The importance of PREParation
Australia loves an acronym. You’ll find them everywhere as you travel around the country; on billboards, on the news, and you’ll find copious amounts of them at packaging conferences.
There was a stand-out acronym at the recent Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP) Conference in Surfers Paradise, which I attended and delivered a presentation at. The acronym was PREP, which stands for Packaging Recyclability Evaluation Portal.
It is widely accepted that a consistent approach to packaging transparency is required globally to make it easier for consumers to do the right thing when it comes to recycling. Australia’s response, through a partnership between APCO (Australian Packaging Convenant Organisation), Planet Ark and PREP Design, is a nationwide product labelling scheme that aims to clearly outline for consumers what product packaging is made from so they can correctly recycle it after use.
Speakers from all three of the partners fielded questions during the conference, but they also announced that the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) in the UK had just signed a contract with PREP Design to deliver the online interactive design tool to all of its members, so that they can ensure they design packaging that meets the criteria of the recently launched UK Plastics Pact.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and Blackmores, a major producer of vitamins and minerals in Australia, adopted PREP to validate the recyclability of its packaging. The company’s environment and sustainability manager, Jackie Smiles, told delegates that PREP assists Blackmores in decisions relating to kerbside recyclability across the country and is used in both new product development and renovation work to understand how consumers select products based on the packaging’s end of life.
Meanwhile, Nestlé Australia claimed that it has helped the company make informed decisions about the recyclability of its packaging.
Just as it is designed to work alongside the OPRL in the UK, the PREP tool can be used to underpin the use of the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL), which provides consumers with easy-to-understand recycling information on a pack. Several companies have adopted the ARL in Australia.
One delegate pointed out that there are numerous signatories to the Australian Packaging
Covenant that have not currently signed up to PREP and questioned what happens if they choose not to. Brooke Donnelly, APCO’s chief executive, suggested that any brands refusing to sign up could be added to a register and would then have to report to each jurisdiction individually, which would be an arduous job.
Anthony Peyton is a director of GreenChip and also of PREP Design, which is a joint venture between GreenChip, Planet Ark and Innovyz Waste & Recycling Technologies, and owns and manages the PREP software. He joked that because of Ipswich City in Queensland and its confusion about pizza boxes, everybody is talking about recyclability this year.
Essentially, it emerged that many items considered as recyclable, such as pizza boxes, and being put into yellow recycling bins by residents in Ipswich, were actually being sent to landfill. Inevitably, there was a consumer backlash when the truth came out.
Concepts such as PREP will likely gather momentum in these sensitive times, especially as during the same conference Australia’s environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, declared that all Australian packaging must be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.
The chief executive of Planet Ark, a self-labelled environmental behaviour-change organisation – an NGO (there’s another acronym for you!) – said that the common question his organisation gets asked is ‘can you recycle that?’
Paul Klymenko wants a standardised label to avoid what he calls the ‘recycling label guessing game’. The ARL uses three symbols that are designed to simplify the recycling process for the consumer: It is recyclable; it isn’t recyclable; and check locally.
“One packaging manufacturer is going to put the new recycling label/image in their blow moulds so that it gets printed on the container,” he said.
Blackmores’ Jackie Smiles added: “We’d always assume that the MRFs would do it all, or that the consumer is assumed will remove the lid and put the glass jar in the recycle bin. But now we realise that we need to engage with the consumer on recycling. We have adopted PREP Design to validate the packaging recyclability.”
PREP can potentially help inform the consumer better; it might be recommended that a consumer flatten the cardboard pack, or that the lid (ring) remain on a jar or can, for example.
“Australia is a middle runner when it comes to recycling, and that’s without a standardised label,” enthused Anthony Peyton. “Good systems and good education will reduce contamination. And PREP Design has a new tool for flexible plastics, such as PET/PE.”
Back in the UK, OPRL and PREP Design are now alpha testing the tool and specifically looking at where UK collection and processing infrastructure might lead to a different recyclability status. Beta testing is expected later this year. The OPRL is enthusiastic about it, claiming that the PREP tool gives members a realistic recyclability assessment and also a common language along the packaging supply chain.
Acronyms aside, a design tool that simulates a nation’s recycling ecosystem and provides feedback to explain why an item is not recyclable would seem like a no-brainer in these challenging environmental times. It will be interesting to see how it is deployed and which other nations jump at the chance to license it or develop similar tools.
TTFN (that’s ta ta for now!).