A gap in knowledge
While consumers are trying to do the right thing by using ‘green bags’ and actively recycling, many tell CHOICE they feel let down by the lack of adequate disposal instructions on product packages.
Under the Trade Practices Act and Environmental Labelling Standard (ISO 14021), companies are forbidden from making misleading or deceptive use of environmental claims and symbols. Despite this, consumers are still confronted with confusing disposal messages on products at times.
To raise awareness of poor packaging practices, Environment Victoria hosts the DUMP award each year. Judged by a panel of academic experts and members of local governments and the community, it encourages consumers to vote online for examples of irresponsible packaging. For more information on how to nominate a product for the DUMP award, visit www.envict.org.au.
Regulations and standards
There are legislations relating to packaging waste in Australia. However, the industry is largely governed by a set of voluntary standards which are outlined in the National Packaging Covenant (NPC). As of June 2006, there are 416 signatories to the NPC. These include government bodies and brand owners as well as industry associations .
Brand owners who choose not to sign up to the NPC are subject to regulation by the framework known as the National Environmental Protection Measure (NEPM). This ’regulatory safety net‘ is designed to deal with ’free riders‘ or non-compliant NPC members.
Despite the existence of these measures, critics suggest a stricter system is needed to hold companies accountable for environmentally unsustainable practices. Since its inception in 1999, the NEPM hasn’t been used in a single case of enforcement against offenders.
Environmental lobby groups like the Boomerang Alliance are frustrated with the loopholes in the system. “We need a regulatory system that can be flexible for the industry but will also hold offenders responsible for unacceptable practices,” the Alliance’s national campaigns manager Dave West said.
“At the moment, from a producer’s perspective, there’s no direct link between irresponsible packaging and the cost it imposes on rate payers.”
This contrasts with the European model, which has take-back policies and requires the packaging industry to absorb the cost of recycling.