All Australian Governments have committed to the target of all being packaging either reusable, compostable or recyclable by 2025. A good goal, but the problem is that reusable, compostable or recyclable does not mean any package will be actually be reused, composted or recycled! In reality, most plastic packaging ends up as litter or waste in landfill. Latest data indicates that less than 16% of plastic packaging is recovered, and figures for reusables or compostables are unknown (but much worse that recycling).
What is needed are national, binding, reusable standards for packaging. This would mean that if a package is supplied as reusable, compostable or recyclable it means it has been tested against a standard and will be recovered, composted or reused in practice and at scale. If a product does not meet the criteria it cannot be advertised as a reusable, compostable or recyclable product. It puts greenwashing in the frame.
One recent example we exposed, is Big W continuing to sell single-use plastic picnic and party plates in Queensland despite a state ban. Big W tried to claim the plates were reusable. If Australia had a standard, Big W would have had to prove their product against this standard. And there was no way they would pass such a test.
Another concerns manufacturer claims on compostable takeaway items. A compost standard, with the certification displayed must be required.
Leaving aside the problem of excessive packaging of fresh food - the limitations of the Australian Recycling Label (ARL) are exposed when a plastic wrapper in Coles and Woolworths can be marked as recyclable, whilst in ALDI it is waste. The difference being that ALDI does not provide a soft plastics collection service. A proper standard would require anything marked recyclable to be recycled, wherever it is bought.
There are three pertinent standards that should be considered.
The international reusable product standard (ISO 18601:2013) is one early guide. Reusable means designed to reused multiple times for the same primary purpose. It should have systems in place to allow the consumer to reuse or return. Ideally it should be made from sustainably sourced and recycled materials. At the end of its life, a reusable product should be collected and recycled. We believe an Australian standard will need to update this for modern challenges.
There are two Australian compost standards (AS 5810 Home and AS 4736 Commercial). Products that meet the standard degrade without any toxic residues. All packaging, including non-plastics, should meet one of these standards. They should all display the certification or not be available in the market. The home compost standard is the best and should be common practice. Some items such as coffee cups use a bioplastic lining so they need to be commercially composted. As soon as possible, commercial compostable products should be phased out. As litter in the environment they will not fully degrade. Compostable packaging is made from plant matter, not fossil fuels.
Note:The Boomerang Alliance backs avoiding or reusing takeaway packaging as the best options. However we recognise that most food outlets are not ready to go exclusively reusable. Non-plastic or certified compostable foodware is promoted as a better transitional alternative to recyclable takeaway foodware.
Australia has adopted the Australian Recycling Label, which as the name suggests is not a standard but a label. It provides instructions on how to dispose of packaging so it can be recycled. It considers three components - box, wrap and lids and provides advice on whether items are recyclable, conditionally recyclable or not recyclable. It does not mean any of it will be recycled. We need a standard that requires a manufacturer to design packaging for easy recycling, to have effective collection and infrastructure in place and pay for this service to be provided.
WHAT WE ARE DOING
The Boomerang Alliance has called for the adoption of nationally-binding standards for all three types of packaging by the end of 2022. There is no way the 2025 targets will be met without them.