The next time you unwrap a chocolate bar, consider this. One year from now, you’ll have thrown away around 200 kg of packaging waste. And so will everyone you know.
Put us Aussies all together and that’s enough to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground nine times over. That’s 1.9 million tonnes of packaging in the bin.
That’s a lot of valuable resources.
Packaging takes a lot of energy, water and other natural resources to produce. Over the last thirty years, we’ve doubled the amount of natural resources we use in Australia (per capita), including aluminium, tin, steel, sand (for glass) and trees (for paper and cardboard). Plastic, for example, is made from oil - a rare and valuable commodity. When we throw away that packaging - most of it after only one use - these natural resources are lost.
Packaging is a climate problem.
Packaging waste pollutes our air, water and soil. In fact, 1.9 million tonnes of packaging waste produces the same amount of greenhouse gas as 860,000 cars. The litter it creates also ends up in many places that it shouldn’t - blocking our stormwater drains and causing serious problems for our wildlife. Often it ends up in our streams, rivers and the ocean. Here it can be mistaken by marine life and birds as food, causing serious injuries.
Recycling is part of the solution.
By recycling our packaging we can recover some of the energy used to create it and reduce our greenhouse gas. But that’s just part of the solution. Not all the energy used to create packaging can be recovered by recycling. Reducing the amount of packaging we use, or avoiding it altogether, is a very effective way of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and its effect on our environment.
Did you know…
The state government made a commitment at the last election to use the powers of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to require brand owners and industry members to take back packaging and other waste if agreed targets are not met.
Have they done it?
We need government regulation and market incentives
Environment Victoria believes that there are two key things we can do to solve the packaging problem.
- The government can introduce regulations that set a minimum standard for sustainable packaging and clearly outline waste responsibilities for manufacturers
- We can use market incentives to motive producers and consumers to meet those standards
But that’s not all. There’s so much more we can do.
- We can reduce the amount of greenhouse gas produced by using emissions as a guide to the impact packaging as on our environment.
- We can overhaul the way our products are distributed and displayed to reduce the need for packaging. Brand owners and supermarkets could rethink the way a product is transported, displayed and sold in order to reduce its impact on the environment.
- We can ban non-recyclable materials from being used in packaging by 2010. A national standard could be developed, outlining which materials are recyclable and therefore able to be used.
- We can ban recycleable packaging from going to landfill. State governments could use available legislation to stop materials, such as cardboard and paper, glass, alminium, steel and plastics, from being dumped in landfill.
- We can introduce recycling facilities at local supermarkets, especially for flexible plastics such as plastic bags and shrink wraps.
- We can introduce reuseable packaging for more products, including freight packaging and home delivery. We could also redesign product packaging to make it reusable.
- We can exercise our power as consumers and lobby brand owners to take more action to reduce the environmental impacts of packaging.
- We can introduce a national container deposit scheme to encourage people to recycle drink containers, such as aluminium cans, and plastic and glass bottles.
- We can increase recycling rates away from home by introducing a fund to support public place recycling.
The National Packaging Covenant
The National Packaging Covenant (NPC) is a voluntary agreement between government and industry. It’s aim is to reduce the impact of consumer packaging in Australia. It was first established in 1999 and will expire in 2010.
Around 650 organisations and companies have signed the covenant and agreed to do three things:
1. Come up with an action plan to improve their recovery of packaging materials;
2. Support an increase of kerbside recycling; and
3. Work together to increase the market for recycled materials.
We think the NPC needs to be broader
Signing up to the National Packaging Covenant is voluntary. This means that signatories are not required to achieve any particular outcomes. Each participant can choose their own objectives and performance indicators.
The incentive for participants to address the areas outlined in the NPC is the promise that government will not increase regulation if the targets are met. In the end, individual participants decide for themselves how much effort to put in. The result is that the NPC continues to undermine any major environmental gains that could be achieved in the packaging industry.
That’s why we support broader goals, targets and indicators for the NPC - so that we can capture the full environmental impacts of packaging.
For more, read our response to the National Packaging Covenant.
Convinced? Get involved in our National DUMP & KEEP Awards