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Confectioner’s sweet solution to plastic waste could spark change

Some of Australia’s most popular chocolate bars – including Mars Bars and Snickers – are getting an environmentally friendly makeover in a move that is expected to inspire its competitors to follow suit.

Nov 29, 2022, updated Nov 29, 2022
Mars Wrigley's new paper packaging can be recycled. Photo: Mars Wrigley

Mars Wrigley's new paper packaging can be recycled. Photo: Mars Wrigley

From April 2023, Mars Wrigley, the company behind Mars Bars, Milky Way and Snickers, will roll out paper packaging that can be recycled in kerbside recycling bins.

This comes after two years of research in Australia.

“The Ballarat-based R&D team leading this project is pioneering paper-based sustainable packaging solutions for the Mars Wrigley business globally,” the company said.

“The plan [is] for the technology, learnings and insights developed and deployed locally in Australia to be shared and implemented in other Mars Wrigley markets across the globe.”

The company has pledged that all its packaging will be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

Environmental consultant and senior lecturer at Deakin University Dr Trevor Thornton told The New Daily this change could have a major impact in Australia.

“It is a good step in the right direction,” he said.

Confectionery wrappers are generally made from soft plastic, they are difficult to sort because they are small, and therefore are problematic.

Swapping over to paper is great in terms of recyclability and eliminates a lot of confusion, he said.

The ripple effect

It is becoming standard for major companies to seek out more sustainable packaging, Thornton said.

The switch proves there are other options that companies can explore for the sake of the environment.

Supermarkets could then turn to other suppliers and put pressure on them to also make the switch because of Mars Wrigley.

“So it will definitely have that flow-on effect from a whole range of consumers and retailers and so on,” he said.

Consumers actually have a lot of power – they can talk to retailers and manufacturers and take a stand against soft plastics, Thornton said.

The announcement of the swap also shows Mars is listening, he said, and is responding to consumers and taking voluntary steps, showing that voluntary schemes are sometimes effective.

And there’s no reason why Mars’ paper packaging couldn’t prompt governments to bring in legislation or schemes to make this mandatory.

“Here, they [the government] can turn around and say, ‘Well, Mars has proven they can do it, you other guys are not really sort of responding and doing anything, but it has now been proven, so now we will bring in legislation’,” Thornton said.

If such legislation occurred there would be a transition period to give other major companies time to get on board.

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“It’s a good initiative for Mars in terms of their product and it sets a clear message to the rest of the industry and governments that it can be done,” he said.

More recycling education is needed

There’s a lot to be confused about when it comes to recycling – from whether something can even be recycled to people not being sure what to do after company REDcycle suspended its soft plastics program.

By switching to paper wrappers, Mars Wrigley is reiterating to consumers that recycling is good and it still happens, Thornton said.

As a bonus, people won’t have to question whether their Mars Bar wrapper goes in the bin or recycling.

However, in terms of recycling as a whole, there is more to be done.

“I mean, we should be focusing on avoiding,” he said, while acknowledging sometimes waste cannot be avoided.

Often, education around recycling is not done well, Thornton said, adding that recycling should be easy for individuals and they shouldn’t be confused as to what bin an item can go in.

It’s not solely up to individuals though. In the wake of the REDCycle drama, Thornton said governments should have been doing more to encourage people to keep recycling.

Australian businesses also need to seek out recycled materials to be used as a raw materials, he said.

“That then closes the loop.”

The New Daily

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