Packaging stewardship

Your business may have obligations to manage the environmental impacts of packaging waste

Packaging waste

A national, co-regulatory product stewardship arrangement is in place which sets obligations for certain businesses to minimise the environmental impact of packaging in which their products are sold or distributed. This includes:

  • all packaging made of any material (or any combination of materials) for containing, protecting, marketing, and handling consumer products,
  • packaging materials used to transport consumer products to a retailer (also known as distribution or business-to-business packaging), and
  • plastic bags provided to consumers by retailers at point-of-sale.

National packaging targets

Led by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), Australian businesses have committed to collectively achieving the 2025 National Packaging Targets. The targets are:

  • 100% of packaging being reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025
  • 70% of plastic packaging being recycled or composted by 2025
  • 50% of average recycled content included in packaging by 2025
  • the phase out of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging by 2025.

The NSW Government is working closely with the federal government and the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) to ensure national packaging targets are met or exceeded.

As part of the commitments under the NSW Plastics Action Plan 2021, the NSW Government will review the packaging industry’s progress in 2024 (3 years from the release of the plan) and if there has not been sufficient action taken against the above targets, we will consider mandating targets or design standards to address packaging waste issues.

National packaging legislation

The National Environmental Protection Measure (Used Packaging Materials) 2011 (NEPM UPM) establishes a national, co-regulatory product stewardship arrangement for consumer packaging which sets obligations for certain businesses to manage their packaging waste in a sustainable way.

The goal of the NEPM UPM is to reduce environmental degradation arising from the disposal of used packaging and conserve virgin materials through the encouragement of waste avoidance and the re-use and recycling of used packaging materials.

Are the packaging product stewardship arrangements mandatory?

Yes. The product stewardship requirements for packaging are part of a national co-regulatory arrangement, known as the National Environmental Protection Measure (Used Packaging Materials) 2011 (NEPM UPM).

In NSW, the NEPM UPM is currently supported through Part 8 of the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014 (Waste Regulation).

Meeting your obligations

You have obligations if your business has a gross annual income in Australia of $5 million or more, and you are a:

  • brand owner of consumer products (as defined by the Waste Regulation or a
  • retailer who provides plastic bags to consumers for transporting consumer products.

There are two pathways available to meet your obligations to manage packaging waste in a sustainable way:

  1. becoming a signatory to, and complying with, the Australian Packaging Covenant, OR
  2. choosing to be regulated by the EPA in accordance with specific recovery targets and the other reporting requirements set out in the Waste Regulation.

Businesses can meet their obligations by choosing to become a signatory to, and complying with, the Australian Packaging Covenant. Becoming a signatory involves membership of the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO). APCO is a not-for-profit organisation, accredited by the Commonwealth Government, whose role is to administer the Australian Packaging Covenant and provide dedicated assistance for businesses to help meet their requirements under the NEPM UPM.

By joining APCO, some of the benefits to your business include:

Failure to meet your obligations as an APCO member will result in a referral to the EPA for regulation.

Requirement to meet packaging targets

APCO members have committed to collectively achieving the 2025 National Packaging Targets.

Reporting and record keeping obligations

As a signatory to the Australian Packaging Covenant, your obligations include preparing and implementing an action plan and submitting annual reports to APCO.

Contact APCO at connect@apco.org.au for more information about meeting your reporting and record keeping obligations under the agreement.

Cost

Contact APCO at connect@apco.org.au for more information about their membership options.

Who to contact

To become a signatory to the Australian Packaging Covenant, contact APCO at connect@apco.org.au or on 02 8381 3700.

Further information about the Australian Packaging Covenant can be found at the APCO website.

Businesses can choose to be regulated by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) in accordance with the specific recovery targets and the other reporting requirements set out in Part 8 of the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014.

If selecting this option, companies should consider the following requirements of the legislation:

  1. Clause 83 which defines a brand owner of products
  2. Clause 87 which sets the requirements to recover, reuse and recycle materials, provide information to consumers and to review packaging design
  3. Clause 89 which outlines the annual records brand owners must keep and make available to the EPA on request

Requirement to meet packaging targets

If you choose to be regulated by the EPA, the following packaging targets will apply individually to your business:

  • 85% recovery of all materials used in packaging products up to and including 30 June 2022
  • 100% of new and existing packaging must be reviewed using the Sustainable Packaging Guidelines.

As part of the commitments under the NSW Plastics Action Plan 2021, the NSW Government will require businesses who are not part of the Australian Packaging Covenant to also meet the 2025 National Packaging Targets. This means that packaging targets will change in future.

Failure to meet the requirements to recover, re-use and recycle materials,  review packaging design in accordance with targets, and provide adequate information to consumers about how to dispose of packaging attracts a maximum penalty of 200 penalty units in the case of a corporation ($22,000), or 100 penalty units in the case of an individual ($11,000).

Requirement to prepare a waste action plan

You are required to prepare a draft waste action plan within one month of the EPA’s written request. Clause 88 of the Waste Regulation sets out the detailed requirements for preparing your draft waste action plan. These requirements include:

  • baseline data, detailing your current performance regarding the use, recovery, re-use, and recycling of packaging materials that you are responsible for
  • details of how you will meet your compliance obligations, including the targets set by the EPA
  • time frames, proposed actions, and performance indicators for achieving the targets set by the EPA
  • how you will ensure a continuous reduction in the number of packaging items in the litter stream.

Action plans will be assessed by the EPA before being approved. If the EPA believes your waste action plan is not sufficient, the EPA can direct you to amend and resubmit the plan to ensure it meets the regulatory requirements.

Failure to meet the requirement to prepare a waste action plan or comply with a direction of the EPA attracts a maximum penalty of 200 penalty units in the case of a corporation ($22,000), or 100 penalty units in the case of an individual ($11,000).

Requirement to keep records

You are required to keep records for each financial year that demonstrate progress against your action plan. Clause 89 of the Waste Regulation sets out detailed requirements for annual record keeping. These requirements include:

  • the total weight and number of units of packaging material used, by material type
  • the arrangements you have in place to ensure that packaging material is recovered, including details of any third-party agreements  
  • the total weight of packaging material recovered, re-used, recycled or disposed to landfill, by material type and by destination (in Australia or outside of Australia)
  • the total amount of embedded energy recovered
  • how recovered packaging material is used
  • how consumers have been informed about how to recover packaging
  • the percentages of existing and new packaging that is reviewed using the Sustainable Packaging Guidelines, and any improvements made to the design of that packaging
  • any measures taken to ensure a continuous reduction in littered packaging.

Records must be retained for at least 5 years following the financial year to which they relate and must be made available for inspection and copying by an authorised EPA officer on request.

As part of the commitments under the NSW Plastics Action Plan 2021, the NSW Government will require businesses to improve reporting to the NSW Government on their progress against packaging targets. This means that your record keeping, and reporting obligations will change in future.

Failure to meet record keeping requirements attracts a maximum penalty of 200 penalty units in the case of a corporation ($22,000), or 100 penalty units in the case of an individual ($11,000).

How to keep records

For 2021-2022, use the interim reporting form (XLXS 32KB).

It is a requirement to make records available for inspection and copying by an EPA authorised officer on request.

A new record keeping tool is under development and will be available in the last quarter of 2022.

Cost

There are currently no fees payable directly to the EPA for the administration of action plans and records.

Who to contact

In the case of companies that choose to be regulated by the EPA, you must contact plastics@epa.nsw.gov.au to notify the EPA of your intent.  

Resources

A webinar on the obligations to reduce environmental impacts of packaging in NSW was hosted by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation and supported by NSW EPA in November 2020. The webinar covers the national framework and regulatory obligations under which used packaging is managed, and the support available to help members to the Covenant meet their voluntary obligations.

Frequently asked questions

Obligations

You have obligations if you have a gross annual income in Australia $5 million or more, and you are either:

  • a brand owner of consumer products, or
  • a retailer who provides plastic bags to consumers for transporting consumer products from the retailer.

In NSW, a Brand Owner is someone who:

  • is the owner of the product name under which the product is sold or otherwise distributed in Australia, or if no such person exists
  • is a licensee of the product name under which the product is sold or otherwise distributed in Australia, or if no such person exists
  • is a franchisee under a business arrangement that allows the person to sell or otherwise distribute the product in Australia, or if no such person exists
  • first sells a particular item of the product in Australia.

A product name includes a trademark, brand name or trade name whether or not registered in Australia.

Use the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation's (APCO) self-assessment tool to help determine  whether you are a brand owner.

Exemptions

You are exempt from being regulated by the EPA if:

  • you are a signatory to (and complying with) the Australian Packaging Covenant, OR
  • you have a gross annual income in Australia of less than $5 million

Interstate obligations

If you are not a signatory to (and complying with) the Australian Packaging Covenant you may also have obligations to meet in another State or Territory.

You should contact your local regulatory authority to understand your obligations under the NEPM UPM. A list of jurisdictional agencies can be found at: http://www.nepc.gov.au/about-us/jurisdictional-agencies

Yes, the regulation still applies to your business, as you have an obligation to minimise the environmental impact of packaging even if you don’t use much.

Yes, the regulation includes all packaging made of any material (or any combination of materials) for containing, protecting, marketing, and handling consumer products. Packaging materials used to transport consumer products to a retailer (also known as distribution or business-to-business packaging) are also included.

Yes, the regulation applies to brand owners, not just producers or manufacturers of packaging. Brand owners can include product owners, licensees, franchisees and/or the first seller of a product into the Australian market. Your organisation is responsible for the packaging it is releasing into the Australian market.

In addition to meeting the requirements in NSW, you may have obligations to meet in another Australian State or Territory. You should contact the local regulatory authority to understand your obligations under the NEPM UPM. A list of jurisdictional agencies can be found at:

http://www.nepc.gov.au/about-us/jurisdictional-agencies  

No, the Container Deposit Scheme (Return and Earn) is a litter reduction scheme for eligible beverage containers only.

Part 8 of the waste regulation applies to all packaging made of any material (or any combination of materials) for containing, protecting, marketing and handling consumer products and is broader in scope, with additional requirements to review packaging design, prepare an action plan, keep certain records and ensure material recovery.

It is most likely that you will need to comply with both arrangements. 

By participating in a waste avoidance or reduction programs, such as the NSW EPA Bin Trim or NSW DPE Sustainability Advantage programs, you may have received assistance to conduct a waste assessment, develop a waste management plan or develop a sustainability strategy. While this may help you to get started with gathering information about waste and recycling, it is not a replacement for the waste action plan and record keeping requirements set out in Clause 88 and 89 of the Waste Regulation, as it is unlikely to address all of the regulated requirements for packaging.

Using the Sustainable Packaging Guidelines is strongly encouraged, as the Guidelines have been developed to assist in the sustainable design, procurement and manufacture of packaging used in Australia. The Guidelines are regularly reviewed in consultation with government and industry.

Businesses can apply to the EPA to use an alternative set of guidelines, such as an international equivalent. Approval will only be given if the EPA is satisfied that using the alternative set of guidelines will achieve equivalent outcomes to the Sustainable Packaging Guidelines.

As part of the co-regulatory agreement with all Australian governments, APCO is responsible for identifying businesses that are potentially liable under the National Environmental Protection Measure (Used Packaging Materials) 2011 (NEPM UPM) and to inform them of their obligations and the options to comply with the NEPM UPM.

You may have received a letter as part of a recent brand audit by APCO, which aims to identify non-compliant businesses. Your business mostly likely received this letter because the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC) code for your company matches the codes of current APCO members.

You should respond to the letter, advising of:

  • your intention to become a signatory to the Australian Packaging Covenant, or
  • your intention to be regulated by the NSW EPA, or
  • why your business does not have obligations (refer to the FAQ above: 'How do I work out if my business has obligations?').

If APCO has not received your reply within 40 days of this letter, it must escalate the compliance process to State and Territory governments.

APCO provided Dun & Bradstreet (a company that provides commercial data) with a list of Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC) codes and purchased a data list of companies that had a recorded turnover of $5M and over.

The list of ANZSIC codes provided to Dun & Bradstreet were the same ANZSIC codes of APCO’s current membership base.

ANZSIC codes are used in Australia and NZ for the production and analysis of industry statistics. They were developed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and Statistics New Zealand (Statistics NZ). An individual business entity is automatically assigned an ANZIC code based on its predominant activity recorded in the Australian Business Register. If your ANZIC code is incorrect, you can update it on the Australian Business Register.

You may have recently received a letter from the NSW EPA advising you that your business has obligations under Part 8 of the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014.

Your business most likely received the letter if:

  • you were identified as a liable Brand Owner by APCO during a recent brand audit and failed to respond within 40 days of being contacted by APCO
  • you were previously a signatory to the Australian Packaging Covenant but have failed to meet your obligations in the most recent reporting year.

You must respond to this letter, advising of:

  • your intention to become a signatory to the Australian Packaging Covenant, or
  • your intention to be regulated by the NSW EPA, or
  • why your business does not have obligations (refer to the FAQ above: 'How do I work out if my business has obligations?').

If the NSW EPA does not receive your reply within the written notice period you may be penalised for non-compliance with Part 8 of the Waste Regulation.

There are various penalties in place for non-compliance with Part 8 of the Waste Regulation. These include:

  • failure to meet the requirements to recover, re-use and recycle materials, review packaging design and/or provide consumers with adequate information about disposal of packaging in accordance with targets.
  • failure to meet the requirement to prepare a waste action plan or comply with a direction of the EPA to amend your waste plan.
  • failure to meet record keeping requirements.

Failure to meet the above requirements attracts a maximum penalty of 200 penalty units in the case of a corporation ($22,000), or 100 penalty units in the case of an individual ($11,000), for each separate offence.

If you would like to join the Australian Packaging Covenant, contact the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) at connect@apco.org.au.

If you have any further questions about your obligations, or are seeking to be regulated by the EPA, please contact plastics@epa.nsw.gov.au

Page last updated