Australia’s road to a circular and sustainable future

Enhanced supply chain transparency and traceability are catalysts for Australia’s food and beverage industry’s transformation toward a circular economy.

Australia is making significant strides in the pursuit of a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to managing its food and beverage industry.

With growing concerns about waste management and the need to transition towards a circular economy, supply chain transparency and traceability have emerged as crucial tools.

Peter Carter, the general manager of Public Policy and Government Engagement at GS1 Australia, underscored the importance of this paradigm shift. 

“Improved identification of produce and materials is a first critical step to improve waste recovery and recycling efforts,” he said. 

This assertion resonates with the larger mission of a circular economy, which strives to reduce waste and promote sustainability by reusing, remanufacturing, and recycling resources, thereby minimising the overall environmental footprint.

A circular economy, with its mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle,” is a sharp departure from the traditional linear model of ‘take, make, dispose.’ 

These challenges span a spectrum from operational logistics and resource management to the design of products that can be reused or repurposed, and the ultimate need to reduce waste effectively. Carter further emphasises, 

“Achieving this transition requires a concerted effort from both the public and private sectors,” said Carter. 

Australia’s Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, is acutely aware of these challenges and is pushing for legally binding targets to boost recycling, as the country has long grappled with low recycling rates. 

Currently, only 13 per cent of plastics find new life, in stark contrast to 81 percent of building materials, 58 per cent of organic materials, and 62 per cent of paper and cardboard. 

In her pursuit of a more sustainable Australia, Plibersek sees supply chain transparency and traceability as powerful allies.

“One of the most encouraging developments in recent times is the
release of a draft national framework for recycled content traceability,” said Carter. 

“The objective is desirable, to remove harmful elements from our production systems,” he said. 

“And the framework provides a set way of doing things, but the real challenge will be about how it is implemented.

“But I think everyone in the packaging and food and beverage space will be wanting to know how this is going to happen. They can see the what and the why and now they will be asking logical questions about what changes and costs are involved.”

In August, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW), released a consultation paper to guide businesses in recycled content supply chains to improve traceability of recycled materials.  

The framework provides direction on data to collect and share with a view to harmonise national systems and consistency across industries, states, and territories.

Carter said that while this new governmental framework around transitioning to a circular economy creates clarity, a unified approach was still critical. 

“We also have a need for a way forward that keeps things simple and easily understandable and that it doesn’t become politicised,” he said. 

“We need to avoid different approaches to the framework in different states or we will end up with issues. 

“We can make life easier for industry if we keep communication channels open and do things in lockstep and as best as we can.”

The power of enhanced transparency and traceability

Enhanced information capture and sharing aren’t just technical endeavours; they are powerful tools for change. 

They underpin the ability to assess, measure, and optimise processes and practices across various sectors, from agriculture to manufacturing, retail, and beyond. And key industry bodies are taking note.

“A lesson we have learned is it’s not critical for government to build big new systems,” said Carter. 

“Over the past five years traceability has shown us that instead of requiring industries to push information up the supply chain, there are new models for government to avoid those clunky systems and keep things light touch for business so that government is just pulling the information they might need. 

“The USFDA is a good example of this.”

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), a key stakeholder in sustainable packaging, recognises the importance of supply chain transparency. 

In the quest for a circular economy, APCO aims to deliver on its 2025 National Packaging Targets, which include the ambitious goal of making 100 per cent of Australian packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025.

Container deposit schemes: A circular approach

One of the most tangible ways Australia is progressing towards a circular economy is through Container Deposit Schemes (CDS). 

Initiatives like “Return and Earn” in New South Wales demonstrate a push towards a circular approach.

These schemes have transformed waste recovery by incentivising consumers to return empty containers for recycling, effectively reducing litter and promoting resource recovery.

Supply chain transparency is at the heart of the success of CDS. 

With the help of advanced technology, the journey of containers is meticulously traced from production through consumption, ensuring efficient recycling. 

By using QR codes and unique identifiers, consumers can seamlessly return containers for recycling, and collection points can accurately manage the influx of returns for a better long-term outcome.

Product stewardship schemes: Responsibility meets transparency

Product stewardship schemes are another pivotal aspect of Australia’s journey towards a circular economy. 

The national framework targets set out by Australia’s environmental minsters is a prime example of how creating better product stewardship schemes, with the ability to step in and regulate, places the onus on manufacturers to collect and recycle plastic waste. 

Once again, supply chain transparency plays a crucial role, enabling these schemes to monitor and report on the life cycle of products, ensuring proper recycling or disposal.

“Enhanced traceability ensures that manufacturers can be held accountable for the materials used in their products,” added Foley.

“It also empowers consumers to make informed choices based on a product’s environmental impact, ultimately driving manufacturers to adopt more
sustainable practices.”

Industry efforts: Design, innovation, and collaboration

The food and beverage industry in Australia is taking proactive steps to reduce waste through better product design and resource utilisation. 

The “Fight Food Waste” cooperative project, initiated by the Australian Government and industry stakeholders, is a prime example. 

It focuses on reducing food waste across the supply chain, and transparent tracking and traceability are vital components of this initiative, allowing stakeholders to identify points of inefficiency and implement corrective actions.

Similarly, the “Closed Loop” program in the beverage industry emphasises the re-use and recycling of bottles and containers. 

Meanwhile, enhanced supply chain transparency aids in the collection, cleaning, and reprocessing of these containers, reducing the environmental impact of single-use packaging.

Government priorities and global sustainability goals

The Australian government recognises the importance of supply chain transparency and traceability in achieving its sustainability goals. 

The National Food Waste Strategy and the National Packaging Targets align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and Goal 13 (Climate Action). 

By fostering better supply chain transparency, Australia is making strides toward achieving SDGs like reducing waste, promoting sustainable consumption, and combating climate change. 

This aligns with global efforts to create a more circular economy and reduce environmental harm.

A bright future for Australia’s food and beverage industry

Enhanced supply chain transparency and traceability are catalysts for Australia’s food and beverage industry’s transformation toward a circular economy. 

Container deposit and product stewardship schemes, as well as industry-driven initiatives, exemplify how these concepts can significantly reduce waste and enhance sustainability. 

By aligning these efforts with Australian government priorities and the realisation of global SDGs, Australia is making commendable progress in building a more sustainable and environmentally responsible future for its food and beverage sector. 

The commitment to supply chain transparency is a testament to Australia’s dedication to waste management and sustainability, proving that the future of the industry is indeed a circular and bright one.

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