APCO Media Response: Plastic Wars

Subject: Single Use Problematic Unnecessary, 2025 Targets, SPGs
10 August 2020

On Monday 10th August at 8.30pm, ABC’s Four Corners will be airing ‘Plastic Wars’, a documentary presented by Craig Reucassel. While we haven’t seen the full program, some of the issues raised in the preview include: 

  • Recycling is presented as a ‘scam’ to enable big business and the oil industry to continue producing plastic, by shifting the conversation away from reduction and avoidance 
  • Recycling doesn’t work and recycling labelling is inaccurate 
  • Recycling programs allow businesses the shun their producer responsibilities by shifting the blame to consumers. 

The segment focuses on America, but we are concerned the findings will be used to make inaccurate or misleading assumptions about the Australian market. We are also concerned the highly critical tone will confuse the community and potentially reduce recycling behaviour. 

Ahead of the program launch, we have developed some messaging and information for our Members and stakeholders to help position some of these ideas for the Australian market.  

If you have any questions about the program or sustainable packaging in Australia, please don’t hesitate to reach out.  

Getting Australia’s approach to recycling right 

Building an effective domestic recycling industry is one important part of reducing the harmful impact of packaging on Australian communities. We acknowledge that the recycling system is a long way from perfect. But Australia has a clear plan in place, with work under way, to address these issues and build a sustainable and holistic approach to packaging. 

Recycling is not a scam. In 2017-18, 2.67 million tonnes of post-consumer packaging, or 49% of packaging put onto the market, was recovered in Australia. Through the 2025 National Packaging Targets, Australian industry and government are working to ensure that all packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging and that 70% of plastic packaging is recycled or composted by 2025.  

But recycling isn’t complete until recycled material is used again. Through the 2025 Targets, Australian industry and government are working to ensure a 50% average of recycled content is included in packaging. APCO Members are shifting from virgin to recycled material in their packaging every day – with Australia Post, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Natures Organics and The Iconic all making significant recent commitments. 

Recycling also brings economic benefits for entire communities. For every 10,000 tonnes of waste recycled, 9.2 jobs are created. Each year $2.9 billion is raised through sales of recovered materials.  

In 2020 Australian government has invested significantly to address the innovation and technology gaps through the Recycling Modernisation Fund and the Product Stewardship Investment Fund.  

The waste hierarchy – delivering a holistic approach  

However, recycling is not the only solution – and as outlined in the waste hierarchy packaging avoidance, reduction and reuse are critical pieces of the puzzle.  

Through the 2025 Targets, Australian industry and government are working to phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics packaging.  

Through the APCO Membership model, which features more than 1,500 organisations, representing $360B to the Australian economy, the waste hierarchy underpins all APCO Membership resources and process. This includes: 

  • The Sustainable Packaging Guidelines: A comprehensive, publicly available resource used to assist in the sustainable design and manufacture of packaging in Australia. 
  • The Packaging Recyclability Evaluation Portal: A tool that allows businesses to assess and redesign their packaging specifically for recovery  
  • The Australasian Recycling Label: The Australasian Recycling Label is the only evidence-based, national recycling labelling program in the Australian market, and the only reliable recycling claim available on pack. Accurate labelling and education about recycling are fundamental for reducing contamination in the waste stream and improving recovery rates. 
  • APCO’s FY21 Priority Projects: new projects addressing areas like improving reuse models for packaging, recycled content traceability, labelling and procurement. 


Read Our Packaging Future for case studies that demonstrate how designing for avoidance, reductions, reuse and recoverability is preventing thousands of tonnes of material from entering landfill.  

Shared problem – a shared solution 

There is no silver bullet for solving Australia’s waste and recycling challenges. Everyone has a role to play and collaboration will be critical for bringing the 2025 Targets to life. APCO’s approach to delivering change – utilising the Collective Impact framework – is bringing the whole packaging ecosystem, including brand owners, industry, government, community groups and academia, along on the journey.