Banging the drum on sustainability

* 3 min read
Our resident Packaging Technology Director Gillian Garside-Wight shares her thoughts on where plastic sits in a sustainable future.

Since the airing of Blue Planet II in November 2017 we have seen so much in the press about packaging, and specifically plastic packaging and the damage it can cause when not disposed of responsibly. I cannot, and will not demonise plastic, as it provides us with the means to protect and preserve the products we need and helps us to reduce food waste which can create wider environmental issues. With all that said, there is much still to do and we, the packaging industry, must work together to find viable solutions.

There are some consumers who want to live ‘plastic-free’ lives and there are retailers who aim to provide ‘plastic-free’ products, but is this possible? And more importantly, is this the most sustainable solution for our planet?

There are no quick and simple answers to these questions. Every product is different and needs to be assessed and specific packaging developed to meet consumer expectations and product requirements. However, in very simple terms, we have to work together to:

  1. Eliminate / reduce single-use packaging
  2. Design / develop for ‘sustainability’ (the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance)
  3. Recycle more
  4. Promote re-use
  5. Educate consumers

IMG 2779 min

APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) Plastic Waste chaired by Anne Main MP shown here (second from the left) with Nikki Dixon from ASDA and our very own Gillian Garside-Wight. 

I was fortunate to be invited to an All-Party Parliamentary Group on 4th June 2018 in Westminster on plastic waste and it was encouraging to hear ASDA discuss their challenging but responsible manifesto and their commitment to Use Less, Recycle More and Sustainably Source. After much discussion there were four main points that were posed and debated:

  • Eliminate unnecessary packaging and quickly
  • Retailers to collaborate and work with local councils to standardise kerb-side collections
  • Retailers to clearly and consistently label their packaging with recyclability / sustainability messages
  • Educate consumers on:
    • compostable and biodegradable packaging
    • recyclability (of different types of materials, eg glass, plastics, cardboard, metals, etc)
    • why plastic can actually be the right/best choice in some circumstances

There is no denying that retailers hold a lot of the power but they alone cannot change the whole process and the infrastructure needed to avoid further damage to our planet. We all have a role to play and I believe it has to start with Government and legislative enforcement. I don’t say this lightly as the impact will be far reaching and at the end of the day will likely cost us more (as consumers), but that said, it’s the right thing to do.

We have created a world of convenience beyond the imagination of our grandparents and although this delivers advantages it comes at a cost. The last thing we should do is make life harder than it already is so together we need to develop responsible packaging solutions which are easy to recycle and reduce, or ideally eliminate, causing damage to our planet.

As I said at the start, there is no quick and easy solution to this complex area but, one thing is for sure, we all must do more, starting today.