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02 | 2008

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Politics Towards a

Politics Towards a bioplastics boom in Australia Article contributed by Fleur Wilkins, Marketing & Communications, Plantic Technologies Limited Agricultural film made of Mater-Bi, Photo: Novamont Australians are among the world’s best in plastics recycling and retailers are becoming more and more focused on a sustainable future. Yet the world’s non-renewable energy sources are depleting at an amazing speed and further steps need to be taken towards adopting more ecosensitive packaging technologies. The Recycling Revolution Australians are concerned about the environment and being environmentally responsible is now more important to Australian consumers than ever before. This became evident in an independent national survey that found the recycling rate for plastics packaging in Australia has equaled last year’s record result and continues to meet environmental improvement commitments. The Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association (PACIA) 2007 National Plastics Recycling Survey found that during 2006, Australian industry and consumers recycled a record 30.5% of plastics packaging for the second consecutive year. The overall plastics recycling rate (for plastics used in all applications) was 15.9%. Whilst this is an excellent result, there is still more we can do for the environment. The Role of Retailers The two major supermarket retailers in Australia, Woolworths Limited and Coles Group Limited, are aware that the adoption of sustainable practices is increasingly recognized as a demonstration of sound business operation and corporate management. There is no denying that packaging is necessary to protect goods from damage throughout the supply chain, enable more efficient transport, and increase the shelf-life of perishable products. Both retailers are actively working towards a more sustainable future, but are they doing as much as their European counterparts in terms of tackling the effects of packaging on the environment? Coles Group Limited was the first Australian retailer to sign the National Packaging Covenant in July 2000, a policy framework for corporate environmental responsibility aiming to provide more effective management of packaging. Coles were also involved in the development of the voluntary Code of Practice for Plastic Supermarket Carry Bags, in conjunction with Eco Recycle Australia and the Australian Retailers Association, ensuring that participating companies will minimize the use of plastic carry bags and provide efficient in-store recycling means for these bags. Yet plastic bags 34 bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/08] Vol. 3

Lemons packed with NatureFlex film (Photo: Innovia) Politics water soluble plantic tray, Photo: Plantic make up less than 2% of litter, and this is a minor step towards the overall problem of over-packaging and excessive packaging waste. Woolworths have stepped up to the plate by issuing a Sustainability Strategy 2007-2015, outlining the key sustainability challenges faced by Woolworths in the areas of climate change, water, packaging, sourcing, waste and store design. One priority outlined by Woolworths in this report is packaging, including consumer packaging in their private label products and distribution packaging. Woolworths have commissioned the Sustainable Packaging Alliance to undertake a review of the packaging of private brand products, however, they claim that there are cost implications for sustainable packaging choices which need to be considered to ensure their products remain competitive in the market. Is this enough for Australian consumers? The Inconvenient Truth Whilst major Australian retailers are moving forward with sustainability in packaging, 99% of all traditional plastics are produced or derived from the major nonrenewable energy sources – crude oil, natural gas, coal and naptha – and these resources are depleting at a rapid speed. Less than 3% of all waste plastic worldwide gets recycled. Not to mention the havoc caused by plastics on marine life and our environment. The need for more widespread use of packaging that is biodegradable and made from renewable resources is fast becoming necessary in Australia. Australian retailers must look to their UK equivalents and be led by their examples. Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s have adopted compostable packaging materials for their private labels, and in particular materials known to be suitable for home composting. Plantic ® , Innovia’s NatureFlex film, Novamont’s Mater-bi starch-based material or PLA are being used by these retailers as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives. The Bioplastics Situation in Australia The Australasian Bioplastics Association and the National Packaging Covenant are working hard at putting in place a series of industry standards for bioplastics packaging and, as the environment becomes an increasing concern and as prices for fossil fuels soar, bioplastics are becoming more competitive. Founding members of the Australasian Bioplastics Association are Plantic Technologies Ltd, AusAsia Pty Ltd, Innovia Film Pty Ltd, Natureworks LLC, PCC Packaging, Plastral Pty Ltd and SIGNUM Specialties Pty Ltd. These companies make available a variety of bioplastics applications in Australia, including: • Rigid packaging (thermoformed trays for food packaging, secondary packaging) • Films (overwrapping, hygiene, twist-wrapping, flowwrapping and agricultural mulch films) • Fibres • Beverage containers • Carrier bags and bin liners • Catering products (cutlery, plates and cups) It is Australian brand owners such as Cadbury Schweppes who are actively leading the way in sustainable-driven innovation and product development, making good use of the bioplastics products available. As part of Cadbury Schweppes’ recent bid to halve its total carbon footprint by 2020, the company is currently using Plantic packaging for various products, with the eventual aim of implementing biodegradable wrapping across 60% of its products. Warwick Hall, inaugural President of the Australasian Bioplastics Association said, “Bioplastics are seen as a remarkable advance in technology with many benefits, including the promotion of a sustainable future.” Whilst there is currently no infrastructure in place in Australia for disposing of bioplastics materials, the development of the market should not be postponed… bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/08] Vol. 3 35

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