When we discuss how to improve the way we interact with our environment, the important word is IMPROVE. And this applies doubly to packaging.
There is no bronze, silver or gold arrow (eco speak for bullet). There are always pro’s and con’s when you are looking to get away from plastic. Basically, we need to use less plastic because it just does not go away. If you need more reasons click here.
The most effective packaging is none. Grow everything in your backyard and go and harvest when required. When you need to buy stuff take your own containers to fill, which is now becoming more possible.
If you do need to buy goods that come in packaging, then lets look at the three most popular alternatives to plastic.
Firstly look at how much packaging is used in your product. Some products single wrap and then wrap in bundles and then have another outer layer. Maybe for transport, maybe for market differentiation or maybe just to make sure you know they are wankers.
Glass is probably the most recyclable product as there is no degradation in the recycling. It can go on forever and into all shapes and forms.
Glass is also very good for reusing in your life as containers or even decoration.
The problem with glass is that the naturally occurring ingredients has to be mined and then require an enormous amount of heat to produce the product.
Metal is good to recycle because it has value. People will pay for it. Some states in Australia have recycling centres where they will pay for your used metal cans and similar.
To recycle metal does not take a lot of energy compared to initial production. Again adding to its value and demand for used metal containers.
The major problem with metals is the mining of them. Tin mining has long been held has an environmental disaster for the region it operates in. Bauxite (Aluminum) mining in Malaysia is causing enormous environmental damage according to the BBC. Mining of metals seems to always cause great damage to the local environment and the people who have to live in it.
An additional problem with metal containers is when they are lined with BPA. For a full discussion on the health implications of BPA click here.
The best thing about paper and cardboard is that it is easily recycled and it is compositable. So even if it lands up in landfill it will disappear in a relatively short time.
We are getting a lot better at collecting and recycling paper and it can be recycled many times.
The problem is, as always, in production. The production process produces nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and carbon dioxide. Nitrogen and sulfur dioxides are all key contributors in acid rain while carbon dioxide is to blame for climate change being a greenhouse gas. For a full discussion click here.
And the emu in the corner
We talk about a product being recyclable as if this service is easily available. Unfortunately at the moment a lot of what we think is being recycled is finishing up in land fill. No one is even sure how much. This article click here while based on the UK gives probably the best overview of the world waste problem.
For the first time in our history Australia has a Minister for Waste. And the Minister’s problem can be best summed up with the diagram below.
And in conclusion I will quote from this no nonsense article (click here) on Australia waste.
In our experience, Australians care for the environment. When it comes to waste, most businesses and households support better recycling (even if it means more work at home to source separate) and somewhat higher landfill levies. However, they expect for most of the levy revenue to be hypothecated to recycling infrastructure and systems.
With that sentiment in mind and a new Waste Minister at the Commonwealth level, we are on the right path. Recycling rates are rising, new technologies are emerging, infrastructure is being built and with it jobs and economic returns. However, the fact is we are struggling to fully cope with the aftermath of China’s National Sword and we are massively underperforming relative to state targets. Waste is politically simple. Few voters disagree with more and better recycling. We need leadership from government and we need it now.
Mike Ritchie – the director of MRA Consulting Group.