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Unpacking the Details - Packaging Compliance and Sustainability

Are you a ‘brand owner’ committed to the use of sustainable packaging?  Have you received notice from the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) that you may be liable under the National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure 2011 (NEPM) to meet certain obligations with respect to packaging? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it is important to understand your compliance obligations.


NEPM was introduced in 2005 and established a national arrangement for consumer packaging which set out requirements for certain businesses to manage their packaging waste in a sustainable manner. It requires all states and territories in Australia to provide and enforce regulations to reduce the impact of consumer packaging in Australia.


The Australian Packaging Covenant (the Covenant) under NEPM is the national framework that dictates how governments and certain businesses will together manage the effect of consumer packaging on the environment. APCO is the body that administers the Covenant.

Consumer Packaging

NEPM defines consumer packaging as ‘all packaging products made of any material, or combination of materials, for the containment, protection, marketing and handling of retail consumer products. This also includes distribution packaging that contains multiples of products intended for direct consumer purchase’.[1]

If you are a brand owner, in the ‘packaging chain’, then you may have compliance obligations under the Covenant. Those in the packaging chain are defined as ‘materials suppliers, packaging manufacturers, packaging fillers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers of packaged products’.[2] So, for example, if you are a manufacturer of packaging or of goods packaged in such packaging, you may be deemed to be part of the packaging chain. The Covenant applies to all businesses in a packaging chain which have an annual turnover of $5 million or more.

Are you a Brand Owner?

Before you go further, you need to assess whether you are a brand owner and therefore come within the ambit of NEPM.

You are considered a brand owner[3] if you are:

  • the owner or licensee in Australia of a trademark (registered or unregistered) under which a product is sold or otherwise distributed in Australia

  • a franchisee in Australia of a business arrangement which allows an individual, partnership or company to operate under the name of an already established business

  • for a product which has been imported, the first person to sell that product in Australia

  • for in-store packaging, the supplier of the packaging to the retailer

  • the importer or manufacturer of plastic bags or the retailer who provides the plastic bag to the consumer for the transportation of products purchased by the consumer at the point of sale.

If you answered yes to any of these, then you will be deemed to be a brand owner, and will have obligations to meet under NEPM. You may be exempt for compliance in certain circumstances such as, your business has ceased trading, or you are covered by an existing APCO membership.[4]


 There are two options available to you if you are a brand owner and liable under NEPM:

  1. join APCO and become a signatory to the Covenant

  2. choose to meet your obligations under NEPM and directly report to the state or territory where your business has its head office.

A non-signatory to the Covenant, is still required to comply with the laws, policies or other arrangements that implement the NEPM in each state or territory where their products are sold or distributed.[5] Your first knowledge of these options may be when you receive a notice from APCO indicating that it believes you fall within the ambit of the Covenant as a brand owner.

APCO Membership

Membership to APCO does require payment of fees but membership provides support in meeting your obligations under the Covenant and access to resources.  Section 10 of the Covenant,[6] details the requirements you will be required to meet as a signatory:



Within 3 months of becoming a signatory

Submit an action plan that sets out what you propose to do to contribute to the Covenant’s aim and meets the obligations published by APCO (“Brand Owner Membership - APCO”).

By 31 March each year (commencing the financial year following the year in which you become a signatory)

Submit an annual report that outlines performance against all the action plan commitments and meets the reporting obligations as published by APCO.

Publish the action plan and annual reports on your website.

Make annual financial contributions (pay membership fees) to APCO.

Put in place policies or procedures to buy products made from recycled materials.

Establish collection and recycling programs for used packaging materials generated on site.

Take action to reduce litter.

Allow independent audits of annual reports and how you have implemented your action plans.

Provide assistance to APCO to respond to public complaints about the design / use of packaging materials.


How can we help?

If you require more information on whether the Covenant applies to you and your compliance options, please contact our Corporate & Commercial Team.

Author: Rebecca Hegarty


[1] Section 3, National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure 2011.

[2] Section 3, National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure 2011.

[3] Section 3, National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure 2011.

[4] https://apco.org.au/evaluate-your-options

[5] The Australian Packaging Covenant, 1 January 2017, page 17.

[6] Section 3, National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure 2011.