Happy World Ocean Day
On World Ocean Day 2022, it’s important to reflect on what we can all do, as businesses and as individuals, to protect our environment and our blue planet.
For some time, World Ocean Day’s conservation action focus is to protect at least 30% of our lands, waters and ocean by 2030 – 30x30. 30x30 is not just an arbitrary target, the science speaks for itself. When looking at the economic and financial implications of protecting 30% of our planet (land and sea), the benefits outweigh the costs by over 5-to-1. Nature conservation not only drives economic growth and contributes to a sustainable global economy, but the projected benefits apply to all sectors, including nature/protected areas, agriculture, fisheries and forestry, making it a no-brainer.
Currently, less than 17% of land and a measly 8% of the ocean worldwide is protected, so there’s a long way to go. But the good news is, more than 90 countries have already committed to the 30x30 movement, and momentum is growing.
Since COP26 happened on our doorstep in the UK last year, I for one believe climate change and the health of our planet has become a much bigger part of everyday decision-making and discussions, both personally and professionally.
While COP26 wasn’t the ‘tsunami of change’ we were perhaps expecting, it was an incredibly important first step, setting the foundations for action and uniting governments and business leaders for the first time, which is a huge positive. Now, we need to keep up the pressure to maintain this long-awaited momentum.
So, what does this all mean for the packaging industry? Last year on World Ocean Day, we shared some pretty staggering statistics on the sheer extent of pollution in our oceans, which is almost impossible to visualise (the Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone covers 1 million square miles!).
Recent updates unfortunately don’t show a much brighter picture, but then again, we can’t expect these things to change overnight. One study by Kyushu University in Japan in March 2022 has found via a simulation of 50-years’ worth of plastic movement and degradation that an estimated two thirds of ocean plastics are outside the reach of current monitoring methods. This means that even though the estimated figures we see published on ocean plastic are colossal, it’s just the tip of the iceberg!
"So, with the amount of ocean pollution already inconceivably huge, what can we really do from a packaging perspective to make a difference?" Gillian Orr
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I strongly believe that together we can make a difference. With economic pressures and the value of waste being higher than ever before, a combination of regulation, innovation and collaboration is the first step to tackling ocean waste and working towards a truly circular economy.
Although it seems a daunting prospect, we must start somewhere, and the good news is global packaging regulation is accelerating and catching up to help focus strategic action in the right direction.
While plastics have an irrefutable place in packaging (and in many cases, are actually the most sustainable packaging solution), they do consistently make up 60-90% of ocean debris when studied, showing that we must be more responsible with plastics at the end-of-life stage. Ever-increasing regulation on Single Use Plastics is rightfully focused on tackling the problematic plastics and ‘main offenders’ when it comes to ocean pollution, that can either be reduced or replaced with more sustainable options.
Introducing Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) can also make a huge difference towards a closed-loop model for bottles and cans. DRS schemes are common across many European markets, and the UK is set to introduce DRS by 2024 (Scotland in 2023). Studies show established DRS schemes consistently achieve collection rates of over 90%, all plastics that could have otherwise ended up as litter or in our oceans. With plastic bottles alone accounting for nearly 12% of ocean pollution, DRS is a great first step to ensuring a circular approach.
Finally, the importance of clear and consistent communication cannot be underestimated. Adding end of life disposal instructions to packaging is the first step to ensuring everything that can be recycled, is recycled. Increasing regulation on end of life coupled with brands & retailers’ commitments to communication of disposal information on pack is critical to ensure consumers are informed and can act responsibly.
Along with regulation, strategic initiatives and innovation can also support regulation to give holistic sustainable packaging solutions. In recent years, we’ve seen many brands launch products made from 100% Ocean Plastic, which is admirable and certainly not a small logistical undertaking. However, we must make sure we focus on prevention as well as mitigation and collection of existing plastic waste.
From what we have seen, backing, collaboration and investment from large players is increasing when it comes to sustainable packaging innovation, with more and more challenging the norm, which is extremely encouraging. We saw this first hand at the Sustainable Food & Drink Conference last month in London, where it was inspiring to see so many players in the industry united towards shared goals and brands and retailers took to the stage, launching sustainable packaging initiatives to work towards a zero-waste future.
"One great example of this innovation in action is tethered screw caps presented by A.G. Barr and Coca-Cola, ensuring the cap remains with the bottle throughout the bottle’s life cycle and making sure cap and bottle are recycled (or returned) together. With bottle caps said to account for up to 8% of ocean plastic waste, this is no small achievement!" Gillian Orr
We all have a duty to be more responsible with our waste and do our part for the planet as individuals, and as an industry, be responsible with our decisions and advice. At Sun Strategy, we look at waste reduction and prevention from all angles: time, cost, efficiencies, but also physical packaging waste such as that amassing in our oceans.
Through consultancy and our software platform, e-halo, we look beyond perception and facilitate decision making and responsible choices through transparent packaging data, finding the net most sustainable solutions for our clients.
To find out more, please watch the video below or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are you going to do to make a difference? We need to see a marked improvement, and quickly. Here in the UK we are an island surrounded by glorious seas full of life and we need to keep it that way, it's not too late.
Happy World Ocean Day!
To sign the 30x30 petition – please click here https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WOD30x30
To do your part, you can also visit the World Ocean Day website to see what conservation events and activities are happening near you https://worldoceanday.org/events-calendar/map/
About the author
Gillian Orr – Lead Sustainability Consultant
Gill is a lead consultant, dedicated to providing clients with sustainable packaging strategy, process mapping / improvement and decoding the complex arena of global packaging regulation. She has experience across FMCG, food service and branded clients globally, implementing teams, processes and strategies to drive efficiency while ensuring transparency and integrity of packaging data through technology. Her solution-led, detail-oriented and collaborative approach ensures our clients receive the best possible advice to meet their sustainability targets and reduce waste - in all senses of the word.
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