UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced the 25 year Environmental Plan at the start of the year. It aimed to provide cleaner, greener country. With a revised focus on environmentally friendly and sustainable options, how have the manufacturing industry, retailers and customers adapted to the new requirements six months on? Here, Miguel Campos, export sales manager at aluminium packaging manufacturer, Advanta, investigates.
A key objective of the plan saw the commitment to achieving zero avoidable waste by 2050. It outlines that, “Dealing with waste and pollution costs businesses and householders millions of pounds each year and causes significant environmental and wildlife damage."
A key contributing factor to the waste levels is plastic pollution, and as part of the Environmental Plan, the government intended to eliminate all plastic waste by the end of 2042. In addition, just a few days after the launch of the UK Plan, the EU announced its own plastics strategy that aims to ensure that every piece of packaging is reusable or recyclable by 2030.
Initiatives like the five pence plastic bag tax have already begun to make strides towards reducing plastic waste. However, it will take a holistic approach, from manufacturer right through to consumer, to reduce the plastic packaging that reaches landfill as effectively as possible.
Manufacturers have started to take more responsibility for the environmental impact of their products and have looked to minimise their use of unrecyclable or unsustainable materials.
By selecting materials that are environmentally friendly like aluminium, recycled paper, cardboard or even bio-plastics that have been made from plant starch, it has meant many non-biodegradable plastics haven't even entered the consumer stream.
Instead, bio-plastics have been opted for, with many of the same characteristics as conventional plastics, but renewable and compostable within 12 weeks. Alternatively, aluminium is endlessly recyclable and economically beneficial in terms of scrap value, so has also been promoted an effective alternative.
One section of the Government's Environmental Plan is to work with retailers to explore introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles in which all the food is loose. Some retailers, like Marks and Spencer, have launched projects to reduce the size of the plastic packaging of their best-selling products.
Since the launch of the Environmental Plan, McDonald’s has also announced aims for fully sustainable packaging by 2025, while UK supermarket, Iceland, has vowed to eliminate plastic on all own-branded products within five years. Richard Walker, Iceland's managing director has said, “The onus is on retailers, as leading contributors to plastic packaging pollution and waste, to take a stand and deliver meaningful change”.
Other supermarkets have followed suit rapidly. Tesco set its deadline to 2025, aiming to make all its packaging fully recyclable or compostable by this time.
Asda is taking the collaborative approach, joining forces with the UK's leading academic knowledge base on packaging, The Retail Institute at Leeds Beckett University. Like Tesco, Asda plans to make all its own brand packaging 100% recyclable by 2025 as part of its Plastic Unwrapped initiative.
All the key retailers are making bold plans to reduce non-recyclable food packaging, and now, it is time for packaging suppliers to be flexible and capable enough to react. One million tonnes of waste of plastic may be generated annually by supermarkets currently, but this figure is set to reduce drastically due to impressive collaboration taking place across local authorities, retailers and suppliers.