A new survey of some of Australia’s most popular supermarket items has found more than 80 per cent feature packaging that cannot be recycled in kerbside bins.
The survey looking at 82 popular food products found that only 16 items (19.5 per cent) could be recycled using kerbside bins.
Another 45 (55 per cent) of the products had packaging with an element that needed to be taken to a special recycling collection point.
The remaining 21 (25.5 per cent) were deemed difficult to collect and recycle, with examples of over packaging and bad packaging design.
The survey found some of the most difficult to recycle products included Oreo cookies, Farmers Union Natural Yoghurt, Pringles and Dairylea Cheese Pods.
The survey was conducted by WWF-Australia with assistance from waste experts from Planet Ark, City of Sydney, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Adaptation Environmental Support and the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation.
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The survey noted Pringles chips which come in a tube made of cardboard and metal. To recycle the packet, the City of Sydney suggested separating the cardboard and metal with a can opener before placing it in the kerbside bin — but the survey’s authors said it shouldn’t be this difficult for consumers to recycle.
Also of note were Dairylea Cheese Pods — individually wrapped in plastic cases and bundled in a plastic netting which can only be recycled by REDcycle.
REDcycle also stressed that a metal clip attached to the packaging is removed by consumers before they can recycle the net.
The survey also found Farmers Union Natural Pot Set Yoghurt uses a less-recyclable type of plastic. It also pointed out consumers needed to separate and ball foil lids together, until they become golf-ball sized, before they can go in the kerbside bin.
RESULTS ARE ‘A TERRIBLE OUTCOME’
“Most Australians expect their packaging to be recyclable,” Katinka Day, WWF-Australia’s No Plastics in Nature Policy manager told news.com.au. Ms Day, who led the survey, said a lack of labelling in Australia has led to confusion for consumers, who can unwittingly contaminate the recycling process by placing non recyclable items in their kerbside bins.
“Packaging in Australia is disappointing,” Ms Day said. “Plastic is ending up in our oceans — it’s a terrible outcome.”
She said the findings have highlighted the need for better regulation and clear labelling — so consumers can make better choices in the aisles.
“We saw a lot of examples where packaging was entirely recyclable, while other companies use packaging that isn’t recyclable. But there’s no way to tell without labelling.”
Ms Day said it was important there were rules in place to stop companies using unnecessary amounts of plastic, and stressed people need to be able to recycle at their homes.
“People have lots of things on their plates and recycling is just one of them,” she said.
The study looked at popular items across six categories, including biscuits and crackers, breakfast cereals, yoghurt, confectionery, chips, and cheeses. From each category the survey looked at the top-selling brands based on the most recently available retail sales data.
The worst performing category was biscuits and crackers with none of the surveyed products able to be entirely recycled at home, and prone to over packaging. The survey noted recyclable materials were available for use.
The survey also found recycling winners, including Uncle Toby’s Oats, which uses a single cardboard box and displays clear recycling information on its packet.
Some yoghurts with separate foils and lids can all be separately recycled at home using your kerbside bin — these include Chobani Yoghurt and Yoplait Strawberry Yoghurt.
Just under half the products surveyed used the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) which correctly tells consumers how to dispose of packaging. Woolworths and Coles brand products had the highest use of ARL.
Many who haven’t adopted the ARL label plan to introduce it to their packaging in 2021.
“It’s great to see more and more products adding the Australasian Recycling Label to packaging,” Ryan Collins, head of Circular Economy Programs at Planet Ark, said.
“My advice to individuals is to ‘check it before you chuck it’ because the label will help you choose the right bin for your packaging.”
The survey results come after Clean Up Australia’s annual Rubbish Report found food packaging accounted for 10 per cent of rubbish collected in 2020.