Sustainable packaging: what we've achieved and where we are heading next.

Subject: Collective Impact, 2025 Targets

4 March 2021

Sustainable packaging: what we've achieved and where we are heading next. 

Packaging sustainability has come a long way in the last four years. In this time, APCO has worked with the wider supply chain to build a new and holistic approach to product stewardship that creates shared value for business and reduces its environmental impact.

This model has allowed us to establish and deliver progress against the 2025 National Packaging Targets (the 2025 Targets) and start to understand how our country can make the transition to a circular economy for packaging.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment is currently undertaking a formal review of the National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure 2011 (the NEPM) and the Australian Packaging Covenant (the Covenant) to evaluate how well they are achieving their environmental protection goals.

It is the first review of the NEPM since 2010 and the first review of the Covenant since 2016 – with a lot having changed in that time. With the NEPM underpinning everything APCO does, this is a powerful opportunity to ensure Australia has the right legislative framework in place to deliver the 2025 Targets and continue driving meaningful progress in this space.

Australia’s success to date

As we enter the NEPM review period, it is important to recognise that many areas of the current system are working well and significant sustainable packaging progress has been achieved in Australia in the last decade.

Key milestones achieved in the last 4 years include:

  • Legislative progress: Several states and territories have passed or are developing legislation that will ban some of the problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging items identified by APCO for phase-out, including EPS food and beverage service items and fragmentable plastics. More jurisdictions have added targets to their legislation implementing the NEPM, including NSW which in 2018 set a recycling target of 80% and a requirement to use the Sustainable Packaging Guidelines (SPGs), and the ACT which in 2020 established recyclability, recovery and recycled content targets.
  • Established a national labelling program: The Australasian Recycling Label Program now features more than 500 members and continues to roll out on new product packaging every day.
  • 2025 National Packaging Targets: Australia has established four national packaging targets that are aligned with international best practice, supported by industry and all levels of government. APCO and stakeholders have also developed and are implementing an agreed pathway for achieving them through the Our Packaging Future roadmap.
  • Packaging designed for recyclability: 89% of packaging on market is now recyclable and work is underway to address the remaining 11%. 
  • Recycled content used in packaging: An average of 38% recycled content now features in packaging on the Australian market. A new recycled content label will launch in 2021, with major brands making the switch from virgin to recycled material every day, including Unilever, Coca Cola Amatil and Colgate-Palmolive.
  • A growing product stewardship community: The APCO Membership of businesses that are working to implement the SPGs and meet the 2025 Targets has grown from 968 in 2017 to 1536 in 2021. This year APCO will also conduct a Brand Audit campaign in partnership with state and territory governments to reach more liable businesses, including more small and medium enterprises (SMEs).  
  • Data gathering and benchmarking: Through APCO’s annual Materials Flow Analysis report, Australia now has an effective measurement methodology to understand volumes and recovery rates for packaging on the Australian market.
  • Phase out of Single Use Problematic and Unnecessary Plastic Packaging: APCO’s work to phase out Single Use Problematic and Unnecessary Plastic Packaging is part of the Federal Government’s 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan. APCO and its stakeholders have developed an agreed list of packaging for phase-out and published ‘APCO Action Plan for Problematic and Unnecessary Single-Use Plastic Packaging’, a practical resource to help the packaging supply chain phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through innovative, sustainable solutions. APCO is seeing increasing evidence that APCO Members are making changes to packaging design to make it more easily recyclable and to phase out problematic materials and formats. Major brands have conducted significant changes to their packaging formats, including the phase out of single-use plastic bags by major retailers.
  • Consumer Education: APCO is rolling out a two-year national education program to ensure a clear and consistent approach to packaging education through the Check It! Before You Chuck It campaign. The campaign is funded by the Federal Government under the Environmental Restoration Fund.

How APCO works with industry and government

APCO’s independent approach to product stewardship is about more than just end-of-life collection and recycling. In order to successfully transition to a circular economy for packaging in Australia, APCO’s approach addresses the holistic system (end-to-end) from design to remanufacture. APCO’s collective impact approach drives action and accountability across the whole supply chain.

One of the key elements that has made this system work is that APCO has been the single administrator for the process. This has meant that APCO has been able to ensure cohesive supply chain engagement and accountability to both the Commonwealth and all the state and territory governments, as well as be a central point of contact for industry action.

What needs to change.

Like any system, there are some areas that need improvement. Changes that will deliver a more effective model include:

  • The current compliance and enforcement process, with its reliance on state and territory governments, needs to change.
  • The framework needs to address free riders and enable APCO flexibility in the way it engages with businesses.
  • To be effective, regulation on this issue must address large and SME organisations separately, with a prescribed pathway for each that reflects their environmental impact on the marketplace.
  • Appropriate enforcement protocols for non-compliant, liable parties should be implemented and deployed by all State and Territory governments.
  • The alternative model implemented by APCO in 2019 should be embedded to address exemptions and the varying levels of packaging impact that organisations may have.
  • The Australasian Recycling Label Program is fundamental to delivering positive environmental outcomes for packaging in Australia and should be required to be on every packaging format either manufactured or imported into Australia.
  • The 2025 Targets and the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals must be embedded in the regulation as the overarching metrics.


How you can be involved

APCO welcomes this review process and encourages all our Members to have their say in ensuring that we have a fair and equitable system that delivers positive environmental benefits.

The review is underway now and the government are asking for input by Friday 12 March.

 If you are keen to participate visit