Plastic is not the enemy

20 March 2018

For me, packaging is not the cause of the world’s waste woes; its supply chains and waste cycle are far more nuanced than wildlife documentaries would have people believe. In spite of this, society demands packaging companies take immediate action to save the environment. Never mind the fact that consumers don’t always know the full picture; to them, plastic is the enemy and must be removed.

However, the problem cannot be solved by simply removing plastic packaging.  The material is used frequently because it is excellent and versatile. But most importantly, the market has no alternative, so stopping its use would leave a giant hole that would be difficult to fill. This does not mean that leading brands could not launch a ‘make-do-and-mend’ campaign to ensure that their products are still packaged, but functional capabilities like extended shelf life, freight costs and breakages would be affected. If the industry was to tell consumers “We are going to give you a worse performing product that costs more and is less convenient”, it would not be long before the public would be demanding the return of quality plastic packaging.

This is not to say that nothing can be done. A number of governments are taking their citizens requests seriously by looking into methods to address this issue. The UK, for example, recently put forward the deposit system, where consumers would pay more for products but get a refund upon returning bottles to a collection point. Although nothing was mentioned about cartons or paperboard, this would ensure that metal, plastic and glass are recovered in higher volumes. To recycling and packaging experts, reuse or recycling is certainly the most productive way to ensure plastic does not have a one-way trip to an ocean instead of finding a ‘second life’.

At present, it is not clear whether there is an infinite or circular loop available for plastic, but it seems like major companies are willing to do everything in their power to achieve one, which would benefit people, the planet and its resources.

This edition of the magazine is focused on closures, coding and marking, and includes coverage on food and beverage trends, as well as insight from GlobalData Consumer on new packaging.

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