A frank discussion of key issues in plastics and sustainability was hosted by the Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP) in Sydney yesterday, with the focus firmly on Australia's recycling responsibilities going forward.
Called 'Consumer & Environmental Trends In Plastics: Reuse. Recycle', the technical seminar was moderated by PKN publisher Lindy Hughson and attended by various members of the packaging industry, including AIP members from around NSW.
A panel, which featured BioPak's Richard Fine, Steinert Australia's Kurt Palmer, Planet Ark's Paul Klymenko, and Planet Protector's Joanne Howarth, answered questions about plastics and the circular economy, oxo degradable plastic, the shift towards sustainable packaging, and the move away from single-use plastics.
Other discussions surrounded how compostable bioplastics can assist in the diversion of organic waste from landfill, and find a use in foodservice environments.
Steinert Australia business development manager Kurt Palmer said one of the biggest priorities for the industry going forward needed to be reducing, as much as possible, the manufacture of multi-layer packaging with multiple incompatible polymer types.
He also said avoiding black or dark packaging designs was necessary due to the sustainability roadblocks these caused.
“Both these make the recovery or the re-manufacture of the material very difficult – in fact, in Australia it's currently impossible,” he said.
“The packaging industry also needs to create some 'pull' for recycled material.
“If there's no market, then MRF operators will continue to focus on the highest value and most easily recovered material.”
Planet Ark CEO Paul Klymenko agreed Australia needed a better recovery system.
"There are currently eight countries in Europe that don’t even have landfill," he said.
"As no one wants to run it or live near [landfill], they find better ways of disposing of their rubbish."
Klymenko believes the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) will help solve Australia’s critical waste issues.
"Evidence-based standardised recycling information on all packaging is essential to increasing recyling rates, reducing contamination, and contributing to a circular economy," he said.
BioPak founder Richard Fine said The New Plastics Economy envisages a new approach based on creating effective after-use pathways for plastics; drastically reducing leakage of plastics into natural systems, in particular oceans; and decoupling plastics from fossil feedstocks.
"Single-use disposable foodservice packaging or packaging that will be heavily contaminated with nutrients should be made from compostable materials," he said.
"Composting provides a sustainable, practical and commercially viable end of life recovery option for nutrient contaminated packaging.
"Achieving systemic change will require a collaborative approach that includes government, the recycling industry, plastic packaging manufacturers, and brand owners, and applying circular economy principles in order to retain and maximise the value of plastic.
"We have the resources and skills to transform the plastics economy and reduce negative externalities such as ocean pollution."
Planet Protector managing director Joanne Howarth said she's learned there is “a disconnect between the public's understanding of waste management and the processes currently available”.
“Education and improved labelling will help reduce this problem,” she said.
“This can only be achieved with pressure from the public, education programs from the government, and initiative from the private sector."
General Mills Australia R&D packaging engineer Joanne Cockerill said the seminar was a good reminder that packaging professionals need to put more pressure on state governments to replicate the kind of state-of-the-art recycling plants that are now being built in northern Europe.
“This would allow us to recycle all types of packaging, especially laminates and flexibles,” Cockerill said.