Author: Janet Sparrow
How often have you stood in the supermarket aisle or at the bin at home wondering whether an item of packaging is recyclable? As it happens, answering that question is more complicated than most people realise, which is why the new Packaging Recyclability Evaluation Portal (otherwise known as PREP) is so important.
Whether or not an item of packaging is recyclable in the kerbside system is actually based on two key criteria. Firstly, is the item and/or the materials it is made of technically recyclable? In other words, can the existing recycling infrastructure in Australia separate the materials and then can those materials be re-processed into new items? The second criterion is whether or not councils provide a collection and recycling service for those materials.
When you consider that packaging can include bottles, caps, cartons, labels, containers, sleeves, lids and more, understanding this complexity can be difficult for packaging manufacturers, retailers, councils and the general public. This is where PREP, which was developed by Planet Ark and GreenChip with funding from the Australian Packaging Covenant, can help.
During the development stages of a new packaging item, the manufacturer (or brand owner) enters the specifications of an item into the web-based PREP software, which assesses if the materials are technically recyclable. Then, by using data from Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou website, it also tells them whether or not the materials can be collected by councils. At the end of this process the manufacturer receives a report stating if the items are recyclable and makes suggestions for improving the recyclability of those items.
The benefits of PREP vary across the supply chain, but it is at the ‘end-of-life' where significant benefits are seen. By providing clear information on the recyclability of an item, PREP helps drive better packaging design and improves the collection of materials for recycling.
The next and logical step from PREP is better recycling guidance on packaging. There is currently a plethora of icons and labels on packaging that often cause more confusion than clarity, many of which are self-declared claims with no independent backing. PREP underpins the ability to place a meaningful, widely-used and independently-verified label on packaging to guide recycling behaviour in Australia. This label is currently being developed.