ed Kosior had to say about a focus on CO2 emissions reduction in any plan for a circular economy for plastics. We'll be publishing more insights from the conference on the website soon, and in PKN Packaging News’ upcoming January/February issue we'll provide a deeper dive into what went down.