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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Cait Kelly

Majority of household appliances packaged in unsustainable material, Choice says

Stacks of processed recyclables
Only one of the products analysed by Choice had fully recycable packaging. Photograph: Jono Searle/AAP

The majority of the country’s most popular appliances are being packaged in unsustainable materials, a review by Choice has found, prompting the consumer rights group to call for an urgent overhaul of how brands box their products.

Comparing the packaging of 38 kettles, air fryers and stick vacuums across different household brands Choice found while some manufacturers are using recyclable cardboard and fibre to package their products, others are using unstable materials such as landfill-bound polystyrene.

The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation has set an ambitious goal to make all packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. Australia will fail to meet this if companies do not switch to sustainable alternatives soon and gaps in consumer understanding are not addressed, according to Choice.

A Choice journalist, Andy Kollmorgen, said only half of the packaging (55%) was getting recycled or reused, with some manufacturers doing “markedly better” than others.

“Some did better than others – Black+Decker, Anko and Philips are all pretty good. And then others did less well – Tefal, Sunbeam, Kambrook, Breville – all not great.”

None of the boxes in the evaluation were free of plastic packaging components – with 30 of the 38 products using soft plastics compatible with the REDcycle scheme, which is now on hold.

The best products were the Black+Decker Power Series Extreme stick vacuum (which had 100% recycled packaging, including three REDcycle components), followed by the Beko PowerClean Pro stick vacuum (96%) and the Dyson V8 and V12 Detect Slim Absolute stick vacuums (both 95%).

The worst products were reported to be the Dreame Cordless Vacuum T30 stick vacuum (30%), the Cuisinart Multi-temp cordless kettle (38%) and then the Shark Cordless Apex Pro Pet Vacuum (39%).

“Businesses need to be doing everything they can to ensure their packaging is as sustainable as possible, including getting rid of non-recyclable foam materials such as polystyrene,” Kollmorgen said.

“Unfortunately, our findings show that manufacturers need to be doing much more when it comes to eliminating non-recyclable packaging. Just one of the 38 products we analysed had fully recyclable packaging materials.”

In nearly all cases, manufacturers are not doing a good job of making it clear to consumers in their package labelling which components are recyclable and what consumers should do with them, he said.

“Manufacturers have made the effort to make things recycle but haven’t made the effort to inform consumers,” Kollmorgen said. “It’s left up to consumers to navigate a confusing array of recycling symbols and figure out if the packaging is recyclable or not, which only impedes the recycling efforts.”

These brands still have plenty of work to do if the Apco packaging goal is to be reached, he said.

“It’s looking like we’ll fall short. Manufacturers have to do better, there’s too much plastic and too many chunks of polystyrene which should just be moulded fibre and cardboard.”

Guardian Australia contacted the relevant brands, with a spokesperson for Cuisinart saying the company was a member of Apco and was reviewing packaging across their brands to reduce waste.

“The CPK-18XA kettle Choice reviewed has recyclable cardboard packaging (with an industry-standard recycle symbol on the base), a paper instruction/recipe book that can be recycled with paper waste (but we would expect customers to keep and refer to) and a paper warranty card,” the spokesperson said.

“The kettle ( and most appliances) require packaging materials to protect it from damage or scratching during transit and to pass industry drop test standards. We are trialling a change from single-use plastic bags to protect the product from scratching/scuffing to paper wrapping.”

A spokesperson for Breville said the company was “committed and moving towards” a more sustainable packaging model across its product portfolio.

“Kambrook has been and will continue to be, a signatory of Apco since 2010. Agreeing to the 2025 targets of all packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable is mandatory to remain a signatory.”

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