Sustainable Living | 16th Jun, 2009

Packaging

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.

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. 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 more 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 system 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 BOOMERANG ALLIANCE

Environment Victoria is a member of the Boomerang Alliance, which aims to give local communities power and influence in their struggle to stem the massive waste of discarded resources polluting our playgrounds, parks, rivers and beaches. See their campaigns at www.boomerangalliance.org.au