Y2K25: The "By 2025" Waste Target and the War on Plastic
There are no 'quick fixes' when it comes to issues surrounding climate change and the environmental impact of humanity that has for decades put enormous strain on our planet- It will be a slow healing process. The "By 2025" target that multiple governments around the world have committed to may seem like a step in the right direction, but this sort of short-sighted thinking hasn't had a good track record of truly helping other environmental initiatives and bringing about real positive change. We must make informed choices, and improve multiple facets of our society over time to ensure the best possible outcomes, not just set our sights short and then apologise when we don't meet the expectations.
When it comes to the issue of waste, it’s easy to suggest that we ban all plastic and move back to traditional packaging formats. Many suggest the notion of bulk-food stores that allow consumers to bring their own containers, and eliminate high quantities of waste. These stores are a great resource for those who can reach and afford them, and reducing excessive plastic packaging is definitely a step in the right direction.
Here’s the ‘but’ though- the modern world could not function without plastic; it’s integrated into every part of our lives, from food to transport to technology to medicine. Nor is the ‘zero-waste lifestyle’ achievable for the large majority of the population that are short on time, money and space in which to achieve such a goal. The reality of our situation is far more complicated than “plastic is evil”, and old-fashioned means cannot provide solutions to new-world problems. It’s easy to jump on a social bandwagon like banning straws and plastic bags when you care about the future of the planet, but these do little to tackle the real issues.
In fact, using glass, aluminium and paper instead of plastic would in fact create more waste to landfill, greater water usage, destroy more of the environment, and create astronomical carbon emissions in comparison to plastics- keeping in mind, that due to safety standards, the majority of traditional packaging formats on supermarket shelves are in fact virgin material, not recycled. The good thing about glass is its re-useability, but this still doesn’t outweigh the other environmental costs associated with the entire life cycle of its production and transportation.
Instead of blanket statements about our reliance on plastic, we need to look at how we got here and start the process of education and changing our poor consumer behaviours and ‘throw-away’ culture. This doesn’t just apply to packaging, either; material goods, from ‘fast-fashion’ to cheap homewares and furniture products have entrenched a poor ideology among current consumers, one which ignores the notion of investing for the long-term and instead relies on a constant replacement of goods to keep up with every-changing trends.
Companies all over the world are researching and developing new packaging technologies to find solutions to our waste problems, but it will take time and cannot come at the expense of food safety and shelf life. Consumers also need to educate themselves on the 'buzz words' surrounding sustainability issues and be reasonable in their expectations when it comes to packaging at this point in time. For instance, 'bio-degradable' doesn't mean compostable, and compostable doesn't mean plastic suddenly turns into dirt (if only). Kraft paper packaging isn't typically recyclable, and the 'made from 100% recycled plastic' water bottles that you may see advertised in the supermarket aren't actually made from post-consumer recycled plastics, but material straight from the product line (and hence still up to Australian food safety standards).
The biggest issue we face in Australia right now is an overwhelming infrastructure problem. Current processes cannot sustain our population, which is surprising considering we’re relatively small in comparison to many other western nations. We should be able to do better, to be self-sufficient in our waste disposal practices over the years ahead.
The government never bothered to invest in waste and packaging innovation before now, choosing to simply ship the problem elsewhere and ignore it like on that episode of Futurama. Now that we’re in crisis, they’re finally realising the cost of stagnation, and that the future of Australia relies on creating a truly functioning waste process, one that allows the majority of materials to be recycled post-consumer back into new products and fuel a circular economy, rather than rotting in landfill.
So what’s the bottom line when trying to help the environment?
Make better choices and reduce your own personal waste where you can, be vocal to your local government and brands about investing in better waste practices and eliminating unnecessary packaging where possible, and keep a long-term point of view. Oh, and make sure your packaging supplier is working on sustainable innovation too- because we're all responsible.