The Gold Standard
By Paul Shorthouse
Canada Plastics Pact urging major consumer-goods companies to take the next step towards plastic circularity with Golden Design Rules for Plastics Packaging
What do a single-serve coffee cup, a bag of chips, and a bread tag have in common? At the end of their life-cycle, these plastic items will either be thrown away in a landfill, incinerated, or lost to the environment—contributing to the millions of tonnes of plastic pollution generated in Canada each year.
Poor packaging design, problematic materials, and excess packaging are disrupting the plastics recycling industry, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
On a global scale, we’ve identified design interventions and innovative approaches that are more in line with Circular Economy principles and evolving recycling systems.
The Golden Design Rules (GDR) for Plastics Packaging, launched by the Consumer Goods Forum Coalition of Action on Plastic Waste, were developed collaboratively with 41 global companies in response to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the UN Environment Programme.
Since April 2022, the Canada Plastics Pact (CPP) with the support of its Redesign Working Group has been leading the consultation and implementation of these nine packaging rules in Canada.
Vlad Rebellon, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Loblaw Companies Limited, and Jim Downham, CEO at PAC Global, serve as Co-chairs on the Redesign Working Group, driving GDR review and acceptance. Dan Lantz, PAC NEXT Director, serves as the committee technical director.
Key actors across the plastics value chain are working collaboratively to drive innovation and scale action to create this visionary new business model, in which problematic or unnecessary plastics are eliminated by 2025.
Now those single-serve coffee cups and bag closures are among many types of plastic packaging for which CPP Partners are innovating new, closed-loop options.
Canadian Tire Corporation, Club Coffee, and Bimbo Canada are among 20 CPP Partners and ten consumer-goods companies that have adopted the packaging rules in Canada and committed to taking effective action for the benefit of consumers and the environment.
Club Coffee, one of the largest coffee roasters and sustainable packaging innovators in North America, has set new benchmarks for coffee packaging by implementing a vast majority of the GDRs. Club Coffee’s revolutionary AromaPak system has reduced the weight of its packaging, transitioned from plastic coffee bags to recyclable, paper-based packaging, and innovated its single-serve coffee pod to become fully compostable.
These design changes to its R&G coffee packaging have reduced plastic use by 48 per cent compared to a similar foil quad seal bag, and by 83 per cent compared to a similar plastic canister, while reducing carbon emissions by 78 per cent compared to canisters.
“We’re looking for solutions to customers’ problems and using the Golden Design Rules as guardrails along that journey to make sure we are making the right decisions,” says Claudio Gemmiti, Chief Innovation Officer, Club Coffee.
What many companies have learned from the GDRs is that a small change can have a big impact. Bimbo Canada, the nation’s leading bakery, has transitioned to compostable cardboard clips on its bread bags to reduce its use of single-use plastic by approximately 200 metric tonnes annually.
Canadian Tire Corporation is also taking effective action to scale change. Last year, the giant retailer completed a pilot with its top 38 vendors to collect more accurate packaging data to measure compliance with the GDRs, and introduced new sustainable product packaging standards for its branded products.
This year, Canadian Tire is advancing process change across the enterprise, developing vendor education, scaling successful pilot programs, and gathering detailed packaging data for its new products.
“This common set of guidelines will not only reduce waste and our impact on the environment, but also make it easier for our customers to recycle and for municipalities to collect and process,” says Kim Saunders, Vice President, ESG Strategy & Community Impact, Canadian Tire Corporation.
“Working with partners like CPP to consider how our business decisions of today will impact our world tomorrow is one of the many ways we are helping to make life in Canada better.”
Choices about materials, colors, labels and adhesives, shape, and size of packaging all affect the circularity of packaging.
They impact whether packaging will be rejected and end up in a landfill, or if it will contaminate recycling systems, hindering the recyclability of even well-designed packaging.
The Golden Design Rules are timely—enabling businesses to take immediate action to address some of the most pressing concerns.
While we still have a long road ahead to address all challenges around packaging design, such as creating end markets that give value to recycled plastics, the GDRs serve as a tool to enable innovation and evolution of plastic packaging, while providing common design guidelines to simplify and align the market.
As countries around the world implement policies and measures to reduce or eliminate plastic waste, the GDRs will be reviewed and iterated to incorporate learning and respond to a changing context.
There is no doubt that plastics serve many practical purposes in our daily lives, but with an unprecedented amount of plastic pollution flowing into our natural environment, the scale of the challenge to ensure plastics are reused, recycled or composted will not only require new ways of thinking, but also require businesses to unite and take bold risks to transform a broken system into one that is able to scale impact.
The Canada Plastics Pact supports member and non-member companies to address and/or amplify their progress in tackling any number of the GDRs.
The CPP encourages companies looking to adjust their packaging design to learn more or sign on to the Golden Design Rules at any point in time by reaching out to email@example.com.
Paul Shorthouse is the Interim Managing Director at Canada Plastics Pact.