Waste in the food supply chain is a major issue for manufacturers - billions could be saved each year if unnecessary and unsustainable expenditure was kept to an absolute minimum. This topic was touched upon at the recent Australian Institute of Packaging annual meeting, where members debated the issue of a plastic bag recycling.
The Australian Retailers' Association (ARA) has developed, in agreement with the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC), a code of practice for a managed reduction and recycling of current lightweight HDPE plastic bags. The code addresses the EPHC's challenge to retailers to reduce and recycle current lightweight HDPE plastic bags and represents a commitment by retailers to a range of initiatives to meet Environment Ministers' concerns about the environmental impacts of such bags.
Recycling is targeted to be 15 per cent of plastic bags issued by December 2005, with a total phase out of the material by 2008. However, some industry experts are not convinced that the advantages of degradable material in landfill are as clear as espoused by supporters. Competitors in the bags supply arena have pushed the degradable material as a substitute for the current substrate, but raise concerns, rather than solutions about recycling.
Bags can be bio-degradable or bio-erodeable, meaning they either degrade naturally or chemically. Critics say that the waste recycling industry suffers from contamination in most material streams, so another series of unknowns will have negative effects.
Coles Myer Ltd environment manager Graham Clark outlined a number of other reservations, saying that in any case, plastic shopping bags have never been in the top ten of packaging related items in the waste stream. He believes that the plastic bag levy currently being implemented in Ireland is not the answer - Australia already leads the world in kerbside recycling, whereas in Ireland this is relatively non-existent.
However, it should be pointed out that in Ireland, the amount of plastic shopping bags for dry goods in circulation was reduced by as much as 90 per cent after the levy was imposed.
At the meeting, Packaging Council of Australia [PCA] chief executive Gavin Williams also updated members and guests about the Packaging Covenant. Setting the scene he said that debate is now less ferocious and attributes that solely to the fact that industry took the matter seriously and convinced governments that efforts were real.
The National Packaging Covenant is the leading instrument for managing packaging waste in Australia. It was signed by the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council Ministers, Local Government and a broad range of industries in the packaging supply chain on 27 August 1999.
It is a self-regulatory agreement between industries in the packaging chain and all spheres of government, based on the principles of shared responsibility through product stewardship, and applied throughout the packaging chain, from raw material suppliers to retailers, and the ultimate disposal of waste packaging.
The covenant now has 620 signatories and is due for review soon. The Packaging Council is pushing to have the current document extended and strengthened. The body is also pushing for some strong modifications to industry commitments, and reducing packaging in the waste stream is still a priority.