A plastic-free world
Plastic has dominated single-use packaging in food and beverage, personal retail and many other consumer segments, largely due to its durability, adaptability and low production costs. This is despite its non-biodegradable composition.
However, this usage has taken centre stage over the past few years in the global sphere of eco-politics. This is largely due to the media portrayal of the consumer’s impact on the world’s oceans and wildlife – think David Attenborough and his rueful exposé of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.
The significant turning point was in 2018, when China, the dominant importer of waste plastic, decided to place a ban on the re-treatment and re-purposing of the material, forcing global stakeholders to think differently about raw materials and recycling practices.
In addition, social media’s ability to rapidly transmit imagery and political messaging has only served to spread and highlight the distressing visual impact of the world’s plastic waste, stimulating clear and defiant responses from individuals, corporations and governments alike.
There is no doubt that consumer patterns are evolving; a Euromonitor1 survey uncovered a clear trend that customers are not only minded to prefer products with sustainable packaging, but are increasingly willing to pay a premium for them.
A further survey undertaken by OnePoll, conducting research on behalf of TIPA Corporation, indicated that 70% of consumers would be more likely to shop with a brand that offers compostable packaging2.
As a result, even the biggest and most powerful corporations are being forced to alter their behaviours to accommodate the ecological requirements of today’s consumer.
Indeed, Procter & Gamble introduced a recyclable shampoo bottle made from reclaimed beach plastic, and Unilever and L’Oréal have both pledged to use 100% recyclable, reusable and reduce its plastic waste output by 16,000 tonnes4.
For those UK corporations requiring a harder push to stimulate reform, the Chancellor suggested in the most recent budget that the Treasury would consult on plans to impose a new tax on the manufacture and import of plastic packaging which contains less than 30% recycled plastic5. In addition, the government has pledged to find €22.4m of new funding to support innovation in the development of plastic alternatives, €11.2m for plastics R&D and €11.2m to develop innovative approaches to boosting recycling and reducing litter6.
Ultimately, however, the UK public still believes that they are the most responsible for reducing plastic waste, followed in second place by retailers and in third place by the government7.
So, what does all this mean for UK consumer-facing businesses?
In short, by failing to respond to the growing voice to find sustainable packaging alternatives, companies will, at best, face increased taxes for the use of unsustainable materials, or, at worst, face a significant migration of customers to eco-friendlier competitors, who are likely to command a premium on the sale of responsibly sourced and packaged goods.
1: Top 10 Global Consumer Trends, Euromonitor International
4: Top 10 Global Consumer Trends, Euromonitor International