While a national audit reveals information on consumer products and packaging is confusing and ineffective, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) says important progress is being made.
The audit ,conducted by sustainability consultancy Equilibrium Recycling surveyed supermarkets, takeaway outlets, and convenience stores in two capital cities and found that 88 per cent of the packaging components sampled were recyclable through either kerbside recycling or a supermarket-based return program. However, only 40 per cent of these products had a recycling claim present on them.
Additional findings are:
- 55 per cent of imported products and 64 per cent of Australian products sampled displayed a recyclability claim of any kind;
- 23 per cent of products had the Australian Recycling Label (ARL) promoted by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation;
- 29per cent of products had the ‘Mobius Loop’ recycling symbol;
- 29 per cent of plastic products had a resin code symbol which is often mistaken for a recyclability symbol;
- The Tidyman logo appeared on 15 per cent of products sampled, including both recyclable and non-recyclable products, and;
- There was no consistent style, placement, or sizing of recyclable labels.
Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) CEO Pete Schmigel has described these results as “a dog’s breakfast of consumer information about what products and packaging components are or aren’t recyclable.”
However, Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation CEO Brooke Donnelly, told Inside Waste that the audit identified something that APCO and its partners at Planet Ark and PREP Design have long recognised: that Australia needs a clear, concise and evidenced based label placed on every product and packaging type sold into the Australian market.
“It’s fantastic to see key sectors within the packaging supply chain recognising the importance of the labelling issue and we welcome their engagement and participation in the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) Program moving forward. The program is the only evidence-based labelling system on the market and we anticipate seeing the ARL on every packaging format as the program grows over the coming years,” she said.
ARL on a quarter of packaging
Donnelly added that, as the leading proponent for better environmental labelling in Australia, APCO welcomed robust discussion and feedback on the progress of labelling in Australia.
“After less than two years in market, we are excited to see the leadership and hard work of Australian industry being recognised, with the ARL featuring on approximately a quarter of all products on shelves.”
Planet Ark CEO Paul Klymenko also told Inside Waste that after many years working to develop the Australasian Recycling Label, Planet Ark was impressed with the level of uptake after launching the program with APCO and PREP Design just two years ago.
“The uptake has been significantly faster than comparable international labels, and the ARL has been recognised by international bodies like the United Nations Environment Program as best practice when it comes to informing consumers how to best dispose of their packaging.”
Meanwhile, Schmigel said that ACOR fully supported the report’s recommendations, including:
- Labels need to be specific about the management methods of all components, and also include instructions to avoid contamination;
- There needs to be a clear, concise and evidenced-based label placed on every product and packaging type sold into the Australian market;
- The preferred label should be made mandatory and be flexible enough to incorporate new technologies and systems as they come online to recycle more products;
- The ‘Mobius Loop’ could cause consumer confusion, and a short cut to achieving greater clarity and consistency is to remove these and plastic resin codes from packaging, and;
- There is a role for authorities such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in driving and ensuring clarity and consistency in environmental claims and labels pertaining to recycling.
He added that to ensure that every product that can be recycled is recycled, there needs to be a uniform labelling approach and that there should be a label placed on every product and packaging type sold into the Australian market.
“If we have such arrangements for nutrition, we can have them for consumer recycling. ACOR will make that case to the Commonwealth Minister for Environment,” Schmigel said.
Meanwhile, he encouraged consumers to make a direct case to the manufacturers of the products they buy and actively ask company consumer hotlines: what is your approach to recycling labelling?
“And, those companies who specify products and packaging must also step up to correctly label their products while the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) should ensure accuracy in environmental claims and labels.”
Schmigel committed to formally referring the audit report to the ACCC for its consideration and follow up.