Consumer Affairs Report, September 2017

By Val Cocksedge

NCWQ Consumer Affairs Adviser

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) is promoting a free search tool intended to re-unite $1.1billion in unclaimed money with its owners. More than a million account holding unclaimed funds ranging from $500 – $1million have been transferred to the Commonwealth from dormant bank accounts, life insurance payouts, share dividends and other investments. ASIC is trying to find the owners of the money. The Federal Government body is alerting people to the free “Find Unclaimed Money” tool on its Money Smart website. Last year ASIC returned $89 million to 16,000 people.

Police are urging people to check on the ACCC website to see whether their car has a faulty Takata airbag (manufactured in 2015). The recalls affect models from BMW, Chrysler, Ferrari, Ford, Honda, Jeep, Lexus, Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Toyota. A Darwin woman is the first Australian to be seriously injured in a car accident.

Although we have been recycling in Australia for two decades, there is still confusion around what can and can’t be recycled. There is a big drive to encourage people to recycle carefully. Council kerbside recyclable materials go to a MRF facility where they are sorted by machines and staff into types (paper, plastics, glass and metals.) They are then baled and sent for reprocessing at paper mills, metal smelters glass and plastics factories. It is estimated that as many as 3 billion coffee cups are sold each year in Australia. The waterproof lining of many coffee cups means that they cannot be recycled with paper and cardboard and may contaminate a load causing the whole to be sent to landfill. Only recycle in dedicated coffee cup bins.

Recycling technology is evolving as more common household products can now be recycled, Soft plastics (cling wrap) bubble wrap, orange nets and plastic bags require specialist facilities – not council kerbside recycling streams. These soft plastics can be collected and deposited at RED cycle drop off bins at Coles, Woolworths and Safeway supermarkets.

Aerosol cans made from steel and aluminium are recyclable over and over. Planet Ark estimates well over half of the 250 million aerosol cans are unnecessarily going to landfill.

Coffee pods:  Australians are using more than 3 million coffee pods per day and these cannot be included in kerbside recycling bins. Nespresso coffee pods made from coffee grounds and aluminium have a free post back program and drop off points run by TerraCycle. Postage paid recycling satchels which hold 130 capsules can be purchased from Australia Post for $1.90 and dropped into Australia Post offices or boxes. Nestles’ Dolce Gusto pods made from varieties of plastics can be recycled through a Tetra Cycle  collection program, by requesting a pre-paid shipping label from www.tetracycle.com.au or via email.

X-ray film:  Some radiology providers and hospitals will collect old x-rays or collection points can be found through Quantum Technical Services. (http://www.quantumtechnicalservices.com.au/x-ray-film-collection/)

Paint:  Old tins of interior and exterior paint can now be dropped off at Paintback collection points. (www.paintback.com.au )

Following a long-running Choice program, the ACCC reached agreements with Australia’s major airlines to put an end to “pre-ticked extras” on online booking pages. Consumers will now have to ‘option for’ extras such as seat selection, travel insurance, luggage. Tiger Air, Virgin Australia and Qantas have ended the practice with Jetstar to “untick” the optional extras from July 2017.

Choice has partnered with National Seniors, the advocate for older Australians tp campaign for stronger “Do Not Call Register” that involves financial transactions including calling from charities seeking donations. You can join 30,000 consumers who wish to control who calls them at www.choice.com.au/controlthecalls

Compared to other regions, regulators around cosmetics labelling in Australia are lacking. Whilst other aspects of cosmetic claims and labelling are covered by the ACCC, State departments, ASIC etc, no one regulates the inclusion of expiry dates on the products. Whilst some products degrade due to age and environment, it is recommended by research and development and cosmetic experts to discard unopened products after 3 years and opened products after 6 months.

The Trans Pacific Partnerships (TPP) is a massive international trade agreement that Australia has signed and is soon to be implemented. Choice representatives told the Senate Committee meeting that TPP will put consumers’ rights at risk. Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions will allow foreign companies to take action against Australia if the Federal government changes laws or regulations that affect their commercial interests. That means that the improved Country of Origin labelling more clearly food ingredient listing or bans on imported/unsafe products could be stopped by corporate interests. The Federal government has a chance to opt out of the most harmful part of the TPP, including ISDS provisions.

The ACCC urged businesses to adopt the new industry code designed to reduce the number of injuries and death resulting from children ingesting button batteries. Powerful slim and light button batteries if swallowed, can cause severe internal burns and in some cases death. The Industry Code for Consumer Goods that contain button batteries has been developed with input from the ACCC, state regulators, importers, manufacturers and retailers. Large retailers – Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, OfficeWorks are on board. There are still many small retailers stocking products containing the unsecured batteries. The Code is voluntary – there is need for it to become mandatory.

The ACCC is taking action against Kimberley Clark and Pental after both companies led consumers to believe their “flushable wipes” would break down like toilet paper when flushed.

The Building Union issued a national alert on a Chinese supplier after the asbestos scare at the construction of the Queensland government’s “tower of power”. Australian building regulations will be examined in the wake of the deadly London residential tower fire that may have been fuelled by the same flammable cladding found to be responsible for the Lacrosse apartment tower fire in Melbourne 3 years ago. Regulations and supervision of cladding are essential.

Cyber criminals are targeting Queensland toll users with an email scam fraudulently claiming to come from Go Via Do Not Reply@govia.com.au Don’t click on links and delete immediately.

US regulators have banned 19 ingredients including triclosan from anti-bacterial hand wash products because of fears to the immune system.

Australians are being fleeced at the checkout by greedy multinationals charging vastly more than what Britain pay for the same products. In 2016, the Federal Court handed Nurofen a $1.7 million fine for peddling expensive products they claimed could target specific types of pain, despite containing the same active ingredient, ibuprofen lysine 342 mg. An appeal by the ACCC saw the parent company, Reckett Benckiser ordered to pay $6 million for misleading customers.

Consumer International called for Samsung to recall all of its Galaxy Note 7 phones (some had caught fire.)

NSW, ACT, Victoria, WA have imposed a ban on the sale of decorative burners which run on highly flammable methylated spirits, ethanol or biofuel. Polaris recalled children’s quad bikes after inspection revealed that 12 models were made with parts containing asbestos.

The ACCC issued a recall for all of the All 4 Bubs Lunar oval cot after it failed safety tests in the Choice labs – receiving a score of zero out of 100, failing safety tests, did not meet information requirements and a score of 30% for ease of assembly.

Product safety recalls included a Dimplex model (GDC 18R-WA.FA) Portable Air Conditioner; Eco Salt TM salt water chlorinators; updated models of Bosch freestanding gas/electric cooker 60 cm; Ardmona whole peeled tomatoes (TOM/WP 428580) packaging integrity; Blue Ribbon ice-cream (1.25 and 2 l) 28 April 2017 – 27 April 2018, potential presence o small plastic pieces; cider LAB products sold individually and in 6 and 24 packs, contain sulphites not declared on label; Big W deep fryer, handles can detach, risking oil burns; 4WD snatch straps, failure to meet safety label requirements, could cause injury; Just Jeans, girl jeans, dye can contain carcinogenic colourants; Infinity cables, becoming brittle and prematurely causing fire danger; Inspire glass tumbler large and small 4 pack, potential for glass to break with normal use.

Hyland’s baby teething tablets recalled, as could cause serious health problems in babies and infants, sold at Children’s Hospitals, Terry White chemists and Priceline pharmacies.

A project to recycle the old Kidston Gold Mine near Townsville into a renewable energy project via hydroelectricity and solar energy generation will become Australia’s third largest hydro power generator and create 500 jobs.

The Coopers Gap wind Farm is currently in public consultation and environmental impact process for a large wind farm near Kingaroy, opting to generate clean energy with potential to supply 180,000 homes, employ 350 during construction and 20 on an ongoing basis.

In the hunt for renewables, a QUT team is spearheading pioneering research to transfer crop waste,, the leftover sugar fibres into advanced biofuels for planes and helicopters. The prospect of producing greener, higher performing fuel from agricultural waste is attracting interest from across the world.

Dr Nasim Amiralian is applying cutting edge science to turn spinifex from Camooweal into products for the modern world – using spinifex nano fibres to make super strong, ultra-thin condoms, surgical gloves and more durable compounded rubber products such as cool room door seals. She has two patents on the nanofibres and their application.

Swarm Farm Robotics is helping farmers grow more and safer food. It is helpful to the environment that robots deliver a more judicious chemical spray.

Queensland start-up Oponics is set to tap into the booming Chinese and Indian supplements markets as it is preparing to open Australia’s first sustainable Omega 3 producing farm, the key ingredient in fish oil supplements with a 10 hectare pond farm by the end of 2017.

The cumulative impact of scientific advancement in recent times has opened up extraordinary possibilities for the sugar cane plant which will translate into commercial opportunities. In the Burdekin, as small business is extracting dietary fibre from sugar cane and marketing it globally. Bagasse, the residue from crushing cane is being used as a source for paper-making and becoming an electricity ,producer. The wild card is ethanol. The Cox brothers in Burdekin are well advanced in planning to build a $250 million ethanol plant, intending to be running s early as 2019.

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