What food businesses need to know about the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation

So much is changing in the world of plastic packaging nowadays. We’re often hearing from food production businesses that they want to do the right thing from a sustainability perspective, and even be at the forefront of change; but that they’re not sure about what realistic sustainability goals should look like, or how to achieve them. Change can come with risk, and they worry about balancing sustainability, quality, safety and the on-the-ground practicalities of making change.

Fortunately, we can look to the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation to see what’s happening in the world of sustainability at a glance, and what it means for food production businesses. The Covenant itself is a national regulatory framework that sets out how governments and businesses across Australia share the responsibility for managing the environmental impacts of packaging. The main relevant goal of the Covenant from your perspective will be “optimising resource recovery of Consumer Packaging through the supply chain”, which involves “adopting approaches that make changes in the way we design use and buy packaging and packaged products so that packaging uses less resources and is more easily recycled, and enable packaging materials to be returned to the economy thereby minimising waste associated with the generation and consumption of Consumer Packaging across the supply chain.”

The Covenant itself applies to large food production businesses with an annual turnover of $5m or more, who can choose to become a signatory to the Covenant and contributing to the collective national efforts in managing packaging waste, or meeting compliance obligations under the National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM). Signatories to the Covenant are more proactive than companies that merely meet NEPM compliance obligations, in that they agree to shared commitments and joint responsibilities to work collaboratively to achieve sustainable packaging outcomes.

What about the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation?

The APCO (Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation) is the organisation that’s in charge of turning that goal into a reality for Australia. They’re also a fantastic source of knowledge for what best-practice sustainability can, and increasingly will, look like in Australia.

Here’s a great 2-minute video explainer about what they do:

A big part of their work involves helping Australia to achieve the 2025 National Packaging Targets:

(Quick note: there’s a separate average recycled content target for plastic packaging, which is 20%, rather than 50% across all packaging.)

2025 really is just around the corner! And while we’re getting closer to achieving some of these targets, we’re still lagging far behind for the plastics packaging recovery rate.

As we’ve highlighted in our article on What the National Plastics Plan means for biodegradable and starch plastics:

the recovery rate for plastic packaging currently sits at a miserly 18%, despite 66% of plastic packaging in Australia being classified as having ‘good recyclability’.

So creating a market for recycled plastics is key to fulfilling these targets, and there isn’t a lot of time for Australia to deliver on these changes. At first glance they might seem unachievable; that is, until you consider two factors.

Firstly, another of these National Targets is around consumer education: at least 80% of supermarket products will be displaying the Australasian Recycling Label by 2023. Secondly, major supermarket chains and multinational brands (for example, Coca-Cola) have signed up to the ANZPAC plastics pact. APCO is calling for a “radical intervention” and Australia’s Environment Ministers have endorsed the targets, and consumers will be more and more aware of what their food purchases are packaged in. Essentially, the Covenant isn’t just a plan on a page; it’s a dramatic change to the future of plastic packaging. Food businesses, take note.

Isn’t our food production business too small to be affected?

If your food production business’ revenue is under $5 million annually, you may be thinking that the Covenant doesn’t impact your business. However, there will be pressure on major supermarkets to deliver on their sustainability commitments, reach their targets, and maintain a “social license to operate” in the eyes of consumers who can easily switch where they do their food shopping if they’re unhappy with any given supermarket’s performance. Food production businesses who don’t take sustainability seriously will negatively impact these metrics and are likely to be left behind in favour of better environmental performers. This means green businesses won’t just be better for the planet: they’ll increasingly carve out a competitive edge.

Our food production business is large; what’s the difference between APCO and NEPM?

The first step to is to assess your liability under the NEPM; you’ll find a list of criteria here. If your business is liable, you have two choices on how to go ahead:

1. Join APCO and become a Signatory to the Australian Packaging Covenant.

2. Elect to meet your obligations under the NEPM, and report on this directly to the state and territory government within the jurisdiction in which your company is headquartered.

As we’ve covered, APCO membership is more proactive, in that you’ll agree to certain mutual obligations (new member action plan, annual reporting, APCO action plan reporting, and membership fees); however, your business will gain access to a range of benefits supporting your sustainability journey. More on that here.

How do I balance sustainability, quality and safety?

It’s not as hard as it might sound; there are already premium plastic packaging products on the market that are far above the minimum 20% requirement for recycled plastic content. Here at Multisteps, we’re industry leaders in incorporating high levels of recycled content, with a minimum of 80% across our entire range.

With our quick production turnaround times and uniform standard of quality, you can be confident that our packaging products will showcase your products with pride.

With Multisteps, we’ve got your back. Less headaches, so you can focus on your core business. Want to know more about how you can gain a competitive edge through packaging that’s better for both business and the planet? Get in touch on 1300 228 077 or visit multisteps.com.au.

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