The first event in the Resource Recovery, Recycling and Re-manufacturing (4R) Research Hub’s conference series focused on sustainable packaging, highlighted how Australia has been moving forward, and the gaps and challenges remaining to meet its targets.

The conference series brought together delegates from multiple sectors, including business, industry, government, universities, consulting and more, to present and discuss advances, new discoveries in business, policies, and research results regarding waste issues and how we can support reduce, reuse, and recycle processes.

Professor Pierre Pienaar, president of the World Packaging Organisation (WPO), addressed the virtual and physical audience with an update on the current issues in packaging and sustainable packaging within Australia and around the world.

“We all have to start somewhere, and the encouraging thing is that the awareness in this space is growing around the world, and we have seen in the last few years the number of countries that have now put targets in place where there previously were none,” Pienaar said.

“The WPO focuses on sustainability in a very significant way, and we run a really successful program in ensuring that packaging is enhanced year-on-year and that we don’t remain stagnant.

“We cannot take a passive approach anymore. We need to implement a closed loop system and a circular economy, while making sure we are also improving our recovery systems.

“We need to get back to basics, we need to have better education, and we need more people out there to be innovative in this space. We must change our habits.”

Assistant minister for waste reduction and environmental management Trevor Evans also was on hand to give an update on how the government’s initiatives, along with its collaborative relationships with industry, have helped move the country’s ambitions in packaging sustainability forward.

“It is very important that every government has a role to play in this policy task, along with everyone else in business, in the private sector, in households, the not-for-profits and research sectors, basically anyone that has a role to play when it comes to better resource recovery,” Minister Evans said.

“And that is why it was really important to have the National Waste Policy and the Action Plan that underpins it in place as a starting point to set ambitious targets for our country for the next 10 years.

“We also have the National Plastics Plan, which was one of the actions that the federal government has committed to leading when it was set up a couple of years ago. It brings together a lot of work, including a lot of discussions, engagement and ideas that came about when we held the Plastics Summit at the start of 2020.

“There’s also the Recycling Modernisation Fund, which industry has access to right now. Combined, the Modernisation Fund is bringing to bear over a billion dollars of new investments in recycling facilities and infrastructure right around our country.

“And that is important because if we are to encourage or achieve better recycling outcomes, we have got to have the capabilities and the capacity in the industry here in Australia to do a better job. And that is what we are bringing about.”

Evans also highlighted the fact that significant action has already been made in pursuing the country's packaging targets, including one of the targets being successfully reached ahead of schedule.

“We had an initial target to achieve 30 per cent recycled content on average in Australian packaging, which we actually achieved about a year ago,” adds Evans.

“Because of this, we have set a higher and even more ambitious target, and we’re now going to try and achieve 50 per cent average recycled content in packaging in Australia. And we are making significant strides.”

Jayne Paramor, sustainability manager at the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) was also on hand to speak on all of APCO's work to push for sustainable packaging.

“Since 2017, we have worked very hard to crystallise a clear vision on how to deliver a circular economy for packaging, and we focus on three key areas – design for circularity, improved collection, and recycling systems, and to look at expanded markets for used packaging materials for capture and reprocessing.

“Packaging sustainability is clearly a job that is too big for one organisation to fix, so we take a radical interdependence approach – we are dependent on each other along the packaging value chain and across the market more generally to build a circular solution, so we need everybody in the mix.

“We work under a collective impact model where APCO takes on the role of the backbone organisation to coalesce action around the common yet highly complex packaging sustainability agenda.

“It has been a very busy period over the last few years, and we have seen action across the entire packaging value chain. The circular economy requires commitment across the board, and we are seeing fantastic support from our governments to help build the foundations for that circular model.”

Paramor says we are currently seeing huge commitments from packaging producers and product manufacturers large and small.

“We are seeing these organisations creating markets for recovered packaging materials by increasing demand for recycled content and collaborating to build domestic capacity and to source the materials locally here in the Australian market,” Paramor adds.

“I have worked in the environmental and sustainability space for more than 15 years and I have not seen an issue move with such impact to drive such monumental progress in such a short space of time, and in truth, we are really only at an early stage.

“The results are only starting to emerge, and we are incredibly excited to be playing an important role in making that huge by vital transition to circular economy for Australia’s packaging.”

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