Reduce product packaging

Most of the goods we buy need to be protected by packaging. But how much is too much?
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  • Updated:17 Oct 2007

03.How much is recycled?

Australia consumes over 3.4 million tonnes of packaging every year, but only 56 percent of the material used is recycled. Consumer with tower of packing

According to the Packaging Council of Australia, paper and cardboard have the largest share of the packaging materials market (36%). Plastics come in a close second (30%), while metal (20%) and glass (10%) form the rest of the market.

Consumer packaging currently represents a significant proportion of household waste. A breakdown of the 2005 Clean Up Australia report shows over one third of the litter collected was pieces of packaging.

But if all the stray paper and plastic covers contribute to more waste for our environment, why use them? The fact is, a modest amount of packaging is often necessary to protect products from damage and preserve the quality of perishable goods as they travel along the supply chain.

“In many instances, underpackaging can cause more waste than overpackaging,” says the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC). It argues that the amount of waste arising from goods being spoiled due to inadequate packaging would also put additional pressure on natural resources.

Image: Courtesy of Romney Bishop

Industry guidelines

There is a voluntary guideline for the industry: the Environmental Code of Practice for Packaging (ECoPP). According to the ECoPP, manufacturers need to balance the conflicting needs of increasing the shelf-life of the products, with minimising the negative environmental impact.

Good packaging should contain material that can be recycled, along with a clear indication for consumers on how best to dispose of the product itself after use.

The ECoPP also requires the packaging supply chain to consider factors such as the:

  • amount of packaging used
  • potential for packaging reuse/recycling
  • amount of recycled content
  • likelihood of packaging becoming litter
  • quality of consumer information on the packaging.

Sadly, not all companies stick to these voluntary principles of sustainability. Environment Victoria, a non-government, not-for-profit environment organisation, discovered there’s been a trend towards more resource-intensive and hard-to-recycle packaging in recent years.

It found that heavy but recyclable packaging, such as glass jars and tin cans, are often being replaced by low-weight but non-recyclable materials.

Rising consumption levels and a greater demand for convenience also mean single-serve, material-intensive products are increasingly common.


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