Plastic as a sustainable material: AIP Conference

By Conal O’Neill

A panel discussion at the AIP Conference comprised of Planet Ark CEO Rebecca Gilling, Australian Beverages Council CEO Geoff Parker, National Retail Association CEO Greg Griffith and Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) CEO Chris Foley delved further into the topic of circularity.

Gilling spoke out against the “increasing demonisation of plastics”, noting that plastic packaging is often a safer option for food products, and the recyclability and reuse of plastic materials was key to creating complex circular systems that used, and reused the most appropriate materials for products.

Griffith and Foley both spoke of the role of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and the concerns of the sector in the cost implications of implementing circular economic changes.

They said while bigger retailers had the structure to plan changes and absorb costs for a longer-term payoff, SMEs were not in a position to do this, but they played an important role in implementing change and educating consumers.

Speaking to the cost benefits of reuse, Foley also claimed that the “payback was there, both environmental and financial” for retailers who made the effort to implement reuse systems in their businesses, citing Kmart’s reuse of between 300 and 400 million coat hangers per year.

The panel also spoke in depth about the “patchwork quilt” of container deposit schemes in Australia, with Parker noting that addressing the disharmony in the different schemes in different states was one of the roles of the Australian Beverage Council. Parker also said that Europe was looking to Australia for guidance on this particular issue.

Foley told the audience that “change is coming and now is the time to start taking responsibility”.

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