As the general public grows increasingly engaged in a weird mea culpa over plastic straws — nevermind that plastic straws are only a tiny part of the problem and that people with disabilities need them — in Melbourne, I can sip my overpriced orange juice at a cafe with my steel straw and pretend that I’m not contributing the problem each time I buy takeaway food, or things to cook with from a weekly shop, or even a cup of coffee on the go. Convenience is defeating our commitment to the environment and we all know it. “But I put my plastic and stuff into recycling!” you might say. Well, if you’ve been reading the news, you’d know that Australia’s attempt to “recycle” by shipping its dirty plastic to poor third world countries instead of setting up an actual homegrown recycling program has been a slow-moving crisis that seems to have lost major traction in the popular zeitgeist, even though it’s about to hit a new level of trash fire as “recycler” SKM prepares to go into administration:
Beleaguered recycling company SKM has warned that up to 400,000 tonnes a year of paper, glass and plastic could go to landfill if it folds, triggering a capacity crunch at Victoria’s major tips. The Melbourne-based company has contracts with more than 30 Victorian councils to process kerbside recycling, but is being pursued for millions of dollars in debt and is reportedly preparing to go into voluntary administration within days.
Awesome. Given the crisis, is there still a point recycling, you might ask? Do those coloured bins still even mean anything? What can brands do?
Convenience is the Worst
A lot of the “recycling” that ends up in our recycling can’t be recycled because it’s contaminated. Before you start feeling guilty about the last yoghurt cup you threw into recycling that wasn’t washed, recycling systems can cope with leftover food in containers. Washing it out is just going to waste water. That being said, according to Sustainability Victoria, there are still things that we shove into recycling that we really shouldn’t be:
- Soft plastics including shopping bags, cling wrap and soft plastic packaging and wrappers. Gather these separately and find out where to recycle these in your community, such as at your local supermarket.
- Clothing cannot be processed at recycling centres, so donate wearable clothing to a local charity instead, or reuse as rags around the home.
- Keep items out of plastic bags. This one is easy: just bin it – don’t bag it! All recycling items should be loose in the bin. If they are in a plastic bag, the whole lot has to be ditched.
- Leave green waste out of the recycling bin. If you have a green bin, put all your grass clippings, prunings and garden waste in there.
- Electronic-waste – this includes any electrical items, phones, cables, batteries and computers. E-waste recycling might be in place in your area. Check with your local council about what’s available near you.
Yes. Goddamned plastic bags. We should’ve just banned single-use plastic bags by now — other countries have done it — but given the crying fit customers went through when Coles and Woolies got rid of it, I can see why it still hasn’t yet been phased out in Australia. In any case, if you’re a consumer, stop with the single-use bags. You can get cornstarch ones that are bio-degradable and work just as well, so get on that.
If you’re a brand, well. The biggest producers of plastic in the world are brands. According to Greenpeace, it’s:
- Mondelez International
- Procter & Gamble
- Perfetti van Melle
- Mars Incorporated
RIP. We’ve probably all used products from these companies in our lifetime. Probably more than once. Maybe even daily. (Confession: I did have to look up Perfetti van Melle. They own Mentos and Chupa Chups, among many other confectionery brands). If you’re a brand with plastic packaging, maybe think about whether it can get phased out for something else. We understand. Plastic’s an easy solution. We’ve had clients whose products are wrapped in plastic because it’s just the best way of keeping the product fresh before it hits shelves. It’s a nice, cheap, and yeah, convenient way to show a product while protecting it. That being said, the industry won’t move unless brands are willing to move.
A Hunger for Something New
I like going to the Big Vegan Market. It’s not only because of the free chocolate samples, which sadly are growing less and less available over time. I like looking at all the ways people are trying to get around disposables, from selling plastic-free combs and toothbrushes to selling reusable sanitary napkins (wtf lol). Every year, the Vegan Market is massively attended, and that can’t just be because a lot of people are into alternative plant products and weirdly spongy egg/dairy-free baked goods. There definitely is a hunger in Melbourne for something new. People are willing to change — eventually. There’s a growing consciousness that this earth is all we’ve got, and there isn’t going to be spaceships moving everyone to Mars. Everyone’s more or less gotten used to the bagless checkouts in Coles and Woolies. Steel straws are everywhere. You can’t get disposable bags in Queen Victoria Market or in South Melbourne Market. A brand that’s willing to get ahead of the curve with something new in terms of its packaging is going to be ahead of the pack. If you’re a brand that’s willing to innovate, get in touch. We’d like to help.