Herald about the amount of rubbish being washed up on our bea' />

I'm sure I wasn't the only Aucklander to feel disgusted when I read two articles in the Herald about the amount of rubbish being washed up on our beaches this summer.

I couldn't agree more with Wayne Walker's comment that Aucklanders should take responsibility ourselves and change our behaviour, rather than relying on others to pick our litter up for us.

However, I would like to address two comments made in these articles. The first, that the Auckland Council will consider "putting pressure on industry to use environmentally friendly packaging" and the second, that "businesses and manufacturers needed to be aware of the environmental impact of their products and packaging".

One of the most common litter items collected by the Waitemata Harbour Clean-Up Trust is plastic bottles. All responsible brand-owners have been using recyclable plastic for their drinks bottles for several years.

Look on the bottom and side of a plastic bottle before you buy it. If you can see a number 1 or 2 inside a triangle of three arrows, then it is recyclable in the Auckland region. All glass bottles and aluminium cans are also readily recyclable.

The Rangitoto clean-up last month collected thousands of plastic drinking straws and plastic bags, both of which are recyclable.

But the Auckland Council doesn't accept plastic bags in its recycling collections, so the most environmentally appropriate option for plastic bags in the Auckland region is to re-use them as kitchen tidies. An even better option, of course, is to use reusable bags instead.

So there is little excuse for not collecting up our waste after a day at the beach or on the water, taking it home, separating out the plastic and glass bottles, plastic straws, aluminium cans and other recyclables and putting them into the recycling bin.

But recyclability just addresses the end of the story - what we as consumers are able to do with the packaging when it becomes waste. From a manufacturer's perspective, though, the story is more complex and recyclability is just one of many environmental considerations they have to take into account.

The fundamental role of packaging is to prevent more waste than it creates. That is particularly the case in the food industry where new packaging developments have been able to dramatically reduce the amount of food wasted in the supply chain.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers report last year said the loss of food products between grower and consumer is about 2 per cent in the developed world, but between 30 and 50 per cent in the developing world. The difference is largely attributable to modern, technically advanced packaging designed to preserve fresh food for longer.

Over the past two decades, the packaging industry has reduced the weight of packaging by more than 40 per cent and so the energy required to make packaging for food is now only about 10 per cent of the supply chain energy used to get that food to us.

By its nature packaging is very visible and is something that attracts the attention of consumers, the media and environmentalists. A report by Wanaka Wastebusters claimed that 86 per cent of New Zealanders are concerned by the amount of packaging waste they have to deal with.

This presents industry with a paradox. If packaging does its job well, it seems like waste. If packaging fails to protect, the focus is on the spoilt product. I'm often challenged on why supermarkets sell individually wrapped fruit and vegetables. The reason is that the thin plastic wrapping around a cucumber, for example, will allow it to remain fresh for about five times longer.

Do we need it? Reports from Britain and the US indicate New Zealanders throw away about a third of the food they buy.

Any more reductions in packaging must balance the impact of product losses that may result from the use of too little packaging, as well the impacts of using too much.

The bottom line is that New Zealanders expect the packaging industry to reduce the amount of packaging waste going to landfill and to develop packaging which uses fewer resources.

It is for that reason that the Packaging Council of New Zealand has developed a packaging product stewardship scheme for its members. Its objectives are improved packaging design and systems to reduce packaging waste, increased reuse of packaging, increased recycled content in packaging and increased consumer awareness and understanding of sustainable packaging. But the responsibility for minimising the environmental impact of packaging and for disposing of packaging waste appropriately has to be shared by industry and by us as consumers if we are to keep our country clean.

* Paul Curtis is executive director of the Packaging Council of New Zealand.