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Unwrapping the problem of single-use packaging


February 28, 2019


When Ian Kiernan started Clean Up Australia 30 years ago, he called out Australia’s increasing dependence on single-use items. Today, we’re seeing record numbers of single-use litter found in our streets, waterways, and bushland.

In announcing this year’s Rubbish Report, Pip Kiernan, newly announced Chairman of Clean Up Australia and daughter of Ian Kiernan said “30 years ago my dad predicted the problems that single-use plastic would pose. Since then we have seen ever increasing dependence on plastic as a throw away-item – and that needs to change. The choice is simple – take action or plastics will continue to be a problem well into the future.”

According to the 2018 Rubbish Report, litter directly associated with single-use packaging is the number one source of rubbish reported by volunteers. In 2018, it was as high as 88% of all reported items. Of this, food packaging represented just under 19%, non-food packaging over 26%, beverage containers 18%, beverage rubbish 11.8%, chip and confectionery wrappers recorded 7% and plastic bags 4.5%.


Is plastic itself the problem?

Plastic is a lightweight, durable and versatile material, and is less resource-intensive to produce than paper. Plastic is recyclable when properly separated and disposed of correctly. Hard plastic can be recycled when processed with commingled recycling or through container return schemes. Soft plastic can be recycled if collected and taken to major supermarkets through their soft plastics recycling service. Businesses may also be able to choose a soft plastic recycling service from Cleanaway.

Unfortunately though, when plastic is carelessly discarded it litters our streets, waterways and oceans, causing serious harm to wildlife and this is where the problem lies.

What is being done to keep packaging out of the environment?

Tangible packaging waste targets set

Regulators are working with industry to reduce the amount of packaging waste produced while increasing options for recycling. Last year, the Meeting of Environment Ministers endorsed a target of 100% of Australian packaging being recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.

This meeting resulted in the 2025 National Packaging Waste Target, which aims to:

  1. Make 100% of all Australia’s packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 or earlier
  2. Make 70% of Australia’s plastic packaging recyclable or compostable by 2025
  3. Include an average of 30 recycled content across all packaging by 2025
  4. Phase out problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through design, innovation or introduction of alternatives

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) is supporting the initiative through its representation of over 900 leading companies such as Aldi, ALGA, Close the Loop, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coles, Nestlé, Planet Ark, REDcycle, Unilever and Woolworths.

Improvements in resource recovery infrastructure and planning

The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) recently released a 10-point plan for results-based recycling, which has been submitted to regulators for consultation. Recommendations outlined in the plan include:

  • Standardising recycling methods
  • Optimising container deposit schemes to promote domestic recycling
  • A national recycling infrastructure audit
  • Development of new metrics for waste, recycling and resource recovery activity
  • $1.5 billion investment of waste disposal levy funds into recycling

Cleanaway has been investing in Australia’s resource recovery infrastructure to support communities in managing their growing waste. We call it our Footprint 2025 roadmap – state-of-art facilities designed to maximise diversion such as the Eastern Creek Container Sorting Facility that processes containers collected through the NSW Container Deposit Scheme.

Read more about our recent investments in Australia’s future here.

Stewardship by leading companies

Nestlé has set its own global goals to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, and to send zero waste to landfill by 2020. The initiatives include EcodEx, a packaging eco-design tool designed to measure the environmental performance of a packed food product, which it uses in new product development.

At a local level, the multinational company is using its online Packaging Recyclability Evaluation Portal (PREP) to assess the recyclability of its packaging and assist in building design for recycling up front in new product development processes.

What can you do to play your part?

For the individual, the everyday decisions we make about consumption can make a huge impact on sustainability.

Participate in Clean Up Australia

Out of sight, out of mind. Actually seeing the amount of litter up around us is one of the best ways to highlight our dependence on single-use plastic and packaging. Initiatives like Clean Up Australia and Plastic Free July aim to inspire people to reduce plastic waste by casting a spotlight on its impact on our environment.

Let the waste hierarchy guide you

While recycling is essential in reducing the number of packaging waste sent to landfill, avoiding non-essential packaging in the first place is the best way to start. The waste hierarchy can be used as a guideline where disposal is considered the last option for an item at the end of its useful life.

Take up the Nude Food challenge

A great way to reduce packaging waste, the nude food challenge helps avoid unnecessary packaging for your food. This accomplishes three goals: you and your family get to eat and live well, packaging waste can be reduced without being sent to landfill and cost savings are made possible in the long run.

Visit your nearest REDCycle

The REDcycle Program makes it easy to divert plastic bags and packaging waste away from landfill. Find REDCycle points closest to you before dropping off eligible food and non-food packaging such as:

  • Bread bags
  • Biscuit packets (wrappers only)
  • Paper goods packaging
  • Pasta and rice bags
  • Frozen food and veggie bags
  • Confectionary bags
  • Plastic bags
  • Old green bags
  • Cereal box liners


Partner with us and learn more about our bespoke waste management solutions if you want your packaging waste recycled, not sent to landfill.