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by Alessandra Leonard, Marketing Project Manager, Packaging Innovations, Easyfairs
Industry View from
Ditching the plastic straw isn’t going to save the planet. But has the change of consumer mindset finally set us on the right path?
Undoubtedly the war on plastic is one of the hottest topics today, and for a good reason. Sir David Attenborough has almost single-handedly brought awareness to the careless use of disposable plastics. This has led to a change in attitudes among consumers, spawning a movement of seeing plastic as the “enemy”, but is this a result of greenwashing propaganda?
Humans produced an estimated 320 million tonnes of plastic in 2017, according to Surfers Against Sewage, and the WWF says eight million tonnes of it is dumped into oceans every year. But is this just a fashionable issue, and are we making changes for the right reasons? We need more education on the alternatives, and to understand what their environmental impact is in comparison. So instead, is this our chance to stop plastic becoming waste in the first place? The packaging supply chain does recognise the problem and is working very hard to solve it, but how can they work together to focus on delivering solutions for the right reasons.
While single-use plastics such as straws are clearly an issue, almost 50 per cent of all plastic found in the oceans comes from discarded fishing nets. That’s not to say that switching to a paper straw isn’t helpful, but it’s essential to understand what the biggest driver of the plastic problem is.
Deposit return schemes and improving the consistency of recycling for households and businesses do show that change is coming. Waitrose recently extended its bring-your-own-container trial. The feedback from shoppers was overwhelmingly positive and sales had overtaken those of equivalent packaged products. Giving people the choice has given them back the power to make their own conscious decisions, ones not necessarily based on price.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet, said: “It is no longer acceptable to blame the public for plastic pollution. Brands and retailers simply need to offer their customers a better choice, a new way of shopping that is guilt-free.”
Combating packaging waste through a circular economy of reusing and recycling plastic must be a top priority for government and industry insiders. We’ve seen plastic use is top of the agenda at the moment and is currently a bigger consideration that carbon footprint, but is this a mistake, fueled by public demand?
It’s very encouraging that new laws are being passed to fight plastic litter. Unfortunately, while these laws may reduce the most visible form of plastic pollution, it could be at the expense of other environmental impacts. That’s because, somewhat ironically, disposable plastic bags require fewer resources (land, water, CO2 emissions, etc.) to produce than paper, cotton or reusable plastic bags—by a wide margin.
Brendan Cowey, Director of Staeger Clear Packaging, said: “Plastic is vastly more carbon efficient to produce than any alternatives. It is of paramount importance that we reduce waste of ALL packaging types and of the packaged products themselves. Plastic packaging made from recycled plastic waste is a brilliant sustainable resource which is net positive for the environment, which is why at Staeger we only make packaging from waste that already exists.”
At the last edition of our Packaging Innovations show in Birmingham 20% of visitors said they were looking for sustainable design but 32% said they were looking for bio-degradable plastics. Plastic can still be the material of choice, it’s about where it’s come from and what happens to it after use.
It’s an intricate and challenging problem that will require the whole supply chain, both for packaging and the products inside, to work together and focus on delivering solutions for the right reasons. As it’s become much more apparent that we are fighting a war on waste, not on plastic…
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