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2025 National sustainable packaging targets: steps your business can take

Businesses around Australia are moving over to more sustainable packaging to meet the 2025 National Packaging Targets. Here’s how you can too.

As we all transition to more environmentally friendly practices in our daily lives, Australians expect the brands we’re buying to be doing their part too.

The evidence is clear: sustainable packaging reduces landfill, improves a business’ reputation, and in many cases, saves costs thanks to more efficient packaging and transport logistics.

Many of Australia’s most recognised brands have already made changes to their packaging. Arnott’s iconic Tim Tam packets recently switched to using fewer inks and local Australian recycled cardboard in its packaging. Meanwhile, Coles and Woolworths have both removed single-use plastic shopping bags from their checkouts, and they’ve also revamped their Own Brand ranges for better recyclability.

Small and medium-sized businesses can also do their bit. It may seem daunting at first, but making improvements to your packaging doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. It can not only help the environment but makes good business sense.

Here are the five steps you can take to improve your packaging:

Step 1: Get to know your packaging

Start simple and make a list of what materials go into your current packaging range. For example, a takeaway food container might be a single-use plastic or include a mix of materials  – where the plastic lid is non-recyclable but the box is, which means they need to be put into separate bins to avoid contamination.

Once you’ve identified what is paper, plastic or glass (including any other materials like inks and adhesives), work out the size and volume. This is important so you can identify which elements can be reduced or swapped.

To get the clearest picture of your business’ current impact and its sustainable packaging potential, join the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), a co-regulatory organisation that works with governments and businesses in leading the development of a circular economy for packaging in Australia.

More than 1500 Australian businesses are already part of the APCO community. Any business can join and gain access to resources, training, events and collaboration opportunities with the country’s sustainability leaders. They also have a very handy downloadable Sustainability Checklist right here to start you off.

Step 2: Look for sustainable alternatives

Now you’ve reviewed your current packaging range, it might be time to make some changes. Read APCO’s Sustainable Packaging Guidelines to see the 10 Sustainable Packaging principles that will help guide how you make the next decisions for your business’ packaging.

Remember, it’s a discovery process. You won’t necessarily know the alternatives until you start researching possible situations. The Sustainable Packaging Guidelines will set you on the right path to figure out where you might be able to make changes across manufacturing, supply chains, retail, delivery – all the way through to consumer education, ensuring the right material is put in the right bin.

It’s not about suddenly switching to some magical material that solves all your problems. Sometimes a small design change can be all it takes, whether it’s removing a hazardous substance or simply adding better recycling instructions to your label.

Step 3: Bring customers on your journey

If you’re putting in the hard work to make your packaging more recyclable, you want to make sure your customers to recycle it properly too.

According to the recent Australasian Recycling Label Consumer Insights Report 2021, the majority of Australians look to a brand’s label first for the most accurate information on how to recycle correctly.

Lead by example and join the Australian Recycling Label (ARL) Program. Created by APCO with Planet Ark and PREP Design, and with the support of all governments in Australia, the scheme helps businesses assess the recyclability of their product packaging and label their products correctly so consumers can do the right thing.

The program involves two steps:

1) Assessing your packaging using the Packaging Recyclability Evaluation Portal;

2) Applying the label. This evidence-based label clearly tells consumers what elements of your packaging are fully recyclable, conditionally recyclable or not recyclable at all, and how to dispose of each element.

ARL members also get access to a range of tools and resources to help spread the word to their customers. If you’re doing good things, tell them about it.

Step 4: Work with your industry and suppliers

You’re not alone here. Thousands of businesses just like yours are working this out too, so don’t be afraid to collaborate with others within your industry or talk to people throughout your packaging’s supply chain about solutions.

Need an inspiring example? In 2019, South Australia’s Barossa Valley winemakers banded together to do something about the amount of silicon-coated backing paper left from bottle labels.

Together they located an industrial recycler who could turn this complex waste into tissue paper for gift wrapping. Now, they’ll be able to bring their waste to a central point at a regional waste drop-off facility. Problem solved.

Step 5: Make a commitment to the 2025 National Packaging Targets

If you’re up to this step, chances are you’re well on your way to sustainable packaging success. Remember, it’s a step-by-step process – you don’t have to do everything at once.

However, there’s one goal you should keep on your vision board: Australia’s 2025 National Packaging Targets. Established in 2018 with the support of the Federal and State and Territory Governments, the Targets apply to all packaging made, used and sold in Australia.

They are as follows:

  • 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging.
  • 70% of plastic packaging being recycled or composted.
  • 50% of average recycled content included in packaging (revised from 30% in 2020).
  • The phase out of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics packaging.
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