THERE WAS A TIME when, at a social gathering, my answer to that inevitable question, “So what line of work are you in?” would bring the conversation to an awkward halt, leaving my cocktail companion regretting instantly their feigned interest in my occupation and eliciting a response along the lines of, “Packaging, you say, hmm... [stifling yawn, eyes darting anxiously about the room for nearest escape], that’s great [not!].” But times-they-are-a-changin’ – now saying you’re in packaging is a conversation starter.
Never before have so many spoken so much (and had so many misguided opinions) about packaging. And indeed, never before have we needed to develop this dialogue as much as we do now, with the global plastics waste crisis making headlines, and the recycling waste crisis on our doorstep spawning sensationalist TV shows.
As I write this column (published in the latest print issue of PKN) I’ve just hung up the phone from an interview with Brooke Donnelly, Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO. As it happens, we have been speaking rather a lot lately, as we seek to bring balance and optimism to the often negative debate sparking in the wider media.
Brooke is a voice of calm and reason in the packaging waste maelstrom, despite the mountain she knows we as an industry still have to climb. As head of the organisation charged with leading the country to meet its National Packaging Targets by 2025, she is under no illusions about what APCO, the packaging industry and all stakeholders are up against. It’s an issue that is on some levels as big as climate change, she says.
She knows the existing system is broken (her words, not mine) but also that the industry is in a transition phase and work is progressing, with success stories continuing to roll out. For instance, beverage giant Coca-Cola Australia, one of the country’s biggest users of packaging, is doubling its use of recycled plastic.
But today I was talking to Brooke about news of the federal government’s $3 million commitment to supporting recycling projects, more than half of which will go towards the development of a circular economy hub, or as APCO and project partner Planet Ark describe it, a B2B ‘eBay’ for the circular economy.
While the other projects are certainly important, and include funding for developing a national approach to consumer education on reducing, reusing and recycling packaging, I think this hub is the real conversation starter.
The platform will match buyers and sellers in waste resources to help them identify products with sustainable materials, including recycled content. And in so doing, this online marketplace will help build the critical end markets for recycled products so needed in our country.
By the time you read this, the election will [nearly] be over and we’ll [possibly be heading for] a change of government. But whatever transpires in the Canberra bubble, I doubt it will change the resolve of the packaging industry to move forward in a circular direction (as illogical as that sounds).
And it’s the positive conversations we continue to have as an industry that will allow calm and common sense to prevail, and support the good work already underway.