Stakeholders opting for legislation as the main instrument to drive improved environmental performance in the packaging sector are concentrating on the issues that are easy to regulate rather than those that matter most, according to a PCA new reportThe report, The status of packaging sustainability in Australia, commissioned by the Packaging Council of Australia claims the pursuit of sustainability involves so many trade-offs and choices that it cannot be managed by legislation.
It continues that while industry leaders have adopted more sustainable approaches and are benefiting through reduced production costs, greater supply chain engagement and improved ability to anticipate future risks and opportunities. Efforts are being hampered by scepticism of industry's efforts, data gaps and fragmented industry responses. The report, which has not yet been released to the public, says debates on issues such as recycling rates, container deposit legislation and plastic bags have detracted from addressing packaging sustainability more broadly and generated substantial pressure for regulatory intervention.
Gavin Williams, CEO of the PCA says sustainability has quickly become a mainstream issue for the packaging industry. Many brand owners and other users now want sustainable packaging and are requiring their pack manufacturers to provide it. Williams says, “In our view, a pro-active and upfront examination of the issues will have real benefits for our industry. Overall, the industry has a solid record of achievement on a range of environmental matters over several decades. It needs to build on that record and demonstrate publicly that it is making a determined effort on sustainability.”
He adds, “Sustainability is relevant to all companies in the packaging supply chain. Companies that ignore sustainability do so at their peril. The time has come for sustainability to work for, rather than against, the industry.”
According to the PCA, brand owners and industry associations consulted for the report feel that industry as a whole has failed to identify potential risks well enough in advance and lacks the data to respond effectively to consumer demand.
A report summary says, “A great deal of time and money has been wasted on issues that represent only a small fraction of packaging sustainability. Organisations that take a comprehensive approach to sustainability are better placed to keep an eye out for such issues and respond accordingly.”
The report, prepared by MS2 and Perchards, also says that waste minimisation is a part of environmental sustainability, but only a part. For packaging and packaged goods, the questions to focus on now are:
• Where are the biggest social, economic and environmental impacts and opportunities? and
• What can be done to reduce these impacts, while maximising economic benefits?
The report says the biggest issues are climate change and greenhouse gas emissions on the one hand, and depletion of the earth's natural resources on the other. It continues, “Whereas all industrial activities are implicated in greenhouse gas emissions, the packaging and packaged goods industry is under attack specifically as an unnecessary user of materials.”
The report concluded that once the way forward is clear, industry needs to set up a communications program to help consumers understand not only what industry is doing about packaging sustainability, but also what they can do to change to a more sustainable lifestyle and the role of packaging in such a change.
The more consistent the message from industry, government, academics and NGOs, the more effective it will be, so every effort must be made to establish a consensus.