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Innovation Forum

Innovation Forum

Member: Trial
Since: 29.09.2014
Sustainability Insight for Emerging Markets

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Innovation Forum: The continuing complexities of what to do about plastic

25.10.2019 Share

The solution with plastic packaging from the consumer perspective is straightforward: business should just get rid of it, right? While it might seem simple enough on one level, the reality, of course, is complex, with a series of unintended consequences coming into play. 

Last year at Innovation Forum we asked if brands could go plastic free– and we concluded that it wasn’t possible. Since then, in large part driven by public pressure, and a tightening regulatory landscape, many big name brands and companies have publicly taken on the challenge of cutting plastic use. 

But while intent is apparent, what’s less clear is the rigour with which the impacts of the alternatives have been tested.  

Regulation rigour 

Regulators have played their part in responding to growing consumer interest by initiating a raft of measures to deal with plastic waste, particularly single-use plastic used for packaging and transportation purposes. 

From April 2022, the UK government will tax food and drinks companies that use, or import, plastic packaging that doesn’t contain at least 30% recycled content. The European Commission’s new EU-wide rules to target the ten single-use plastic products that make up 70% of all marine litter will introduce similar rules to the UK’s across the continent. 

In France, products without recycled plastic packaging will cost up to 10% more from late 2019. And, in Germany, new packaging laws have seen national plastic packaging recycling targets rise to 63% by 2022.

Elsewhere, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has promised to ban single-use plastics, including plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates and stir sticks “where supported by scientific evidence and warranted”. Moreover, oil and gas giant BP has speculated that there could very well be a worldwide ban on single-use plastics by 2040.

Rush to alternatives

How have companies responded? 

The problem is that plastic is just very good at what it does. For the food sector, plastic packaging can extend the life of a banana by 3 days, a steak by 10 days, and a cucumber by 14 days. That said, there is a growing number of examples where companies, large and small, have found alternatives to plastic for a range of packaging options. 

The UK’s Plastics Pact, led by waste charity WRAP and launched in 2018, has been a real success in terms of getting companies to acknowledge the plastics problem and commit to doing something about it. After one year of operation, 120 companies have signed up, promising to eliminate “problematic or unnecessary” single-use plastic packaging by 2025, and to ensure 100% of plastic packaging is recyclable. 

Beyond the promises, there has been some action. Marks & Spencer has switched out its plastic cutlery and replaced it with wood-based alternatives made from FSC-certified timber. Elsewhere in the UK, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons have all been trialling the removal of plastic packaging for fresh fruit and vegetables.

On top of making sure its own-brand packaging is 100% recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable by 2025, the US retail giant Walmart has promised to work with suppliers to get rid of non-recyclable PVC in general merchandise packaging by 2020.

Read the full article here.