In part four of The Big Questions series, imagining the future of the food and beverage industry, we ask whether plastic packaging could ever disappear
Plastic. It’s the miracle material that’s transformed modern life. It’s the flexible fabric of our time, found in everything from packaging to planes. All over the world, we depend on it. But now we’re at risk of drowning in it with more than eight million tons of plastic becoming ocean waste every year. It’s this startling reality that’s triggered a global backlash against plastic and left many asking, could plastic packaging become a thing of the past?
Plastic waste is a very visible problem that’s caught the world’s attention. Consumers have spoken out and are looking to governments, organisations and communities to act. While many types of plastic are viable for recycling, it’s thought just 9% of the world’s plastic is currently recycled, meaning there’s some work to be done in making recycling systems more accessible and effective.
A key issue is how to activate and incentivise consumers. As well as producing fully recyclable carton packaging, SIG is committed to increase recycling of all packaging, including plastic. In the Brazilian city of Curitiba, for example, SIG is part of a creative initiative with social enterprise SO+MA House that offers rewards for recycling.
People simply exchange waste packaging for reward points which they can use to pay for food and other essentials. With more initiatives like these, we can all support a stronger recycling infrastructure and help reduce plastic waste.
Making plastics better
While recycling may be more efficient in the future, a sticking point today is the 30% of plastics that cannot be recycled. Many are calling for an outright ban on plastics, while others are looking to innovation for the answer. As a result of this, more and more companies are turning to bio-based plastics – reinventing plastics to make them more renewable, recyclable and biodegradable.
Many alternatives use starch or protein from plants like sugarcane to generate the basic hydrocarbon materials needed to create plastics. SIG employs a similar process for its SIGNATURE PACK – a carton structure that’s 100% linked to plant-based renewable materials and made possible via mass balancing.
To produce the plastics used in SIGNATURE PACK, a plant-based biomaterial is used as the renewable feedstock instead of fossil resources. This material is tall oil, which is a by-product of paper production; a waste material rather than an agricultural crop requiring land and resources to grow. With bio-based solutions like these, a whole new era of ‘good’ plastics is on the horizon.
A plastic-free future
For consumers, imagining a plastic-free future might be easy but realising this vision requires brands to offer widespread alternatives. According to research from Kantar, 42% of consumers think manufacturers should prioritise making all packaging recyclable, while 21% think the industry should work toward entirely plastic-free packaging – figures that look set to rise.
Many brands that use single-use plastics in their packaging are looking to all kinds of alternatives. As well as bio-based plastics, these include packaging made from mushrooms, seaweed and palm leaves, as well as air pillows made of recycled materials.
Paperboard made from wood is another natural and renewable option. It’s the main material in SIG’s carton packs, which are all Forest Stewardship CouncilTM certified (FSCTM trademark licence code: FSCTM C020428), recyclable and compatible for any disposal or recycling system.
With packaging options like these that reduce and replace the use of single-use plastics, brands will be well placed to thrive in a plastic-free world.
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