According to studies from The University of Queensland and The University of Exeter, plastic product labelling requires a major redesign, including a new “sustainability scale” to assist customers.
Plastic pollution is becoming a major worldwide issue, with an increasingly complex mix of plastics found everywhere from the Arctic to Mount Everest.
Professor Kevin Thomas, Director of the University of Queensland’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences and lead researcher for the Minderoo Centre – Plastics and Human Health, believes that simplistic, ineffective labelling and low recycling rates are major impediments to addressing this issue.
“A new globally applicable labelling system that shifts the focus from recyclability to sustainability is essential,” Professor Thomas added.
“It must be particular to the nation and location of purchase, and it must tell the public about the plastic additive content.”
“We hope that our ideas spark a rethinking of plastics labelling and that the introduction of a sustainability scale enables consumers to make informed decisions about how they use plastics.”
“This is only one tiny but vital step toward assisting people in protecting the environment.”
The research team emphasises that recommendations should not be used to distract from the urgent need to consume less plastic, particularly single-use goods.
Each year, around 368 million tonnes of plastic are manufactured worldwide.
Estimated recycling rates vary greatly.
For example, Australia recycles 14% of its plastic garbage, but Germany recycles 62% of its plastic waste – well exceeding the European average of 30%.
According to Stephen Burrows, PhD candidate at UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences and lead author of the study, consumers must be encouraged to make more sustainable choices.
“Instead of ‘yes-no’ recycling labels, which are frequently deceptive,” Mr Burrows said, “a ‘sustainability scale’ might take into consideration not just recyclability but also other variables such as the environmental cost of manufacturing and possibly human health concerns from additives.”
“Requiring packaging to include region-specific disposal instructions would transfer responsibility away from customers and toward authorities and plastic manufacturers.”
“Because the mix of plastic goods is so complicated and perplexing, the industry must be accountable for providing clear, accurate, and easily available advice on how to properly dispose of plastic objects.”
“Requiring manufacturers to identify all compounds would be a significant step toward educating the public and assisting them in making decisions about environmental impact and human health.”
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