There has been a greater focus in Australia in recent months on the environmental consequences of waste and, in particular, the generation of waste from packaging particularly in light of the restrictions on exportation of recyclable waste to China. In late September 2018, new National Waste Targets for 2025 were revealed including an aim that 100% of all Australia’s packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
Currently, in Australia, there are multiple layers of mandatory, co-regulatory (hybrid) and voluntary schemes in place that control, or relate to, the environmental consequences of consumer products and, in particular, their packaging.
Whether a company is affected depends on things like annual turnover, its location, its role in the supply chain and the nature of the product or packaging it produces, supplies, distributes or consumes.
The aim of this Focus Paper is to provide a snap shot of the Australian Packaging Covenant (Covenant), the broadest instrument in Australia relating to the control of waste from consumer packaging.
Waste regulation is State based but co-operation occurs among States
Environmental laws in Australia are primarily within the jurisdiction of the States and Territories. However, the States and Territories have co-operated in the development of the National Waste Policy and the establishment of a National Environmental Protection Measure (Used Packaging Materials) 2011 (NEPM) in relation to used packaging materials. This NEPM has been implemented in each State and Territory to ensure there is consistency nationwide.
In NSW, the NEPM is implemented by Part 8 of the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014 (POEO Regulation). The NEPM is part of the co-regulatory national approach which consists of a hybrid voluntary and mandatory scheme.
What is the Australian Packaging Covenant?
The voluntary scheme is the Covenant. The Covenant is part of the co-regulatory approach to the regulation of waste derived from packaging of consumer products. It is called “co-regulatory” because businesses subject to the State laws (such as the POEO Regulation mentioned above), have the option to comply with the State law or be a part of the voluntary Covenant
Businesses that must make the choice between the State based law or the Covenant are brand owners1 in the packaging supply chain with an annual turnover of $5 million or more. These brand owners must:
- Decide whether to be a complying signatory of the Covenant and member of Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO); or
- Meet the residual compliance obligations under the POEO Regulation.
Sustainability goals are stricter under State laws than the Covenant
- Key obligations under the Covenant are that businesses must:
- Submit and publish an action plan that details how the brand owner will meet its resource efficiency, landfill minimisation and leadership targets (including a target that 70% of packaging is recycled or recovered)
- Submit and publish an annual report on performance
- Allow independent audits
- Consider sustainability of 100% of new packaging and 50% of existing packaging
- Establish on-site recycling.
Any business that fails to become a signatory to the Covenant is required to comply with the POEO Regulation. Requirements are to:
- ensure 80% of all material used in packaging products are recovered;
- ensure all recovered packaging is reused or recycled;
- provide adequate information to customers on packaging;
- conduct a review of all new and existing packaging by June 2020 for sustainability;
- submit a draft waste action plan, if requested by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA); and
- keep packaging related records.
A further advantage of the Covenant is that, unlike the State regime, a failure does not result in a risk of criminal penalties. Signatories that fail to comply with the Covenant obligations can be removed from the register of signatories, in which case they are referred to the State or territory EPA (or equivalent) and become subject to the regulations and policies of the state or territory to which it supplies.
What does the future hold?
The recent press about the 2025 National Waste Targets indicates that stricter measures and regulations are likely to be incorporated into the Covenant and State laws to help achieve the new targets being2:
- 100% of all Australia’s packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 or earlier
- 70% of Australia’s plastic packaging will be recycled or composted by 2025
- 30% average recycled content will be included across all packaging by 2025
- Problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging will be phased out through design, innovation or introduction of alternatives
In addition, various States have introduced further and specific regulation on particular topics such as the use of plastic bags and in respect of drinking containers. We will publish a further paper which addresses the NSW container deposit scheme.
1.A brand owner under the Covenant is a business in the supply chain of consumer packaging (e.g. an importer, supplier of raw material, manufacturer or wholesaler) or a retailer that is a manufacturer, wholesaler or importer or offers its branded products to consumers.
2. See Press Release dated 26 September 2018 https://www.packagingcovenant.org.au/news/business-and-government-unite-to-tackle-waste-challenge
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