How Australia deals with packaging and waste!

Many companies take active steps to manage waste, including when choosing protective packaging and packaging materials. They pay attention to the challenges of sustainability and the requirements of the circular economy (reuse and recycling of waste products) as well as the customers’ interests in environmentally friendly packaging. How does Australia deal with packaging and waste?

The government has developed initiatives to support companies in their efforts with ongoing research and advice.

The Australian Government’s initiatives to support waste management in packaging materials

The federal government, in collaboration with industry, has developed two initiatives: the National Plastics Plan (1) and the Australian Packaging Covenant Organization (APCO) (2) to manage waste in protective packaging and packaging materials.

The National Plastics Plan aims to find ways to increase recycling of plastics, reduce the impact of plastics on the environment and find alternatives to plastics.

Because consumer education is essential to the National Plastics Plan, the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) scheme was developed; It is estimated that by the end of 2023, 80% of supermarket products will have the ARL on their labels.

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organization (APCO) has developed several ambitious goals that it aims to achieve by 2025, including:

  • All plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable;
  • Unnecessary plastic packaging will be eliminated.

The ‘circular economy’ is at the heart of ongoing Australian business and government initiatives to address packaging and waste. So what does it include?

The circular economy: circular economy in waste management

As the name suggests, circular economy involves circular economy in waste management. Ideally, all waste is eliminated from protective packaging and packaging materials. Packaging products are reused, shared, remanufactured and recycled in a closed loop. Fresh inputs such as wood and plastics are minimized, as are environmental pollution and CO2 emissions.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) is leading the way in uncovering opportunities for Australian companies to create a circular economy.

CSIRO reports (3):

In 2019, CSIRO was commissioned to lead the development of a circular economy roadmap. This project examines four materials that are common waste streams in our economy: plastics, tires (automotive and mining), glass and paper.

CSIRO targets for Australia by 2030 include:

  • 10% less waste per person;
  • An 80% recovery rate of resources from waste materials.

Few would argue that plastics pose a major challenge when dealing with packaging materials and waste. APCO has an action plan (4) to deal with single-use plastic packaging by 2025.

Protective packaging, plastics and APCO’s initiatives

The main goal of the APCO Action Plan is that by 2025 100% of packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable. It has also identified nine “problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging for immediate action”.

The Guardian (7) reports:

By July 2022, Australia should phase out plastic packaging products that are not compostable, as well as polystyrene, which is used in bulk and molded form for a variety of consumer products.

One of the biggest challenges for the industry in managing protective packaging is identifying plastics and other materials that are compostable.

APCO has created resources and initiatives to help. In June 2021, APCO published a report: the “National Compostable Packaging Strategy”. (5) Although companies see compostable packaging as a potential solution to packaging waste and meeting national 2025 packaging targets, there is much confusion about it.

A major challenge is not only the limited collection and processing options for compostable packaging, but also the easy identification of compostable packaging and non-compostable packaging.

To help with these challenges, APCO has created a resource called Considerations for Compostable Plastic Packaging. The resource defines terms; today’s landscape for protective packaging made from compostable plastics; as well as potential applications for compostable plastic packaging.

The Australasian Recycling Label Program: Clarifying the recycling processes of packaging materials

The Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) program (6) is a key strategy in implementing the circular economy and managing the recycling of packaging waste. It was launched in 2018 and is supported by all levels of government from local and state to federal. It has been adopted by many hundreds of companies including Woolworths, Coles and Australia Post.

Essentially, the ARL label on packaging helps a company’s customers understand if a product can be recycled and how it can be recycled.

Two advisory bodies support the governance of the ARL program, the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and the Marketing Advisory Committee (MAC). These bodies ensure that every part of the packaging supply chain has a say in ARL program decisions.

Emerging technologies and processes mean that protective packaging and packaging materials are subject to rapid innovation. Therefore, the ARL program offers an appeals process for its decisions and implementation.

Australia’s ambitious targets to eliminate waste in protective packaging and packaging materials

Looking ahead to 2025, Australia has set ambitious targets for creating a circular economy and tackling packaging waste. However, if both industry and consumers are on board, the goals could well be achievable.


(1) National Plastic Plan

(2) APCO

(3) CSIRO: Circular Economy

(4) APCO Action Plan

(5) National Compostable Packaging Strategy

(6) ARL Program

(7) The Guardian

Packaging and waste items and permission for publication here provided by Jake Noah. Originally written for Supply Chain Game Changer and published on September 3rd, 2021.

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