Preserving our blue planet
There is no doubt on the damage that packaging is doing to our oceans and marine life, and that this should not be shied away from. We must do more to ensure that the convenience and product preservation we all enjoy from our packaging is not to the detriment of our oceans and planet.
The plastic waste in our oceans is on an epidemic scale and, without repeating all the well-publicized statistics, here are the big numbers:
- We currently produce more than 300 million tonnes of plastic every year
- Half of the plastic we use, we only use once, before throwing it away
- Eight million tonnes of plastic is getting into our oceans every year
- Enough plastic is thrown away every year to go around the earth four times
- In the UK we currently only recycle around 45% of our waste
With all that said, we're now going to promote plastic packaging. ‘Plastic’ is a fantastic substrate for packaging. Not only is it light-weight and easy to transport, but it also allows us to preserve and protect the products we buy. This makes them easy and convenient to buy, transport, store and serve, as well as fuelling our growing desire for global tastes, whilst, importantly, reducing food waste (another serious global consumer problem).
However, there is a lot we need to do and we have to do it quickly. This includes:
- Eliminate unnecessary single-use packaging…quickly
Remove items that are just not needed (for example cellophane wrappers on greetings cards) and rediscover new innovative ways to transport our goods without the need for throw away packaging. If we can’t eliminate it then we must reduce the amount we use, therefore reducing the potential of ocean pollution.
- Design for sustainability (the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance)
Not only develop packaging for recyclability but also include post-consumer waste, promoting a circular economy and ultimately reducing waste. (NB the majority of recycled content is made up of industrial waste, mostly off-cuts from manufacturing and print, but ‘post-consumer waste’ is recycled content from previous consumer items)
- Recycle more
Make it easy for consumers to recycle responsibly by creating consistency in our waste collections, kerb-side and public areas. This consistency would then allow brand owners and retailers to clearly label end of life disposal / recycling. Reduce the range of plastic materials currently used and, ideally, eliminate mixed material packaging, which is very difficult to recycle.
- Promote re-use
Why don’t we re-use more? The simple answer is that there are very few facilities that allow us to do this effectively. Refills and dispensing can be a challenge to manage, but there are learnings we can take from other countries who successfully do this. One example is household cleaners and handwash; the US company Replenish provide customers with refill pods that they mix with tap water at home, reducing packaging by up to 90% and cutting packaging costs by up to 50%.
Change only comes through education and we have to educate consistently and factually on the total effect of the choices we make as consumers.
- Some common misconceptions are that ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ packaging just disappears, therefore doesn’t harm our environment. This is not true; all compostable and biodegradable packaging is not ‘fish food’ and does not degrade in the ocean; we must dispose of our waste knowledgeably and responsibly.
- According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), 95% of the value of plastic packaging, worth US$80-120 billion annually, is lost to the economy, and if this continues at the current rate, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean (by weight) by 2050. If we recycle ALL of our recyclable packaging then we can turn this round.
- We have seen glass milk bottles and milkman deliveries make a comeback as consumers move away from plastic. This not only eliminates single-use packaging but it also supports local businesses. However, replacing plastic with glass is not the answer for everything. Financial cost and carbon emissions are much high when transporting glass, and glass is fragile and easily broken, and broken glass raises safety challenges. My advice is don’t abandon plastic, as it can be the right choice when managed responsibly.
But what do we do as a packaging industry to reduce ocean plastic and the damage it is doing now?
Innovative thinking and execution are what are needed and there are ways we can start to turn this around. One fabulous example of this is P&G who are launching a new Fairy bottle later this year. The new bottle is fully recyclable and made from 100% recycled plastic and ocean plastic.
P&G intend to extend this initiative across other brands and regions in the future. In an effort to divert plastic waste from landfill and the ocean, P&G are using on average 40% post-consumer waste (plastic) across their 481 million transparent dish care bottles globally.
Innovation comes in many guises but when innovation can help reduce the damage we have caused through bringing a truly circular economy to life then, in our opinion, it is lifted to a new level… congratulations P&G!