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Australia’s federal, state and territory environment ministers have commited to eliminating all packaging going to landfill by 2025. What does this mean for the Australian packaging industry?

In a call to action following the China Ban, a landmark Meeting of Environmental Ministers (MEM) in Melbourne on 27 April has led to the announcement of Australia’s commitment to reducing the amount of packaging waste generated and making it easier for packaging to be recycled.

The ministers endorsed a time target of 2025 by which 100 per cent of Australian packaging should be recyclable, reusable or compostable. So that's all packaging in Australia, whether the product's imported or locally packaged.

The pledge has been hailed as "one of the most ambitious and decisive environmental targets to be supported in Australia" by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), who has been endorsed to lead the government’s response to the China Ban issue.

Shortly after the announcement, PKN spoke to CEO Brooke Donnelly, who said 27 April marked a very important day for Australia, aligning the country with the global movement towards a circular economy and timeously matching a similar pledge made by the UK government.

"This commitment is the culmination of a great deal of groundwork already done by the APCO and its industry members over the last twelve months, who have demonstrated tremendous leadership in steering our industry towards a circular economy approach," Donnelly said.

She said that APCO is recognised as one of Australia’s leading product stewardship organisations with a strong national and global collaborative network.

"Our established frameworks, resource capabilities and proven independence underpins APCO's capacity to facilitate a whole of life cycle response to China’s waste import restrictions," she said.

Donnelly stressed the importance of a consistent, national approach across all initiatives to promote domestic recycling, reduce the amount of waste going into landfill and deliver a smaller, cleaner waste stream in Australia.

The APCO has already made strides with the launch of the Australian Recycling Label, supported by the PREP tool, and the Sustainability Reporting Framework.

She said that among the next steps would be to "unpack how closed loop collaboration will work across industry" and to embed the concept culturally across all stakeholders.

The APCO currently has 900 members who are signatories of the Covenant, and Donnelly said that within a few weeeks APCO will be launching a brand audit process, with the aim of addressing the "free rider" issue and bringing "into the tent" specific companies, which have been identified as stakeholders who should be participating in the Covenant going forward.

She said at this stage becoming a signatory would remain a voluntary step, but that every effort will be made to convert "recalcitrants" and get their buy-in to the circular economy approach. Legislation, she believes, should be a last resort.

Asked about whether plastics, specifically flexible plastics, might be first in focus, Donnelly said the APCO working groups will be looking at problematic materials and modelling projects that would "unpack where we are at right now and where we need to get to".

Commenting on industry concerns over incineration -- as voiced by Boomerang Alliance's Jeff Angel among others -- Donnelly said it is important that people like Angel continued to raise concerns and ask questions, so that the dialogue remains open and constructive and the optimal solutions can be found for all stakeholders.

She added that Ministers had endorsed the development of targets for the use of recycled content in packaging, and this will be closely monitored.

“The China issue presents a significant opportunity for Australia to shift to the next level in packaging resource recovery, recycling and end use.

"We applaud the federal, state and territory governments for stepping up as key players in the global movement to create sustainable packaging solutions that drive accountability, transparency and shared value for consumers, industry and government."

“We will support more innovative packaging design, enhance consumer education, as well as bolster the re-use and the incorporation of recycled content within end markets," Donnelly said.

Covenant signatory Nestlé Australia's CEO, Sandra Martinez, said: “We welcome this announcement from Minister Frydenberg, as we recognise businesses must step up and find improved solutions to reduce, re-use and recycle. Nestlé is proud to be a member of APCO and is working collectively alongside industry to achieve 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2025.”

Nestle recently announced its goal to make 100 per cent of its packaging recyclable or re-usable by 2025.

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