Is the world ready for a plastic-less world?

07.09.2020
3 min read

It is no surprise that the global population is increasing at an increasing rate. The UN estimates that by the end of the century, there will be around 10.9 billion people (1) living on earth. But as the global population rises, so does the amount of food needed to feed it (which presents a problem in itself). And the problem then arises – how will all this food be packed?   

One of the key drivers of pollution today is wasteful food packaging, with companies wrapping more non-biodegradable plastic around food items every day. However, hope still remains. Both corporate and governmental concerns over the level of packaging contributing to the global waste problem are being turned into potential solutions and the theme of sustainability is gradually starting to take shape, particularly in the Western hemisphere (2). Below we discuss what challenges need to be tackled, some of the leaders of this move to a more sustainable packaging process as well as debate the potential readiness for people to accept a different style of packaging.

The challenge so far

Packaging Recyclability   Large amounts of packaging produced today cannot be recycled in existing recycling systems (3). This is especially true for multi-polymer packaging, which today poses a significant and unresolved threat.   

Recycling Rate   Generally speaking, the rate at which countries tend to recycle or reuse plastics is low. Around 19% of all recycling dumps in the world are unmanaged and only about 16% of all plastic waste is re-processed to make new plastics. And in fact, most plastic goes to incineration sites, meaning that they are permanently discarded and their potential to be reused or recycled is completely lost (3).   

The United States and the various European countries recycle their plastics at a rate of 28% and 40% respectively, representing the highest recycling regions

On the contrary, Asian countries are seeing global demand for packaged items far outpace the demand for waste collection. As a result, the recycling rates for countries in developing Asian countries is significantly lower than those of the US and European nations (3).   As we can see here, even though the demand for more recycling and reusing of plastics is increasing on a global scale, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in relative terms.

What does the public say today?  

But there is some positive news! Many, in the Western hemisphere in particular, are willing to convert to more eco-friendly packaging or even pay more for more sustainable materials (4):
  • 49% of US citizens are less likely to buy products in packaging harmful to the environment   
  • 46% of US citizens associate plastic with “harmful”  
  • 74% of European citizens consider eco-friendly packaging important   
  • 83% of South American citizens are willing to pay more for eco-friendly packaging  
  • 73% of South American citizens associate plastic with ocean pollution

So far then, we can see a positive change in the way people think about plastics and the need to convert to more sustainable materials. But what have either governments or corporations done to respond to this rise in demand for greater sustainability?

Governments

Even though there is still a lot of work to be done, regulators around the world are adopting various approaches for minimizing and managing packaging waste. Here are a few examples (3):

Canada   The Canadian government has initiated a nationwide strategy to attain zero plastic waste by 2030.   

The United States   The US government is currently working on banning plastic bags and is introducing measures to limit the number of plastic bags currently in circulation.   India   India is heavily sponsoring awareness campaigns and more collection points for unpackaged good.   

China   Despite being an industrial powerhouse, the Chinese government has proposed to ban all single-use plastic bags by 2022 and has already either banned or limited imports on packaging waste in 2017.   

Australia   The Australian government has focused on making the recycling process much more efficient and has the target of making every plastic bag either recyclable, compostable, or reusable.   

Companies   

In addition to governments, many fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) manufacturers are looking to help in the effort towards greater packaging sustainability. According to Mckinsey, 60% of FMCG manufacturers have emphasised their goals to increase recyclability of their products to 100% and around 26% of FMCG manufacturers are committed to eliminating packaging entirely from some items as well as redesigning packaging in a more sustainable form (3). 

There are still issues that must be considered before making a leap into biodegradable materials, regarding costs and implementation of a more sustainable packaging strategy, but this reflects a step in the right direction from companies to do right by mother nature.   Here are just some of the companies that are doing what they can to make sure their packaging methods are environmentally friendly attainable in the future. 

PepsiCo   In 2018, PepsiCo is looking to use alternative packaging where possible for their products. Ranging from selling refillable glass bottles in India to giving around $51 million to partners to accelerate efforts for sustainable packaging, the company has stepped up to aid in eliminating conventional packaging. $15 million of that initial number, for example, was used to sponsor a company Circulate Capital which aims to seek solutions to minimise plastic pollution in the ocean (5).   

Nestlé   Between 2020 and 2025, Nesté has committed to phase out all plastics that are non-recyclable or hard to recycle for all their products worldwide. Not only that, but the company has pledged to make all their 4200 facilities to eliminate single-use plastic items that cannot be recycled and employ 50 people for their new institute which will explore new ways to use biodegradable bags (6).   

Kroger   As part of its effort to reduce the amount of plastic packaging in all of its private-label products by 2020, Kroger has reduced the amount of plastic resin it uses by 10 million pounds. For example, Kroger has redesigned its milk jugs to require 10% less plastic and be completely recyclable (7).   

Target    Target has also set a goal for 2020, which includes sourcing all its private-label paper-based packaging from sustainably managed forests and eliminating polystyrene plastics (8).   

Walmart    Walmart is reducing packaging waste from its private labels and has set a goal to make all of the materials 100% recyclable, reusable and/or compostable by 2025 (9).   

Aldi    Similar to Walmart, Aldi has committed to converting all of its packaging to be 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable materials by 2025. Already, the German retailer has not used single-use plastic bags for decades (10).   

Ooho   Although not as large as the others, Ooho is a small company that develops packaging for beverages and sauces that is made from Notpla - a material which is made from seaweed and plants. As an added bonus, this packaging degrades after 4-6 weeks. Alternatively, you could also eat it!(11)

Bottom Line

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text