This post was originally published on Sustainability Matters
According to the latest Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) Consumer Insights Report, 65% of Australian consumers want more information about how to recycle and 74% want to see the ARL on all packaging.
A new collaborative educational approach between the ARL program and a platform called Recycle Mate is designed to provide the community with the information needed to be able to dispose of used packaging and other materials appropriately and correctly, no matter where they live in the country.
Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) program
One piece of the recycling information puzzle is the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) program. The ARL is an on-pack labelling scheme that helps the community to recycle packaging correctly, and it supports brands and packaging manufacturers to design packaging for recyclability.
The ARL logos are provided as intuitive visual aids and instructions about how to correctly dispose of all components of a product’s packaging. The ARL system is evidence-based and is used by packaging manufacturers to verify product recyclability claims. Used by over 900 companies, across more than 300,000 SKUs, the ARL program provides a consistent labelling approach for Australia and New Zealand.
The second piece to this puzzle is the development of a community-driven recycling platform for Australia.
Recycle Mate is a dynamic recycling education platform that combines artificial intelligence technology with a comprehensive Australian recycling directory in order to help reduce contamination in recycling streams, improve resource recovery and support a circular economy for packaging.
During the development of the platform the team at Recycle Mate identified 90 different bin systems — based on the bin lid colour options and different waste stream separations — across the country. For the platform to be able to offer users the correct information it needs to reflect every recycling bin, no matter where the user is located in the country.
Recycle Mate is helping to navigate the transition to a more harmonised standard for kerbside collection, relaying the local kerbside recycling rules and providing geolocated directions to ‘away-from-home’ recovery options.
Recycle Mate provides additional information to help guide households on difficult-to-recycle materials and packs, and how to locate ‘away-from-home’ destinations such as container deposit schemes, FOGO programs, product stewardship programs such as for aseptic cartons, blister packs, cosmetics and e-waste in the local communities.
There are still far too many people who don’t realise the availability of away-from-home collection programs for items that traditionally are not accepted into a kerbside bin.
The away-from-home space is evolving at a rapid rate in Australia and needs to be reflected on the Recycle Mate platform. Currently nine out of 10 away-from-home locations are not council facilities. Away-from-home programs are all of the product stewardship schemes such as Close the Loop, Simply Cups, Mobile Muster, Lids4Kids, Nespresso, Containers for Changes and Pharmacycle. There are now over 30,000 away-from-home options geolocated on the app.
Soft plastics disposal
With the Return to Store soft plastics program currently being redesigned in Australia, many households are confused as to where they can dispose of their soft plastics and flexible packaging. Consumers are now seeing a mix of logos on packs for these materials, which adds to the confusion. Three products in one category can have a Return to Store logo, a general waste logo and the new Check Locally logo. This adds to consumer frustration and mistrust of recycling symbols.
In addition, some councils have stepped up to collect soft plastics through kerbside pilot programs or providing collection/drop-off points for the residents. Other councils do not accept the material at all and advise their constituents to throw the packs in the general waste bin.
This lack of harmonisation across the country means that it can be challenging for consumers to dispose of these materials correctly. In most instances the packs will simply be disposed of in the wrong bin.
Check Locally logo
A new Check Locally logo has been designed to ensure that there is a more accurate logo that reflects the current state of play for soft plastics and flexibles in Australia. The logo is available for brands to use on their packaging to guide consumers as to how they can dispose of soft plastics in the geographical location they are in. Brands are in the process of removing their Return to Store logos and updating their artwork to include the Check Locally logo. The logo includes a link to arl.org.au, which is connected to Recycle Mate so that all of the disposal information is current and accurate.
The updated Check Locally logo is designed to reduce consumer confusion and to ensure that brands are not greenwashing with misleading ARL logos on packs. The Check Locally logo is available for all soft plastics and flexibles that meet the thresholds and is also designed for other packaging that is ‘less widely accepted’ across councils. The definition of ‘less widely accepted’ is between 60 and 80% of the kerbside population that has access to a council service that collects the materials.
Recycle Mate steps in for checking locally
The challenge when you tell someone to ‘check locally’ is that they don’t understand what that means, nor where to go for additional information. Some people will visit their council website, others will ask their friends and family and many run searches on Google. This is where Recycle Mate steps in to help the community as it can make the Check Locally action simple.
Recycle Mate not only takes into consideration all bin systems across the country, but also what you can and cannot put in each bin and provides additional information on away-from-home collection options.
The platform can also direct the community to be able to safely dispose of items like combustibles, batteries and e-waste. The first thing a user will see if they are asking about the more dangerous items like batteries, is that there is no kerbside disposal. Recycle Mate is also working to ensure that there are always available away-from-home disposal options listed. The platform geolocates the user, hones in on where they are and ensures that the information is accurate according to their location.
The platform has built-in AI which enables users to take a photo of the product to identify the recycling attributes of the pack and any components. The AI will automatically start with kerbside disposal instructions — which is how the majority of people in the country dispose of packaging. If there is a more positive away-from-home option suitable for the pack then the platform will advise the user of this information. The user will also be provided with geolocated directions and opening times for that location.
The extensive ‘word search’ includes 7000 items so far in the taxonomy and this is growing daily as more consumers use the platform. The dynamic app is updated weekly to add new collection points and locations for new product stewardship programs.
Recycle Mate has been developed as a national collaboration that is community driven. Users can choose how they access the platform, such as to download an app onto their phones using Apple, Google, Recycle Mate website, or by accessing the platform through council websites or via arl.org.au.
New Recycle Mate enhancements include: item search widget, community map widget, AI-powered chatbot, quarterly usage reports, and QR codes and barcodes.
We strongly encourage brands to consider partnering with the platform, more councils to embed the widget in their websites and for everyone to let their own family and friends know about Recycle Mate.