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Plastics and the SGP program
By Colleen Bate

The use of plastics goes back to around a century ago but only gained interest after World War One when plastic proved to be a highly economical alternative to metal, wood and glass. Now as environmental concerns (particularly around the perils of plastic) have become prominent, recycling has become more important. And so it should. Virtually every piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).


There's now an epidemic of plastic (including vinyl) pollution worldwide. Countless stories exist of just how far the pollution has spread. It's particularly concerning to discover that micro plastic particles pieces are regularly passed up the food chain when accidentally consumed by marine life and animals. This means that we are actually digesting more plastic than we realise!

Did you know that:

Poystyrene on ice

Poystyrene on ice
  • Floating polystyrene sheeting is one of the worst polluters.

* Large chunks of polystyrene were recently discovered lying on a sheet of frozen ice in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, prompting fears that plastic waste is flowing into the Arctic as the ice melts. At the same time plastic that has long been trapped in the ice is being released.
* There's a floating mass of plastic located off the coast of California. This "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" is the largest ocean garbage site in the world. It is estimated to be at least the size of Texas, with microscopic plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one.
* Closer to home it has been revealed that sediment from the bottom of estuaries running through busy Australian towns contains tiny microplastic pieces. Hundreds of kilometres offshore, scientists also find the same thing in samples of the ocean floor.

Most sectors of the printing and packaging industry use large quantities of non-paper printing substrates, plastic being one of them. While there is historical evidence to suggest that the local industry has a general awareness of environmental issues that effect us all, there are questions around how companies forward plan towards sustainable options. And once in place, how well do these changes effect and incentivise the overall operation of the business concerned?

In the construction of this article, we tried to speak to several printers and flexible packaging companies for comment but the lack of response was disappointing.

In a quest to uncover the practices and attitudes of the industry in their sustainability strategies and see what is being done about these findings, we spoke to the Printing Industries Association of Australia (PIAA).

According to a PIAA spokesman, there has been a general willingness among printers to lower their environmental impact through better waste management and mindful choices of products and media, but it seems that many printers feel that they are not customer-incentivised or rewarded for deploying a sustainability strategy.

Litter on a Mumbai beach
Mainly plastic litter on a Mumbai beach. We understand that this is being/has been cleaned up.
But how much is in the water?

This is understandable. It is important for printing companies to promote themselves as environmentally sensitive and look to become 'green certified' for many reasons, however if, at the end of the day, they are not getting a pat on the back from existing customers or attracting more business, there may be a general attitude of 'why bother?'

The PIAA is working through this problem via its Sustainable Green Program (SGP) - incentivising sustainability to printers by proving to them how a solid sustainability program will ultimately reduces costs.

Tailored to any printing, cleaning or sign making business, the SGP has advanced from the environmental Green Stamp program which was originally formed back in 2003 . It was a collaboratibetween the Western Australia region of PIAA and the Department of Environment and Regulation.

Over a decade later, the evolved SGP program emerged and has been running ever since. Created specifically for the design and print industry, it is tailored to individual print business’s requirements to meet the demands of customers and keep up with changing trends to better manage environmental expectations and responsibilities.

PIAA LogoThe program assists companies to reduce energy consumption, hazardous chemical storage and much more. Importantly it educates on effective ways of minimising waste - demonstrating how reduced waste saves members money.

Our source confirms that the SGP program is made up of three levels, the third of which brings printers up to the basic requirements of ISO140001. It covers all aspects of improved sustainability - from the type of lighting used in a factory space to the way excess materials are recycled.

A list of the printers that have qualified can be found at

The multi-level system gives businesses a choice of four linked achievement levels including ISO 14001 (Level 3 SGP) allowing printers to choose their own participation and progress levels.

Level 1: is focused on waste, recycling, storage and handling and covers: record keeping; compliance; cleaner production practices and waste management, along with a simple Environmental Management System (EMS).

Level 2: introduces additional levels of management and control including the tracking of waste streams and brings in a focus on energy consumption and carbon footprint.

Level 3: ensures that the company has a fully operational EMS which maximises the overall benefits of the SGP program. At this level a company will also be prepared for full ISO 14001 certification, if desired.

Training is delivered via self paced learning modules and personal contact with experienced SGP trainers and advisors. Industry specific resources demonstrate the positive effect of key environmental laws compliance, environmental risk management specific to a business, control measures to prevent noncompliance with environmental laws and ways to document actions, undertake internal audits and manage individual EMS.

All SGP certification is audit driven and according to the PIAA spokesman, takes between 1 and 5 months to complete. Over this time, companies must demonstrate their business approach to improve sustainability and demonstrate real reductions to gain accreditation. Resulting benefits of the program include environmentally safer and healthier workplaces, with significant improvements to efficiency and productivity.

The pathway to sustainable development requires will and effort. It may not be easy but it is certainly worthwhile and vital. Some giants in the world of consumer goods (Nestle, Unilever and Procter & Gamble for instance ) have have issued statements about their commitment to producing enviro-friendly packaging. While these case studies reveal that rewards can be gained for innovative procedures and products, the most important message here is that these companies are actually preventing further harm to our precious planet and in doing so, are addressing the complex challenges we are facing nationwide.

In view of this, perhaps the question we could ask is not whether sustainability strategies will garner profit and/or more customers to local printing industries, but rather whether printing, packaging and sign companies can now afford to be non-compliant to environmental expectations and responsibilities.

Printing Industries Association of Australia