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Unwrapping the Discourse

Product Stewardship and Sustainability in the Australian Packaging Industry


The packaging industry has been under pressure for more than 20 years to reduce the environmental impacts of its products. Despite significant investments in litter reduction and kerbside recycling programs over that period, packaging has maintained its high profile in the public discourse on environmental issues. Specific concerns about packaging are rarely articulated beyond those of waste and litter, but seem to step from deeper unease within elements of the community about the impacts of industrial development on the environment.

The term ‘product stewardship’ started to be widely used in the late 1990’s when certain stakeholder groups began to promote the view that companies should be responsible for products throughout their life cycle, including at end-of-life, although there are differences of opinion about whether this responsibility should be total or shared with other parts of the supply chain. Today the discourse is increasingly about ‘sustainability’ and what this means for the packaging industry. However, both ‘sustainability’ and ‘product stewardship’ are contested terms that have different meanings to different groups and individuals in the community.

This paper provides an introduction to the discourse on packaging and the environment, product stewardship and sustainability, and presents the results of a stakeholder survey undertaken in Australia in 2003. The purpose of the survey was to document the views of key stakeholders involved in shaping the discourse on the environmental impacts and management of packaging.

The survey revealed many areas of agreement, for example on the definition of ‘product stewardship’ as a form of ‘shared responsibility’ between organisations within the packaging supply chain. This view has clearly shaped, and been shaped by, negotiations between government and industry to develop the (Australian) National Packaging Covenant.

Author: Helen Lewis

The full paper was published in Environmental Science & Policy (2005). A summary was presented at the 14th IAPRI World Conference on Packaging, Stockholm, June 13-16, 2004 as well as at the first formal meeting of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Seattle, June 23-25, 2004, by Assoc. Prof. Kees Sonneveld.

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