Let’s Get Circular Before it’s too Late
Canadian Packaging editor George Guidoni discusses the future of plastic in the 2020 Jan/Feb issue of Canadian Packaging.
February 20, 2020
No packaging material has gotten as much bad publicity since the start of 21st Century as plastic—not even close. With plastics deemed to represent one of the biggest man-made threats to the health of our planet, it will take all of the global plastic industry’s knowledge, resources and will power in the coming decade to change the commodity’s prevailing current image of a direct menace to the global ecosystem and biodiversity.
How we got all got here is largely irrelevant at this stage: the important thing is start working on pragmatic and practical solutions to provide timely and irrefutable evidence that plastic can be an important link in the vaunted Circular Economy of the near future, rather than an impassable obstacle to it.
For global CPG (consumer packaged goods) brand-owners with reliance on plastic packaging to market and merchandise their products, how well they cope with the global plastic emergency may well define their future, as the old “too big to fail” theory of market dominance and longevity will become irrelevant in coming years, as the millennial generation starts finding its feet in the emerging new world order.
For these consumers, the LCA (life-cycle analysis) comparisons showing plastics to be more sustainable packaging options in terms of total carbon-footprint impact that also accounts for the product’s origin, sourcing, manufacturing, transportation et al counts for little compared to the lingering dilemma posed by plastic’s inability to biodegrade without a trace.
And while material substitution may help some brands overcome negative public perception and increased regulatory scrutiny in the near term, it is hardly a cure-all for all our environmental woes.
That said, it is encouraging to see some leading global CPG lights heading in the right direction.
A new report released at the start of the year by Chicago-based science and technology intelligence firm PreScouter identifies 10 globally-operating companies that have managed to make notable progress in how they recycle or reuse plastic waste to keep it from ending up in landfill or waterways.
Prepared by three highly authoritative and credible Phd level researchers, the revealing study, titled Towards a Circular Economy: Zero-Waste Technologies & Initiatives, confirms that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for eliminating plastic litter and waste, but such f lexibility in addressing a common problem is largely a good thing.
This includes Danone working with Re-Pal to recycle polypropylene water bottle labels into recyclable pallets; Veolia recycling PET plastic bottles to make new PET bottles and food packaging; Novolex upcycling plastic bags of all sorts into polyethylene pellets used to make new bags; Nestlé aiming to replace single-use plastics with refillable stainless steel containers; and H&M offering a garment recycling service for recycling clothes made from polyester, organic cotton and Tencel lyocell, as well as working with Repack to pilot a reusable packaging service for its e-commerce activities.
While such efforts may seem too little too late in isolation, they can definitely add up to much more than the sum of their parts if these companies’ industry counterparts and peers join them on their journey towards Circular Economy—the sooner the better.