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The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) has today released its review of the 2025 National Packaging Targets, with headline data making it plain that the targets are not on track to be met.

APCO is calling for concerted, collaborative effort across the entire packaging value chain and a stronger co-regulatory framework which strikes a balance between industry-led action and effective government regulation.

Chris Foley tells it like it is: The targets are not on track to be met; it's time for a reset of the co-regulatory framework.
Chris Foley tells it like it is: The targets are not on track to be met but we need to keep up the momentum.

Chris Foley, APCO CEO, said: “We’ve seen some fantastic contributions from many businesses so it is disappointing that the headline data indicates targets will not all be met.”

However, he says businesses should keep up the momentum; the overall goal of the targets will remain.

The data reviewed was sourced from 500-plus organisations and individuals from across the packaging system in both industry and government, and relates to the 2020-2021 reporting period.

Target 2, the target of 'recycling or composting of 70 per cent of plastic packaging by 2025' is presenting the biggest challenge. 

According to APCO, in 2020-21, the recovery rate for plastic packaging was 18 per cent. Based on current, funded and underutilised reprocessing capacity, plastic recovery could reach 46 per cent by 2025.

Speaking today on the PKN Podcast (Episode 69), Foley dissected the key findings of the review, addressing the challenges faced by stakeholders in the packaging value chain, and APCO’s next steps to implement the actions that will drive the necessary change. 

Foley says that while APCO members have reported considerable action that supports the transition to a circular economy for packaging, and while the 2025 Targets are a key driver for transformation, there are several significant obstacles to effective action. These include the lack of an effective regulatory stick to support the case for action; the lack of consistency in government policy that impacts packaging decisions; the lack of an overarching strategy and integrated framework for Australian recycling, and a competitive disadvantage for early movers from non-participants. 

Despite positive action by some, the report identifies the need for further improvement of packaging design and the expansion of business-to-business recycling as key opportunities.

“It is time for many businesses to do more to reduce the impact of their packaging and improve its recoverability,” Foley said.

The need for a whole of packaging system approach to overcoming barriers to progress has also been identified.

“The task at hand is much bigger than any one business. Collaboration and cooperation across the packaging industry, government, waste and recycling sectors is needed to drive change,” Foley said.

APCO's report outlines four key findings:
1. While the 2025 Targets are driving a transformation in packaging in Australia, they are not on track to be met by 2025.
2. Longer-term vision is needed to guide action.
3. Collaboration is needed across the entire packaging system.
4. Strong and coordinated interventions are needed on essential packaging material streams.

On Finding 4, the report identifies the critical gaps and challenges for key material streams, notably, there's an estimated 400,000 tonnes of reprocessing capacity required for flexible plastics by 2025, with a current absence of large-scale collection. It also identifies the recyclability and reprocessing gap for rigids in PET and PP tubs, trays and punnets. In the B2B sector, there are significant losses for corrugated cardboard, with an estimate of 38 per cent currently lost to landfill.

The report also prioritises actions needed across the supply chain to drive effective, whole-of-system movement towards a circular economy for packaging. It also clearly identifies those responsible at each step.

According to APCO, key actions that will deliver significant progress toward the 2025 targets include: accelerating improvements in design, which will impact up to 479,000 tonnes of packaging; fast-tracking a system for the collection of household soft plastics, impacting up to 336,000 tonnes; and expanding B2B recycling, impacting gaps of up to 89,000 tonnes of flexible LDPE and 734,000 tonnes of corrugated cardboard. 

Foley noted that APCO is focusing its resources on helping businesses and bringing the entire system together to close the gap on Targets for the benefit of the environment, the community and the economy.

“If industry cannot do better as a whole, governments will pursue harder regulation,” he warned.

“It is clear a stronger co-regulatory framework that brings in and aligns the entire packaging system and creates an even playing field for all will help to further reduce environmental impacts and deliver community and economic benefits.

“The review of the co-regulatory framework underway at the moment is an opportunity to reset. This is a once in 25-year opportunity to help strengthen compliance, protect public interest and ensure accountability across the packaging system while supporting innovation, competition and investment.”

Recommendations delivered as part of the co-regulatory review that could form part of a new, stronger co-regulatory framework include centralised oversight and increased participation across the system, actions to reduce free riders, and stronger integration of design standards.

INDUSTRY RESPONDS

The release of the review was welcomed by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR). Suzanne Toumbourou, ACOR CEO, said: “Now is the time to redouble our efforts and work collaboratively across sectors to ensure we achieve a circular economy for packaging. We welcome APCO’s call to action, which outlines a longer-term vision, collaboration across the entire packaging system, and strong and coordinated interventions for essential material streams.

“Stronger regulatory interventions are necessary to support the uptake of the Sustainable Packaging Guidelines and embed minimum standards for Australian recycled content in packaging. A stronger regulatory framework, supporting circular design and robust end markets for recycled material, is a step in the right direction.”

The National Retail Association has also welcomed the review. Director of Policy, David Stout, said the review outlines the significant amount of work undertaken by APCO and industry to deliver targets and highlights the need for more collaboration and co-regulatory support.

“If you look at any sustainability report from business, they’re doing a lot of positive things. Businesses lead the charge in both compliance and exceeding expectations, and we have seen hundreds of examples of this from across the supply chain. We’ve been on the ground, engaging with businesses across Australia on the single-use plastic bans and we commend business for investing time and resources to adopt more sustainable initiatives.

“Industry has collaborated and successfully implemented initiatives including the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL), State and Territory single-use plastic bans and Container Deposit Schemes (CDS), and the National Plastics Recycling Scheme (NPRS),” Stout said.

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