Help the Planet and Your Brand!
Plastic has recently become a hugely emotive issue in the UK, with high-profile TV programmes like Blue Planet exposing its detrimental impact on the oceans.
But it’s significantly worse than that.
Not only is just a tiny fraction actually recycled (less than 1% of all PVC used in the US each year), but plastic is also made from carbon which typically comes from oil, a fossil fuel with its own environmental issues.
Plastic is an issue that is not going to go-away and brand owners would do well to act proactively, rather than being forced into a reactive response by either legislative or consumer pressure.
The Challenge is to Act Fast!
The majority of UK retailers have signed up to a ‘plastic pact’ with an ambition that 100% of plastic packaging should be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
Now is the time to investigate alternatives and research them with consumers.
It is Feasible!
Some Astonishing Alternatives
We recognise that a biomaterial that makes a perfect packaging solution for lentils, may be utterly inappropriate for bleach, baked beans or biscuits, so we did a bit of digging.
What we discovered surprised and impressed us with the art of the possible.
If you are willing to go beyond the obvious, some astonishing materials offer hope for a post-petrochemical plastic world!
Chicken feather-based plastics (yes really). This is a doubly good idea because currently nearly 2bn kgs of feathers are disposed of in landfill in the US each year. The feathers are composed almost entirely of keratin a tough protein that can give strength and durability to plastic.
Shrimp Shell Plastic
The natural polymer derived from the shells of shrimp is called chitosan, a form of chitin, and is the second most abundant material on Earth. The most available chitin comes from discarded shrimp shells, although this long-chain polysaccharide can also be found in other crustaceans, fungal cells, and butterfly wings. In fact, just 1 kilogram (2 lb) of shells can yield 15 biodegradable bags. The resulting polymer is biodegradable, has antibacterial properties, and makes use of otherwise wasted materials
By culturing fungi in different ways a vast array of materials like leather, rubber, plastic and cork can ‘germinate’ like a plant. This is because fungi contains many different filaments which grow from a core. When fungus grows with wood pulp, for example, it decomposes the wood while simultaneously gluing the pulp together. The result is a composite which is held together naturally. Then by baking at a precise temperature the microorganisms are deactivated while the structure itself is solidified.
100% Recyclable PET
A leading PET manufacturer, a spinoff from the Eindhoven University of Technology and Unilever have created a technology that takes non-recycled PET waste – like coloured bottles – and breaks it down to the molecular level. The process separates the colour and other contaminants from the base PET molecules and allows them to be converted back into virgin, food-grade PET.
Leveraging Planet-Friendly Technology
Hopefully we haven’t caused your packaging technologists to have a panic attack!
It’s pretty clear that the only limitations will be imagination, materials stability and the willingness of consumers to back their ethical position with their cash.
Which brings us to an interesting challenge. Can eco-friendly packaging be used to add-value into your brand proposition – or will it always be an add-on cost?
The Art of the Possible
Ecover’s Ocean Plastic Bottle
Ecover created its first bottle including 10% recovered ocean plastic in 2012. Since then they have gradually increased the percentage to 50% with the balance being made from other recycled plastics.
Whilst the pack is only a limited edition and is currently sold in relatively small volumes through Tesco in the UK, it has been a huge publicity success for them – and contributes a vital element to the brand’s storytelling.
L’Oreal’s Seed Phytonutrients
L’Oréal is launching Seed Phytonutrients in the USA, a sustainable beauty brand with some of its key SKUs in paper packaging.
The paper bottles still need a plastic liner, but it’s 95% thinner than conventional bottles and collapses during use. The paper bottle itself is made using post-consumer paper too.
Problem or Opportunity?
No longer is plastics pollution just a concern for fringe, lobbying eco-groups. 25% of UK consumers expressed ‘extreme concern’ about plastic packaging in grocery channels in a survey earlier this year.
42% believed food and drink manufacturers should ensure their packaging was fully recyclable. But 21% went further and asserted the industry should opt for entirely petro-chemical plastic-free packs!
Plastic waste reduction and plastic-free packs are bound to add cost, but they have the potential to ‘make or break’ the reputation of major food, drink and retail brands depending on how creatively they address the challenge.
So, are you going to sit back and let the problem come to you, or explore with us how you could turn it to your advantage?