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“When you buy something, you are not buying just what is inside, but also the packaging.”

OpenIDEO Sydney – Intimate discussions at a pub, following a week of #trackingplastics with our plastic waste diaries.

Photo of Angie Caro

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Our Sydney Chapter of OpenIDEO hosted a local 'pub chat' with a group of people who were asked to track their use of plastics over the course of a week. The intimate setting allowed us to get into small groups and have some great conversations. 

Read on to see what we discussed...

Plastic Waste Diary examples
Some examples of types of plastic objects we encountered individually.

-       Supermarket plastic bags (soft and hard)

-       Coffee cups & lids, straws

-       Glad wrap, vacuum sealed plastic

-       Cosmetics and beauty product packaging, toiletries

-       Chip packet bags

-       Water bottles, drink bottles, milk bottles and cartons (lined with plastic) & caps

-       Takeaway food containers, plastic cutlery

-       Labels, sticky tape, stickers

-       Vehicle parts

Questions we asked ourselves

Some questions that were raised during our discussions.

-       What is actually made of plastic? (Hidden plastic)

-       What are the best practices for recycling and reuse? Are these commonly known?

-       What/how many resources are required to produce alternative items? i.e. energy, coal?

-       Is it a commercial or consumer issue?

-       Is the consumer willing to pay the cost of not using plastic?

-       Can you recycle items contaminated by oils, sauces, and residue?

-       Exactly how much better, if at all better, are alternatives to plastic? i.e. wood, ceramic vs. plastic?

-       How do other countries recycle?


What might prevent people from being able to reduce plastic waste?

-       Cost

-       Efficiency

-       Low socio economic status

-       Logistics and manufacturing

-       Health and safety

-       Learned behaviour, e.g. you recycle the way your family does

-       Over education may lead to apathy


Existing solutions and initiatives that we shared with the group.

-       Beeswax and fabric rather than glad wrap or plastic film

-       Hotels using integrated design for toiletries and creams (rather than little takeaway bottles or sachets)

-       Aesop bottle refill incentive

-       Japan has no bins – behaviour of ‘take with you’

-       Balls of water  vs. water bottles

-       Art sculptures and urban re-use of plastics

-       Edible cutlery

-       Lush cosmetics packaging using fabric

-      Onya Reusable products


Our final thoughts and insights from the discussions.

-       A lot of us don’t realise or understand the impact of single use plastics, so we need to create a link between action and consequence to see the impact of our of choices and behaviours

-      We don’t actually know what’s recyclable ­– “Majority of what I use is recycled, but I don’t actually know if it can be recycled," so we need more information and education about recycling and reusing plastic (and how this fits in with general life skills) – beginning in homes, schools, universities, and work places

-       We need to teach best practices and change existing behaviours around our consumption

-       Plastic is often the more convenient choice, so to get people onboard, we “need to make it easier to do the right thing.” Maybe incentive programs might work (whether it’s seeing impact, getting a discount, etc.). Any alternatives must be robust, flexible, simple to use, and proven to be better for the environment

-       Low socio-economic status affects some people's ability to reduce plastic usage and wastage. It's not always a case of refusing to use plastic

-      “Humans have existed on earth for 3 seconds of a 24 hr life.” Let's act now... 


Things to think about when we move into the ideas phase.

-       Empathy

-       Education

-       Big users/producers

-       Ease & affordability

-       Multiple use

-       Responsibility

How does this research relate to our Use Cases?

The Use Cases we, as a group, aligned with the most were Michaela and Lucas. Most of our plastic use comes from takeaway food consumption, i.e. breakfast or lunch on workdays. So, single use plastic is often the most convenient option we have at the time. Although most of us aim to recycle what we use, we don't actually know if it does end up being recycled or not. There is a missing link here, and we need to be able to see further than just throwing something in a bin and hoping for the best.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

One of the most resonating quotes from the night was – “when you buy something, you are not buying just what is inside, but also the packaging.” As a community, we need to start thinking more holistically about what we are buying and selling, rather than separating what's inside from its packaging. With this in mind, we can make packaging become the responsibility of every consumer and producer.

Tell us about yourself

I'm Angie. I'm a strategist/designer, and one of the organisers at OpenIDEO Sydney. Our Chapter got together with a bunch of people, keen to learn more about reducing waste and redesigning the way plastic is distributed. Check us out!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jade Sperini

Hi Angie,

I would like to share my thoughts about these following insights:
- We need to teach best practices and change existing behaviours around our consumption
- Plastic is often the more convenient choice, so to get people onboard, we “need to make it easier to do the right thing.” Maybe incentive programs might work (whether it’s seeing impact, getting a discount, etc.). Any alternatives must be robust, flexible, simple to use, and proven to be better for the environment

I come from France, I studied in the university of HEC Lausanne in Switzerland and currently I am in Sydney as part of my postgraduate degree in Marketing. Since I am here, I had the opportunity to notice many cultural differences that influence the way people purchase and consume products. Every cultures have some habits that are worth emulating.

For example by contrast with Australia, in Europe it is not common to consume coffee or tea through the process of "take away". Instead, we drink it in coffee shop, at home, or at the office, and thus we drink it in reusable mugs in ceramic. It is convenient because we don not need to transport the mugs and we also use much less plastic cups.
I believe this difference comes on one side because we have shorter distances between home and the office. This aspect can unfortunately not be influenced. However, on the other side, this discrepancy between European and Australian coffee consumption also comes from the way people perceive coffee. Indeed, European use to drink shorter coffees, which can be drunk quickly during a 5 min break while Australian seem preferring longer ones.
As a solution, I would suggest that the government reward firms providing coffee machines on the company premises (e.g. slight tax reduction). The coffees from these machines would be cheaper than the one in usual take away shops since the aim for the firms is not to make profit over these coffees but rather to reduce environmental impact of their employees. Through this process, employees could easily enjoy coffee in the workplace and thus using reusable mugs instead of plastic cups.

I hope this modest contribution is useful and I would be glad to hear what you think of it.

Photo of Angie Caro

Hi Jade Sperini – thanks for your comment!
That's a great point, and not long ago, it's something one of the team members and I were talking about. It's so interesting to see how cultural differences can impact on our perceptions and behaviours.

I think that the solution you've put forward is a great idea, and something I've unofficially tried to start doing at my own work, i.e. making and drinking coffee in the office! Some offices do have their own machines, but it's something that needs to be pushed more!

Do you have any plans to take this idea to the next level? :)

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Angie Caro 
There are 3 days left in the ideas phase of the circular design challenge! It would be great to see your ideas there, submit your idea via -

Photo of Alan Somerfield

Hi Angie, on the subject of what do we pay for the packaging then in some cases it is more than the product itself due to all the fancy branding. It would be an interesting idea if goods in shops had 2 prices - 1 with packaging and 1 without. The without price would be lower and to qualify for the discount you would tear off the packaging and leave it behind at the shop who would then recycle it or even better return it to the manufacturer!

Photo of Angie Caro

Hi Alan, thanks for your comment. I think that having 2 prices is a great idea, even if it was purely as an education piece, to show people what they are really paying for and hone in on the idea that the packaging is just as important as the product. I see that we inspired one of your contributions – amazing!

Photo of Alan Somerfield

Hi Angie,
It would also help highlight some of the tricks retailers play on us to get us to buy more than we need. I noticed recently that carrots in my local supermarket were cheaper when bagged than when they were loose! The sad part of so many packaging requirements these days is to prevent 'bad' people putting foreign objects into the food - like needles in the green beans.

Photo of Chinanu Nwaohangwa

I can't wait to applaud this study even in the next Phase.

Photo of Angie Caro

Thanks Chinanu Nwaohangwa – stay posted!

Photo of Christel Tardif

Totally agree with your title Angie Caro and this an be an inspirational path to ideation ;)

Photo of Angie Caro

Thanks Christel Tardif – we're looking forward to the ideation phase!

Photo of Sauyeng Dixon

Awesome Angie Caro We had the pleasure of having Frank Guzmann with us in our Melbourne Outpost on 9th June. Hope to collaborate soon between the 2 cities!

Photo of Angie Caro

Hi Sauyeng Dixon – so great that Frankie was able to take part of the event. You guys rocked it. Yes, let's make some magic happen!