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There is no denying that packaged goods make a huge contribution to the New Zealand economy. Thus, sensible packaging solutions are vital to ensure the quality, health and safety of goods, to delay spoilage of perishables, and to brand and market products effectively. While packaging consumes significant resources and generates approximately 12 percent of the rubbish we send to landfill, it also plays a crucial role in the sustainability of supply chains. It prevents food from going to waste and household goods being scrapped. With more than 50% of the world’s population living in towns and cities, packaging is becoming even more essential. Packaging’s role in Sustainable Distribution is vital. For example, the loss of food products between grower and consumer is about 2% in the developed world, but between 30 and 50% in the developing world. The difference is largely attributable to modern, technically advanced packaging designed to preserve fresh food for longer.

While it is crucial that we have policies in place to encourage sustainable production and consumption, it is equally important to develop standards and policies that deal with product distribution.

The Packaging Council of New Zealand Inc. (PAC.NZ) works hard to achieve this, assisting its members to minimise the environmental impact of their packaging by championing cost effective, sustainable solutions and product stewardship. When PAC.NZ was incorporated in 1992, its primary function was to determine New Zealand’s packaging recovery rate. PAC.NZ still collects this data on an annual basis, but at the encouragement of Government, the Council’s role has evolved to incorporate the broader context of product stewardship and packaging as an integral part of global supply chains.

Today, the Packaging Council is the principle industry group representing the packaging industry, engaging with raw material suppliers, packaging manufacturers, brand owners, retailers, recycling operators and service providers. They aim to champion initiatives that improve industry and consumer awareness of packaging sustainability; run programmes which improve understanding of the positive contribution packaging makes to society and the economy; strengthen alliances with other industry associations and stakeholders; and broaden their membership base, particularly in the retail sector.

PAC.NZ look at the ‘big picture’ requirements of packaging sustainability, considering all aspects of the complex packaging life cycle, including packaging design to maximise the efficiency of transport and distribution systems, conservation of materials, water and energy, packaging end-of-life options, and maximisation of value recovery from packaging waste. This means thinking about the whole packaging value chain, resource efficiency, recycling infrastructure and economics, and compliance with international packaging mandates.

Pac.NZ’s 2011 Environmental Packaging Awards presentation evening. Paul Curtis (far left) and Bruce Trask (far right) with Supreme Award winners, the Environmental Education for Resource Sustainability Trust (EERST), for their Paper4trees programme.

One of PAC.NZ’s milestone initiatives was the Packaging Accord, an agreement established in partnership with the Ministry for the Environment as well as brand owners, retailers, importers, manufacturers, recyclers and local government. Signed on 10 August 2004, the Accord was a commitment by all signatories to take responsibility for the packaging elements of their products throughout their packaging lifecycle – from manufacture to use, to recycling and eventual disposal. The parties of the Accord prepared action plans that outlined a 5-year strategy, with measurable targets, to improve the sustainability of packaging in their organization and in their sector. For example, joint national targets for waste recovery of the five main packaging materials were set each year. In 2008 these recovery targets were 65 per cent of aluminium, 55 per cent of glass, 70 per cent of paper, 43 per cent of steel and 23 per cent of plastic. By the end of the Packaging Accord in 2009, all targets had been met. Over the 5-year period, there was a 26% increase in the total quantity of packaging recycled, whereas packaging consumption had only increased by 14%.

Although the Packaging Accord reached the end of its lifespan, the Council and its members continue striving towards packaging sustainability. Picking up where the Accord left off, and following 18 months of consultation, PAC.NZ’s Packaging Product Stewardship Scheme was launched in 2010 as a voluntary industry initiative with three objectives: improving packaging design and systems to reduce packaging waste, increasing reuse and recycled content of packaging, and enhancing consumer awareness and understanding of sustainable packaging.

The framework for the Scheme is based on Part 2 of the Waste Minimisation Act, which sets out the requirements for a product stewardship scheme to achieve formal accreditation from the Minister for the Environment.

Scheme members are required to report annually on their performance against the Scheme’s policies, procedures and key performance indicators, which includes adopting the Packaging Council’s Code of Practice for Packaging Design, Education and Procurement.

The objective of the Code is to assist companies in the design, manufacture and end-of-life management of packaging to minimise its environmental impacts and is based on international best practice.

Looking to the future, PAC.NZ is collaborating with Crown Research Institute, Scion, to raise the profile of packaging as a recognised industry sector. Scion’s interest in packaging is through their research and development into bio-based functional food packaging and their packaging testing facilities.

PAC.NZ and Scion have had a number of discussions and meetings with export focused Government Departments to raise the issue of ‘sustainable packaging’ as an important component in achieving the Government’s food and beverage export growth targets, on the basis that most food and beverage must be packaged in some form, but those export markets could be threatened if the packaging does not conform to national or customer requirements. The new draft ISO standards on packaging and the environment and the Consumer Goods Forum’s Global Packaging Project only serve to raise the threat to New Zealand businesses if they are unable to provide the requested data or certifications.

The feedback from the Ministry for Economic Development and Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade has been encouraging and they have been quick to grasp the issues and potential consequences. For example, the Ministry for Economic Development are already conducting a project to determine whether New Zealand businesses are using standards to drive innovation and PAC.NZ has contributed to that project.

The growing importance of sustainability as a market driver in some of New Zealand’s food and beverage export markets has led the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to establish a quarterly reporting system for the sector, highlighting trends and issues in key markets. PAC.NZ will be pushing for packaging to be included in that reporting system to help raise the profile and importance of ‘sustainable packaging’ both with the Government and New Zealand industry.

The end in mind is to raise the profile of the PAC.NZ and promote packaging to the Government as a driver for growth and not just a domestic waste issue.

PAC.NZ and its partners have taken a collaborative approach, embracing packaging as essential to society. In this way, they gain voluntary buy-in from key industry players, who agree to work towards a vision where all production, distribution and consumption contribute to a truly sustainable society.

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