Sometime ago I received a press release about a new product – fruit pulp in a squeezable plastic container. Politely I asked how you recycle this packaging, which was new at the time, and was told there were no options currently. I suggested it might be irresponsible to bring packaging into the market without first ensuring it could be recycled, or perhaps composted. Silence.
When it comes to taking responsibility for the end life of packaging, this type of silence, from industry, has been deafening.
For example take plastic bags and wrap – currently no one does, and it seems the return of those soft plastic recycling bins to supermarkets, promised for this month, could be a long time coming. Last December the bins were removed by The Packaging Forum, which runs the soft plastics recycling scheme. An enormous stockpile of the plastic bags and wrap we consumers so enthusiastically put in those bins built up after Australia refused to take any more. Since then research has been underway to find businesses in NZ that can use the stuff. There has been limited success, and The Packaging Forum does not seem to want to discuss the planned April return of the scheme with Hibiscus Matters on the record. All we can ascertain is that some decisions may be made in the coming weeks.
Regardless of this, reducing the amount of soft plastic that is produced, at source, is the best option as the vast majority of it ends up in landfill or finds its way into the environment through littering. If consumers felt they didn’t need to worry about buying things covered in soft plastic, “because we can recycle it”, this has been a wake up call.
The volume of soft plastic that people put into those bins proves that our reliance on plastic wrapping is out of control. The solution depends on two pillars: first, industry and businesses must take responsibility for the packaging they design and manufacture and come up with options that degrade when composted or are recyclable; and secondly consumers need to do their best in the meantime to vote with their wallets and reject over-packaged produce and products.