ACOR audit highlights packaging confusion

Independent national audit highlights packaging recyclability claim confusion.

An independent national audit of recycling information on consumer products and packaging has revealed a situation that is confusing for consumers and does not support better recycling, according to the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).

The audit – conducted by sustainability consultancy Equilibrium – across supermarkets, takeaway outlets, and convenience stores in two capital cities – found 88 per cent of the packaging components sampled were recyclable through either kerbside recycling or a supermarket based return program, but that only 40 per cent of these products had a recycling claim present on them.

“The audit shows a dog’s breakfast of consumer information about what products and packaging components are or aren’t recyclable,” Pete Shmigel, ACOR CEO, said.

“It’s little wonder that the community regularly says that, while it strongly supports recycling, there’s confusion because of inconsistent, unclear and even misleading logos and claims on the products they buy.”

Shmigel said the “the dog’s breakfast” undoubtedly leads to some material going to the wrong place such as recyclables to garbage bins and non-recyclables to recycling bins.

“That means recycling rates that aren’t as high as they could be, contamination that is too high, and it’s harder to achieve national targets such as 70 per cent plastics recycling (from our current 12 per cent).”

According to the report, 55 per cent of imported products and 64 per cent of Australian products sampled displayed a recyclability claim of any kind.

The report noted 23 per cent had the Australian Recycling Label (ARL) promoted by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), 29 per cent of products had the “Mobius Loop” recycling symbol and 29 per cent of plastic products had a resin code symbol, which is often mistaken for a recyclability symbol.

The Tidyman logo appeared on 15 per cent of products sampled, including both recyclable and non-recyclable products.

The report makes a series of recommendations, which ACOR supports, including:

  • Labels need to be specific about the management methods of all components, and also include instructions to avoid contamination.
  • There needs to be a clear, concise, and evidenced-based label placed on every product and packaging type sold into the Australian market.
  • The preferred label should be made mandatory and be flexible enough to incorporate new technologies and systems as they come online to recycle more products.
  • The “Mobius Loop” could cause consumer confusion, and a short cut to achieving greater clarity and consistency is to remove these and plastic resin codes from packaging.

“To make sure that every product that can be recycled is recycled, ACOR believes there needs to be a uniform labelling approach and that there should be a label placed on every product and packaging type sold into the Australian market,” Shmigel said.

“If we have such arrangements for nutrition, we can have them for consumer recycling. ACOR will make that case to the Commonwealth Minister for Environment.”

The report also notes there is a role for authorities such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in driving and ensuring clarity and consistency in environmental claims and labels pertaining to recycling.

“Consumers can also be making the direct case to the manufacturers of the products they buy and actively ask company consumer hotlines: what is your approach to recycling labelling?,” Shmigel said.

“And, those companies who specify products and packaging must also step up to correctly label their products while the ACCC should ensure accuracy in environmental claims and labels.

“To that end, ACOR will formally refer the audit report to the ACCC for its consideration and follow up.”

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