The demise of plastic

18 January, 2019 Share socially

There is much debate on what packaging will be like in the future: stackable, intelligent, sensitive, able to communicate with refrigerators and make sure its contents retain their wholesomeness... But one thing is for certain: it will not be made of plastic.

Floating on our oceans are literally islands of rubbish, and according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. This dramatic situation has got the whole world talking about rubbish.

With China banning imports of rubber and plastic waste, and more and more fires being deliberately set at refuse storage facilities, the problem is now of critical importance across the world. In short, the planet is no longer able to handle the amount of plastic we produce and then have to dispose of.

Millennials at the forefront

When it comes to sustainability, consumers – and Millennials in particular – are on the front line. One study shows that 20% of young consumers of luxury goods expect the products they buy to be ethical (Statista, 2017). Their stance is not only ideological and notional, but also practical and active, and is based on the new generations’ understanding that individual consumer actions and habits, no matter how small, form part of a whole that will eventually impact their quality of life.

This new mentality is reflected in campaigns launched by these consumers to foster and spread a culture of sustainability. Ideas for a fresher, more intelligent yet non-prohibitive way of living can be found on the Melamin website, a source of eco-friendly information, products and lifestyles.

Free from...

Meanwhile, instead of standing idly by, industry and retail chains are gearing up to respond to this newfound awareness. Industry is moving towards a more sustainable system, for example by producing organic packaging that is easier to recycle and creating solutions that keep non-recyclable materials away from the waste stream for as long as possible.

Within the next five years, private labels will stop using plastic packaging in the UK and Iceland, being replaced with paper or cellulose trays and bags.

However, the real opportunities for brands lie not in the financial and logistical benefits of simpler packaging, but in creating closer relationships with the market. Brands that decide to make clearer, more transparent choices in the field of sustainability will win greater approval from consumers.

Wrap, the UK’s “plastics pact”, is a programme designed to enable a circular economy for plastics. The project involves 80% of the brands producing plastic packaging for UK supermarkets. Its signatories include Unilever, Nestlé and Coca-Cola, who have committed to recycling 100% of their packaging by 2025. Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco have also signed up to the agreement.

Unilever, Nestlé and Coca-Cola have committed to recycling 100% of their packaging by 2025

Recycling is cool

As the market becomes hyper-segmented and consumer choices increasingly emotion-driven, sustainable packaging is a means of sharing a brand’s eco-conscious nature. Brands are thus able to interpret and partially address some of their target consumer’s concerns. Recycling can lend an air of coolness to a brand, making it a staple in the creative process. A good example is Ecobirdy, the Dutch start-up which turns used plastic toys into designer children’s furniture.

Nothing is destroyed, everything is recycled

The big brands’ stance now extends beyond the use of organic packaging to include an authentic “reuse supply chain”. Brands are forming part of an ecosystem in which nothing is destroyed and everything is reused. Requiring co-operation between the companies involved, this approach entails a collaboration that becomes an appealing factor and element for storytelling.

The product range is extended to expand the reuse supply chain, as in the case of Sony and Auria’s Fashion Unplugged travel accessories line. The collection reuses earphone wires, turning them into fashion details for bags and accessories.

Brands are forming part of an ecosystem in which nothing is destroyed and everything is reused
Francesco Buschi
Strategy Director

4 Tips for brands wishing to actively commit to sustainability

1. Telling a story

Storytelling should explain how waste materials, such as plastics collected from the oceans, have been reused. This form of verbal and visual narration conveys a broader message of sustainability. In this respect G-Star is exemplary, the clothing brand whose Raw range uses plastic waste from the seas and tells a positive story with two exceptional spokespeople: Pharrell Williams and the brand’s iconic octopus logo.

2. Constant innovation

Innovative approaches to sustainably are really proving their worth. Both Corona and Carlsberg have done away with the plastic rings used hold their beers cans together, replacing them bio-compatible alternatives. P&G partnered with Terracycle, the US recycling specialist, to produce the first “Head and Shoulders” shampoo bottles made with plastic from the oceans.

3. Recycling Design

Sustainability can also serve to boost a product’s appeal. It is goodbye to stereotypical eco-codes and hello to designs featuring bright colours, contemporary graphics and recycled materials. If handled well, eco-compatibility may become a source of premiumness. In March, L’Oréal launched Seed Phytonutrients, its range of eco-sustainable beauty products. The bottles contain 60% less plastic than standard packaging, with the outer layer made from compostable, waterproof recycled paper, and the inner layer from recycled food-grade plastic.

4. Talking

Companies should keep in touch with consumers by using packaging as channels of communication, encouraging positive, sustainable actions such as saving water or improving recycling practices. This appeals to consumers’ desire for brands which can play a significant role in their lives. With its claim “The world’s best coffees, in a way that’s best for the world”, the UK start-up Halo produces premium coffee using biodegradable capsules: proof that practicality and the sustainability can go hand in hand. Made from sugar cane and paper pulp, the capsules break down completely in 90 days without the need for industrial composting.