The Government must lift its game on recycling labels

Published on Thu 20 August 2020 12:54pm

Results of an independent audit study show that when it comes to lifting our woeful waste and recycling performance the current labelling regime is falling a long way short.

Commissioned by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), the report found that 88 per cent of product packaging could be recycled, but only 40 per cent of the products surveyed featured a recycling label, and some labels were wrong or misleading.

Even more concerning is the fact that only 28 per cent of Australian products used the Australasian Recycling Label, an initiative launched and paid for in part by the Morrison Government.

The report finds that a “lack of any disposal labelling, as seen on 51 per cent of products, may also lead to consumers wrongfully placing non-recyclable items into their kerbside recycling bin potentially resulting in contamination.”

ACOR’s audit clearly shows the inconsistency and low-uptake of clear and helpful labelling means that in many cases consumers are either confused or actively misled, which in turn means that harmful materials like plastic are not being recycled, waste streams are being contaminated, and companies that do the right thing are not sufficiently recognised for their effort.

We have to acknowledge that in relation to single-use and pernicious plastics in particular we are dealing with a serious market failure that is having a terrible impact on our environment. A new study by researchers in the United States has found traces of plastic contamination in human organs, including the presence of bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic chemical used in plastic production.

In 2019 the Morrison Government spent $1.1 million on the Australasian Recycling Label initiative, yet less than a third of the audited Australian products have adopted the label.

The clock is ticking on the Government’s 2025 national recycling targets and there is little doubt that we are off-track in some key areas. For example, the Australian Packaging Covenant (APCO) has set a target to achieve 70 per cent recycling of plastic packaging, but right now we’re at 16 per cent.

If we’re serious about stopping the torrent of plastic that is pouring into our oceans every year, and the microplastics that are accumulating in animals including ourselves, then we absolutely have to tackle this problem from every direction and that must involve labelling that is accurate, helpful, and applied across the board.

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