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Sustainable packaging startup hit by Chinese-Australian trade tensions

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Australian sustainable packaging startup Planet Protector Packaging has been one victim of the Chinese-Australian trade tensions, after their deal to provide the packaging of rock lobster exports was put on hold. 

Planet Protector Packaging (PPP) was established in 2016 in response to the global plastic waste crisis. Their product aims to eliminate polystyrene from supply chains by replacing it with environmentally responsible WOOLPACK Insulated packaging made from sheep waste wool.

With an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean every year, and 42 per cent of this plastic emanating from the packaging industry, CEO and founder Joanne Howarth said she was eager to build a packaging product that did not rely on polystyrene.

“Our solution consists of two interlocking liners that slip inside the cardboard carton. The carton is recyclable, and the wall is biodegradable,” she said. “If you were to plant the wall or put it in compost, within six months it would have broken down and returned valuable nutrients to the soil.”

Large corporations DHL and Blackmores are now using the Planet Protector Packaging solution, as well as smaller clients Loving Earth and Bondi Meal Prep.

In early 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic struck, PPP spent nine months conducting trials with the lobster industry to export rock lobsters from Australia to China. 

Joanne Howarth, CEO and founder of Planet Protector Packaging. Source: Supplied.

A $10 billion dollar industry, Ms Howarth said the company would have had $2-3 million worth of revenue coming from Australian lobster trade. 

“We worked with the industry to create a 100 per cent plastic free solution, that would keep the lobsters alive while they travel,” she said. “We wanted to get ahead of Chinese New Year, but then COVID struck.” 

China has put a pause on Australian imports of rock lobsters, and are currently inspecting between 50 and 100 per cent of them, citing concerns about trace elements of metals. However, the halted lobster trade is said to be part of China’s response to Prime Minister Scott Morrison lobbying for an international inquiry into the origins of the virus.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has threatened to take the matter to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) if China does not comply saying: “We expect China to play by WTO rules and if they don’t we’ll have to make consideration with industry around what our next action is around the independent umpire.”

Due to trade tensions, Ms Howarth’s deal with the lobster industry has been put on further hold, as “tonnes of lobsters are just sitting on a dock in China now.”

“The whole lobster industry is shut down,” she said. “As an entrepreneur you learn to be resilient, but this was really something none of us foresaw.”

“The tension between Australia and China is going to have enormous repercussions across jobs, globally. What are the different sectors supposed to do – wind, timber, coal, sugar wheat? 

“That’s $8 billion of our GDP, gone.”


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Ellie Dudley
Ellie Dudley is a journalist at Dynamic Business with a background in the startup space and current affairs reporting. She has a specific interest in foreign investment and the Australian economy.