Earlier this year, it was reported that a dead Cuvier’s beaked whale was found with 40kg of plastic in its stomach, giving the public yet another snapshot into how non-recyclable, single-use materials are affecting the environment and ecosystems across the globe.
Despite the movement towards sustainable products, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation reports that only 14% of plastic packaging is recycled globally. It is a startling statistic that demonstrates how – despite the movement in many Western countries to abolish single-use items such as plastic straws, carrier bags and water bottles – there’s still an enormous amount of work to do, especially in emerging countries.
But companies are listening to the growing concerns of the public about recycling and sustainability and have committed to change. They are investing money and resources into developing circular packaging solutions that can be reused, whether as the same product or broken down into raw materials for another purpose.
Some global leading brands are advancing research and development into specialist recycling technology. Procter & Gamble, for example, has devised how to recycle polypropylene plastic via its PureCycle technology, allowing it to develop a high-quality plastic alternative. There is also Nestlé, the world’s largest packaged food company, which is aiming to move towards fully recyclable and reusable packaging across its lines by 2025. To achieve this, they’ve set up the Nestlé Institute of Packaging Sciences, a development lab based in Switzerland.
Looking at packaging manufacturing businesses, Amcor announced its pledge in January 2018 to move towards fully recyclable and reusable packaging by 2025; they are one of 11 global brands and retailers that have partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to reach fully sustainable goals in the next six years. Many other key global packaging businesses have followed suit, making similar commitments.
In March 2019, Mondi released a sustainability report that revealed the company has achieved 100% electricity self-sufficiency, with 64% of the fuel from renewable sources. Mondi signed the The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment in 2018 and is aiming to only use fully recyclable and reusable packaging by 2025.
Meanwhile, DS Smith has committed to nine long-term sustainability targets in their 2018 Sustainability Review. Focused on a number of strategies to address environmental concerns, including reducing carbon emissions and developing a recycling solution for the 2.5 billion coffee cups thrown away in the UK every year, it has also committed to fully recyclable and reusable packaging by 2025.
As consumers put increasing pressure on businesses and hold them accountable for environmental damage, it becomes crucial for these companies to develop innovative packaging solutions. As the World Economic Forum reports, this can ultimately lead to increased profits and be benefit businesses by creating competitive advantages in their industry; with improved packaging design in circular plastic use, the economic value of plastic packaging is increased by 50%.
Not only are consumers demanding that we move away from single-use materials, but there are long-term financial benefits for companies to invest in sustainable materials and design. So it’s no surprise that many global leading brands have stepped up and are committed to reducing their packaging waste to benefit both the environment and their public image.
The increased awareness and media campaigns around the challenges of recycling, single-use plastics and sustainability in packaging is having a major impact on recruiting within the sector too. Many businesses are being more cautious in these times; demand is decreasing in certain areas of packaging and so hiring is also reduced.
However, in other areas, business is strong and there are key hires to be made in the areas of sustainability, new product development and research and development to combat the challenges and strive for a better and more sustainable future ahead.
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