Plastic is a problem.
It's something we've known for some time now. Despite its status as multipurpose material that is useful for many applications, plastic doesn't biodegrade and has a tendency to wind up in forests, rivers, and oceans. In fact, in the 1990s, researchers first made the world aware of the plastic congesting the world's ocean — non-biodegradable, single-use plastic more than tripled during that decade, composing 60 to 80% of the world's ocean waste. Images of sea life tangled in plastic netting, plastic can rings, and disposable grocery bags began to infiltrate news segments, leading environmental groups to rally against the use of plastic packaging.
Unfortunately, plastic use has only increased since then, rising more in the last two decades than in the previous 40 years to an unprecedented 300 million metric tons each year. By 2050, the Ocean Conservancy estimates that there will be more plastic in the ocean than sea life. With packaging comprising a full 40% of plastic waste, it's clear the packaging industry needs to have a hand in addressing the plastic problem.
How Can We Reduce Plastic Use in Packaging?
Of course, plastic has its place in the consumer economy. It's lightweight, supremely moldable, has a relatively low carbon footprint, and vital for the successful distribution of many products. However, it's crucial that the packaging industry take strides to utilize plastic in a way that keeps it within the circular economy — where it can be reused or recycled — rather than cast aside.
What are some ways the packaging industry can reduce its use of plastics? Consider some of these big-brand suggestions for your products:
- Eliminate plastic packaging altogether. Depending on the product, some brands are finding it possible to completely eliminate plastic packaging. Whole Foods, British grocer Iceland, and Irish brewing giant Guinness have joined a number of companies committed to eliminating the use of plastic from all product lines and packaging by 2025. Instead, these brands have indicated their intent to utilize recyclable cardboard, glass, and aluminum instead.
- Reduce usage of new plastics. Industry giant Unilever (owner of household brands from Dove, Vaseline and Persil to Lipton and Ben & Jerry's) has recently vowed to reduce its usage of “virgin plastics” 50% by the year 2025. This effort is substantial for a corporation with as many brands as Unilever and promises to drastically decrease the amount of new plastic packaging entering the ecosystem. While the impacts of your — arguably smaller — brand making the same move away from virgin plastics may be smaller, the collective efforts of the packaging industry as a whole to reduce the demand for new plastic can be significant.
- Increase usage of post-consumer recycled plastics. While reducing the usage of virgin plastics is a step in the right direction, some industries rely on plastic packaging to keep products safe. Unilever, along with giants like McDonald's, Dell, and Evian, have committed to using only previously recycled plastics by 2025. By using plastics already in the circular economy, these brands propagate the idea that plastic should be made to be reused.
- Ensure future plastic packaging is recyclable. Swiss conglomerate Nestle — behind consumables from chocolate and coffee to baby food and formula — pledges to manufacture 100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging by 2025. This move ensures every single piece of plastic utilized by the company has the potential to be put to use in some other way rather than languishing in the environment. Smaller brands can make the effort to produce recyclable and reusable plastics as well, contributing to the concept of the circular economy.
- Use packaging ingenuity. After plastic can rings gained worldwide notoriety for their tendency to entrap ocean life, many beverage companies have pursued ingenious packaging solutions geared towards reducing the number of rings entering the environment. Danish brewer Carlsbad began with shrink wrap but then took the innovations one step further, utilizing adhesive dots to temporarily fuse its six packs of cans together; while the move seems like a small one, this “Snap Pack” stands to reduce the company's use of plastic by as many as 13,000 metric tons per year.
- Switch to biodegradable or compostable plastics. While biodegradable and compostable plastics are not the same — the former eventually degrades but can continue to leach chemicals into the surrounding soil, while the latter eventually disappears into valuable humus soil — both are preferable to the plastic waste currently clogging the waterways. Like Carlsbad, South Florida's Saltwater Brewery aimed to address the plastic rings that jeopardized animal life. It did so by creating fully edible, compostable rings out of leftover barley and wheat ribbons.
- Commit to cleanup. In addition to the efforts to reduce the demand for more plastics and slowing the addition of non-recyclable plastics to the environment, many companies are committing to contributing to the clean-up effort. Unilever has vowed to collect and process just as much packaging as it creates, and Procter & Gamble has created plastic shampoo and laundry soap packaging made from the ocean plastic it collects. Endeavoring to participate in plastic cleanup can help reduce plastic waste and build goodwill for your brand.
The number of small innovations and efforts to reduce plastic waste are simply too numerous to mention here. However, it is essential that we in the packaging industry make an effort to curb the amount of new plastic consumed and reuse the plastic already in circulation. By contributing to this “circular economy”, we not only preserve the environment and eliminate new waste from entering it but preserve the value of our plastic packaging as well.
What efforts can your brand make to address the plastic problem? We recommend starting with replacing as much plastic as possible with alternative, low-carbon-footprint packaging materials like post-consumer recycled cardboard and sealing cases with adhesives like Technomelt 250A and Technomelt 8990 instead of tape or shrink wrap. In addition, utilizing innovative solutions like the adhesive dot “Snap Packs” developed by Carlsbad Brewery can further cut plastic waste. Finally, making an effort to use only 100% recyclable plastic can help ensure the plastic packaging you do contribute can be used again in the future.
Contact Premier Packaging
For more insight into packaging solutions, consider Premier Packaging. With over 25 years' experience in the packaging industry, we're well-versed on the measures brands can take to reduce plastic use. Contact us today to see how your brand could benefit from switching to eco-friendly adhesive solutions