Held in conjunction with the Centre for Design, RMIT University and Sustainable Packaging Alliance forum considered imminent expiration of the National Packaging Covenant [NPC], which is due to be replaced with NPC mark 2.
The covenant has been the guiding light for the packaging industry in Australia to comply with the needs of Government in matters connected with the environment without the need for regulation. The new Covenant is in the final stages of planning and industry observers say it will be significantly strengthened.
Ed Cordner representing the NPC Council led the discussion and detailed the changes that will be incorporated in the NPC 2, including the need to deliver measurable outcomes from clear action plans that are in line with the overarching targets of Government.
A major plank will be the reduction in packaging material going to landfill which will be brought about by increasing the percentage of material recycled and reused. One driver in this regard is to reduce the volume of non recyclable materials injected into the supply chain, with a second string to address other packaging such as distribution and in-house systems.
The major difference will be that the new covenant will be highly focused on Key Performance Indicators and a strengthening of the enforcement and compliance aspects.
Gavin Williams the CEO of the Packaging Council of Australia supporting the previous address said that over 600 signatories to the current covenant are keen to sign onto the new document. He pointed out the co-regulatory aspects and the need have quantifiable but sensible measurements as set out in the National Environment Protection Measure [NEPM] developed by the federal and state governments. He indicated the companies are more focused if a threat is in the background, but did not advocate regulation.
Williams said that he was certain that the new covenant would offer prospects for further environmental improvements, whilst calling for a national uniform data collection and reporting system.
He also called for imported material to be 'tradable' otherwise Australian industry is disadvantaged, and used recycled PET as an example. Virgin material is 20 per cent cheaper than recycled and recycling is therefore somewhat counter-productive.
Glass, including imports, is recycled in volumes beyond the needs of manufacturers and should be allowed for other reuse such as road construction. Supporting the current covenant's outcomes Williams gave figures that showed Australia is already recycling better percentages than the European Union's 2008 targets.
Scott Moloney from the Environment Protection Agency claimed that all states and territories are in concert in delivering the NEMP and talked about overarching targets such as 51 per cent of industrial and municipal waste to be recycled. He indicated that the major recycling opportunities in packaging materials are still with the consumer but this will need some positive education focus.
Graham Clarke representing retailers spoke out against some aspects of the packaging covenant. One particular point he emphasised was that Kerb-Side collections did not involve retailers at all and consumers to an unacceptable degree. This was due to the lack of funding to sell the concept beyond industry and guaranteed funding for only three years of a five year plan was nonsensical.
Supermarkets were haphazard in their approach and commitment was not all encompassing with a strong emphasis on plastic shopping bags whilst avoiding other issues. Supplier's interaction with retailers was not strong and small suppliers were overwhelmed, Clarke argued.
On a positive note he said that fresh food was the winner in delivering environmental outcomes and asked the assembly to consider just one result; that being the reduction in the volume of plastics material used in packaging fresh chickens.
With both a mixed reaction to the new legislation from both packaging and food companies it seems that industry is positive about the benefits to the environment but is less enthusiastic about picking up the bill. Either way, all sides appear set to work with the new laws as much as making them work well for themselves.