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Defining sustainable packaging


Internationally there is no clarity about what constitutes ‘sustainable packaging’. Policy initiatives have focused on waste reduction and recycling rather than sustainability. In Australia the National Packaging Covenant (NPC) aims to achieve continuous improvements in the 'life cycle environmental impacts' of packaging but there are no clear targets or principles for sustainable packaging development.

This project aims to engage with key stakeholders to develop a vision for sustainable packaging which is relevant to Australia. This vision will help to guide policy development and industry practice by helping to define packaging solutions which are environmentally responsible, commercially viable and socially acceptable.


Outline of the project

This project is being led by RMIT. Activities undertaken to date include:

  • Preparation of an initial discussion paper called 'Towards Sustainable Packaging.pdf (428kb)' in 2002.
  • A survey of 32 industry, government and community stakeholders in 2003.
  • Dissemination of a draft discussion paper called ‘Defining Sustainable Packaging’.
  • Discussion of the survey outcomes at the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) conference in Melbourne in November 2003.
  • Dissemination of an updated paper including feedback from the ISWA conference Defining Sustainable Packaging.pdf (PDF 177kb)'
  • Preparation of a draft definition for discussion.
  • Paper presentation at the 22nd IAPRI Symposium, Campinas, SP, Brasil (May 2005) - Sustainable Packaging: How do we Define and Measure It?

Current status

In 2007 SPA updated its definition of sustainable packaging. The new definition took into account recent developments including new data on the urgency of the global warming problem, the revised NPC and the work of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

SPA believes that packaging should meet the following four sustainability principles:

  • effective - provide social and economic benefits;
  • efficient - provide benefits by using materials, energy and water as efficiently as possible;
  • cyclic - be recoverable through industrial or natural systems; and
  • safe - non-polluting and non-toxic.

Comments are invited in the revised definition, which is contained in Sustainable Packaging Redefined (2007).


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