With a recent WWF-led survey revealing the shocking truth about food products on our shelves that over 80 per cent of popular products' packaging isn’t easily recyclable, the focus now shifts to the federal government’s release of its national plastics plan to see if this issue can be resolved.
The WWF audit analysed the packaging of 82 products from the biggest brands across six categories and found that only 16 (19.5%) were entirely kerbside recyclable, 45 (55%) required some elements to be taken to a collection point, and 21 (25.5%) are currently difficult to collect and recycle due to over-packaging or bad design.
Katinka Day, WWF-Australia’s No Plastics in Nature Policy manager, said it’s clear that we need stronger rules to ensure all food products use less unnecessary plastic and choose packaging that can be easily recycled at home.
“We were really disappointed with the results of the survey and it clearly shows that brands need to be doing better in regards to their packaging,” says Day.
“We saw many instances of unnecessary layers of plastic in packaging that couldn’t be recycled, such as trays made from polystyrene, which are not viable to recycle in Australia, like PET is for example.
“We saw items that were individually wrapped in plastic, which were then bundled in a plastic netting with a metal clip. Sure, the plastic netting can be recycled via REDcycle but only when that metal clip is removed.
“All of this just makes so much more difficult for individuals to be able to do the right thing.”
Day believes there are three things that these major brands can do better in this space.
“First, every single brand should be ensuring that the packaging they are using is recyclable,” explains Day.
“Then they should make sure that there is no unnecessary use of extra packaging, especially with plastic, which often escapes the waste stream and ends up in our environment.
“And finally, brands really be should be implementing the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) so that every single product gives consumers very clear information as to how to properly dispose of the packaging once the product is consumed.
“Everyone who buys a product should be assured that the packaging is easily recyclable and displays the ARL, as people are often busy with other things to worry about, so we really need to make things as easy as possible to achieve the best recycling outcomes.”
The good news is the audit found almost half of the surveyed products already use the ARL, with Woolworths and Coles private label products having the highest use of the label. Of the brands that didn’t, many were already on the way to its addition.
Day has now set her sights on the federal government’s upcoming release of a national plastics plan, which is expected to reduce plastic pollution and increase recycling rates, currently sitting at around 18 per cent.
“The national plastics plan is a really unique opportunity to address plastic pollution in Australia. We’ve seen a huge amount of plastic end up in our environment each year, equivalent to the weight of two Titanic ships every year,” Day says.
“We absolutely need to see strategies and actions that helps us avoid unnecessary and problematic plastics and really ensure that our 2025 packaging targets are met. And the best way to get the ball rolling and meet those targets is to make the ARL mandatory.
“Plastic pollution is a global issue, so we would love to also see the government support international action on this issue, especially considering there is growing momentum towards an international treaty to address plastic pollution.
“Over 130 countries have already indicated their support for this but Australia is seen as sitting on the fence, so we would really like to see the government take meaningful action on this with what’s set out in the plastics plan.”
WWF has a global objective to see no plastics in nature, and packaging is one of the top contributors of plastic ending up in the environment.
The WWF survey was conducted in partnership with Planet Ark, the City of Sydney, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Adaptation Environmental Support, and APCO.
The government is expected to announce its national plastics plan in March.