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Plastics

And The Corporate Response

CORPORATE ACTION: Amazon

Bursting Amazon’s Bubbles

Amazon has been criticized for years for wasteful packaging, and it claims to be working hard on the issue. In February 2019, Amazon told the LA Times that it has reduced packaging waste by more than 20% globally in 2018.

But not all efforts have worked well. A recent move to use more plastic mailers in place of cardboard boxes brought an angry response from environmentalists and caused some recycling plant to seize since the mailers can’t be recycled in curbside recycling bins. 

Amazon introduced the same mailers in the UK and ran into similar difficulties. It acknowledges its Prime branded envelopes are not widely recycled and refers users to Recycle Now for guidance, but Recycle Now doesn’t mention them.

The use of hard-to-recycle packaging is widely seen as Amazon pushing the recycling problem onto consumers, who object. 

Amazon is one of the few Fortune 500 companies not to file a corporate social responsibility or sustainability report, but it has made commitments to the New Plastic Economy. As part of this, it endorsed a common vision for a circular economy for plastics, which includes this requirement:

All plastic packaging is reused, recycled, or composted in practice:

a. No plastics should end up in the environment. Landfill, incineration, and waste-to-energy are not part of the circular economy target state.

b. Businesses producing and/or selling packaging have a responsibility beyond the design and use of their packaging, which includes contributing towards it being collected and reused, recycled, or composted in practice.

And in August 2019, Amazon told the Guardian: “…We work with manufacturers worldwide to continuously improve packaging design and introduce new, sustainable packaging that delights customers, eliminates waste, and ensures products arrive intact and undamaged for our customers” (our emphasis)

Meanwhile, and despite these laudable words, Amazon continues to use a massive amount of plastic in its packaging, which can’t delight anyone. 

In a recent test in the UK, we ordered five items from Amazon Pantry – two relatively bulky and three fairly small. The contents took up 25% of the box with the remaining space filled with 18 meters of bubble packaging! (See images.). That’s an impressive 3.6 meters per item and nearly one meter of packaging for each £ spent.

Amazon fails each of the Reduce, Recycle, Reuse tests:
  • Reduce: it failed to select a smaller box
  • Reuse: it pushes this onto the consumer, but what scope is there for a consumer to reuse this amount of bubble wrap? We had to deflate it (by puncturing each bubble) to make it manageable
  • Recycle: This can’t be recycled curbside so required a trip to the council recycling center, all to deposit the 141 grams deadweight of plastic. Again, this is Amazon putting the onus onto the consumer
We posted this excessive use of plastic on Twitter - #AmazonLovesPlastic – and put the call out to see if anyone can beat such wasteful use. We bet they can![Image Credit: © Business360]

CORPORATE ACTION: Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola Joins PepsiCo And Other Companies In Dropping Out Of Plastics Lobbying Group

CNBC reports that both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, faced with strong consumer pressure over plastic pollution, are cutting ties this year with the Plastics Industry Association, which has lobbied for states to prohibit plastic bans across the country. Other companies that have terminated their memberships in the organization that represents plastic manufacturers include Clorox, Becton Dickinson, and Ecolab.  “We withdrew earlier this year as a result of positions the organization was taking that were not fully consistent with our commitments and goals,” a Coca-Cola spokesperson told CNBC. Nevertheless, CNBC reports, the same companies for years have fought against legislation known as “bottle bills,” which require deposits to be paid on beverages sold in recyclable bottles and cans.[Image Credit: © Emilian Robert Vicol from Pixabay]

CORPORATE ACTION: Henkel

Henkel Shares Easyd4r, A Software Tool For Evaluating Recyclability Of Packaging

Henkel is making available for download a tool it developed to quickly assess the recyclability of packaging. It’s intended to be used during the early stages of packaging development and help guide developers to more sustainable solutions. It holds data about packaging material drawn from Plastics Recyclers Europe and Henkel says it’s used throughout the company.  Independent tests by Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT affirmed the tool’s accuracy. Henkel says it’s been well received and German drugstore chain dm-drogerie markt has set EasyD4R as a standard for all its suppliers. It can be downloaded here: https://www.henkel.com/sustainability/sustainable-packaging/easyd4r[Image Credit: © Henkel AG & Co. KGaA]

CORPORATE ACTION: Lidl

Lidl Introduces Reusable Bags For Fruit And Vegetables


To help prevent use of flimsy disposable plastic bags used to hold fruit and vegetables, Lidl has introduced reusable bags that cost 69p (~$1) for two. It claims to be the first supermarket in the UK to introduce such bags. The effort is part of Lidl’s plan to reduce plastic packaging by 20% by 2022. The move follows similar action by other retailers such as Morrisons and Sainsbury’s that have removed plastic bags for loose fruit and vegetables, encouraging consumers to use their own bags.[Image Credit: © Lidl Great Britain Limited]

CORPORATE ACTION: Procter & Gamble

P&G Rethinking Brands Around Power Of Purpose

In April, P&G announced its “Ambition 2030” goals that would “enable and inspire positive impact on the environment and society.” As part of this effort, the company set out its “Brand 2030” criteria that outline actions brands can take to become a “force for good and force for growth.” In an August interview with Forbes, P&G's Chief Sustainability Officer Virginie Helias, gave some details, saying the process starts with the brand defining its specific ambition: “What is their social or environmental commitment that they are going to choose? It needs to be measurable, it needs to authentically fit with the brand equity so there is no ‘greenwashing,’ and it needs to be brought to life with tangible acts.”

Actions are built around this brand ambition, with innovation to change packaging, communication to promote responsible consumption and reductions in the environmental impact across the supply chain. Helias gives Herbal Essences as an example. It defined its ambition as ‘enabling people to experience the positive power of nature and protect biodiversity,’ which guided the brand to secure a partnership with and endorsement from Kew Botanical Gardens, a global authority on plants. In another illustration, Head & Shoulders built a bottle from recycled beach plastic, a move that inspired even sustainability skeptics and caused the brand to change its equity color from white to gray to reflect the color of recycled plastic. Helias says this was a “brilliant, consumer-friendly idea and people wanted to be part of this, making it exciting and cool."[Image Credit: © Procter & Gamble]

CORPORATE ACTION: Unilever

Unilever’s Magnum Ice Cream Launches Some Plastic Jars Made With Recycled Plastic

Magnum said it would be the first ice cream brand to use recycled polypropylene plastic for its packaging. In a limited trial it will launch 600,000 new Magnum jars in Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands, then release over 3 million in 2020 as it goes worldwide. Recycled polypropylene (rPP) has been used before for beauty and hygiene care applications but not for food packaging. To develop a solution, Unilever has worked with chemicals company SABIC since early 2018. Unilever did not indicate the percentage of plastic that is recycled, but acknowledged it uses a ‘mass balancing’ approach. It proclaimed the effort as part of its plan to ensure that by 2025 25% of plastic used in its packaging is recycled.[Image Credit: © Unilever]

Unilever Looks At Reuse-Refill Options

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that about 95% of the value of plastic packaging is lost after one use, and that replacing just 20% of single-use plastic packaging with reusable alternatives is worth over $10 billion.  As part of its efforts to reduce plastic use and potentially capture some of that opportunity, Unilever is looking at reuse-refill options. It highlights five examples it’s currently running: Cif Ecorefill bottle, Loop products, Algramo Van, Refillery at Marks & Spencer’s and 3L omo bottles stand.

The company emphasizes that success is very dependent on consumers changing their behavior, a factor it can’t control. Some solutions, such as a dispensing machine in a store, require consumers to wash containers and take them to stores for refilling. A solution using more concentrated product requires educating consumers that less is better, or that having to add water doesn’t reduce the effectiveness of the product. Unilever says it is committed to keep experimenting to see which solutions work, and that most likely, progress will be made by using a range of different solutions and innovations. [Image Credit: © Unilever]

CORPORATE ACTION: Other

Kimberly-Clark Outlines Its Efforts To Reduce Plastics Use

Kimberly-Clark’s global sustainability lead for products and packaging, Daniel Locke, discussed the company’s Sustainability 2022 strategy, launched in 2016. The goals included diverting 150,000 metric tonnes of waste materials from landfill by recycling or upcycling, without specifying composition of the waste. Locke said that the company used to focus on packaging efficiency and light-weighting but, although that remains a laudable aim, it is moving to making it more recyclable, degradable or reusable. The company has not yet issued a specific “multi-pronged plastics strategy”, but it has created a dedicated UK Plastics Pact team in the UK, tasked with finding non-recyclable packaging and developing formats that are lightweight and made from recyclable plastics or alternative materials. In the UK, it’s scaling its ‘RightCycle’ scheme, launched in the US in 2011, that enables business clients to recycle disposable hygiene products, such as gloves and shoe covers, into inflexible plastic items, like plant pots. The effort to improve recyclability is being matched by on-pack messaging to help consumers better recycle. But, Locke argues, recyclability isn’t enough, and a circular economy will also need other options, such as refills and reuse. It recently launched its first refillable product, for its Huggies wet wipes. [Image Credit: © Shirley Hirst from Pixabay]

Sainsbury’s To Remove Hard-To-Recycle Black Plastic Trays From The Chiller Cabinets

The UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s said it will be first among retailers to eliminate the black plastic trays often used for chilled ready meals, in favour of a recyclable tray made from natural CPET. Sainsbury’s says the move, to be completed by November 2019, will reduce the volume of hard-to-recycle plastic by over 1,000 metric tonnes a year. Earlier in the same week, the company announced a trial to take away the single use plastic bags for loose fruit and vegetable, and replace them with reusable drawstring bags.[Image Credit: © J Sainsbury plc]

CAMPAIGNS, COMMITMENTS & NGOs

UK Supermarket Chain Asda Stops Plastic Bags For Online Orders

The Asda supermarket chain in the UK will no longer use single-use plastic bags for online orders, eliminating some 85 million each year. The scheme has been trialed in the South-West of England and at its Dartford Home Shopping Centre, and will now be rolled out nationally from the end of July. The delivery drivers will instead offer to unload the shopping for home delivery customers and put it in a convenient place. Fresh meat and fish will still require small plastic bags. The chain stopped offering single-use bags in-store last year.[Image Credit: © ASDA]

CONSUMER & PUBLIC OPINION

Survey Shows UK Consumers Have Poor Understanding Of Film Recycling

A survey of over 1,000 consumers in the UK by bpi protect, a manufacturer of plain and printed flexible packaging, found that just half were aware that plastic film could be recycled. Recycling plastic film is possible but somewhat problematic and needs special processing. Although 47% thought it could be recycled at their council recycling centre, only one in 10 local authorities actually recycle plastic film and only 18% recycle carrier bags. Yet 93% said they would like to be able to recycle plastic films more easily. The survey highlighted general confusion about which plastics can be recycled and how, and which can’t. It also surfaced the importance of packaging in consumer choice, with over half saying they’d prefer to purchase a product with recyclable or with recycled content over one that didn’t.[Image Credit: © RPC bpi group]

A Push To Avoid Vague Environmental Terms Like ‘Biodegradable’

Language around plastics is getting tighter and retailers and suppliers may find themselves on the back foot. In an opinion piece in Grocer, Karen Bird rails against brands that describe packaging as ‘degradable’ or ‘biodegradable’ when such plastics do not fully degrade but pollute with long-lasting microplastics. She calls for precision in labeling to better inform rather than confuse consumers, saying that it is “irresponsible to use equivocal language.” A shift to clearer langue on plastics would reflect broader developments in the description of environmental and climate concerns. For example, in May, The Guardian updated its style guide, pointing to a range of scientific and professional commentary that suggests previous terms are inadequate or misleading. The media company will switch ‘climate change’ for ‘climate crisis’ and ‘global warming’ for ‘global heating’. [Image Credit: © meineresterampe from Pixabay.com]

MARKET NEWS

Ireland Aims To Be The First EU Member To Ban Microbeads In Cleaners

New legislation introduced in Ireland’s lower house, the Dáil, means the country will, if the bill is passed, be the first in the EU to ban the use of plastic microbeads in household and industrial cleaners. The Microbeads Prohibition Bill would make it an offence to produce or sell such products, mostly used in soaps, shower gels and facial scrubs. They can also be found in some toothpaste and abrasive cleaners. It will include products that are rinsed or washed off down a drain but excludes “leave-on” or “wear-off” products. The bill will pass to committee stage to discuss amendments.[Image Credit: © ID 955169 from Pixabay.com]

POLICY, REGULATION & LEGAL

Proposed Legislation In California Addresses Public Concern But Meets Industry Resistance

Three proposed pieces of legislation in California seek to support the state’s struggling recycling industry and shift pressure to manufacturers that use plastic. Recyclers are battling with the consequences of China’s decision to restrict imports of unsorted paper and certain plastics, which has caused oversupply of recyclable material and lowered the price of recycled materials in the US. Also, low gas prices mean plastic is relatively cheap to produce and reduced California State subsidies mean recycling is becoming uneconomic. In one illustration of the difficulties the industry faces, rePlanet, a large collector of beverage bottles and cans, announced it would close its 284 collection centers in California, due to deteriorating economics.

Two of the proposed bills would require manufacturers to reduce waste from packaging as well as certain plastic products, while the third would require manufacturers to progressively boost minimum recycled content in plastic beverage bottles over the next decade or face substantial penalties that rise with how much they miss the target. 

Industry groups, including the American Beverage Association, the American Chemistry Council, and the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association, are working to oppose or change the legislation, raising concerns about the impact on consumers of plastic bans or excessively restrictive regulation. 

Public opinion looks to be on the side of stricter rules. A survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found 72% of Californians see plastics and marine debris as a big problem on their nearest beaches.[Image Credit: © rePlanet, LLC]

UK Government Teams Up With Businesses To Seek Alternative Plastic Options


As part of the UK's Clean Growth Challenge, a joint initiative between the UK government and private business aims to invest some GBP200 million in research into alternative packaging options to help cut single-use plastic packaging. The government’s contribution is GBP60 million. The expectation is that plant-based options will replace oil-based plastics. Companies signed up to the effort include Unilever and Sainsbury’s. [Image Credit: © vedat zorluer from Pixabay]

INNOVATION & TECHNOLOGY

Seeing Plastic As An Asset, Managed By Blockchain, Could Help Solve The Plastic Problem

In a blog post from INSEAD, the authors argue that it’s still early days in the use of blockchain in the war against plastic waste and the environmental and financial costs that entails. Raising public awareness has been a start, but the solution will require a shift in consumer behavior as well as significant resources and collaboration to speed joined up innovation from a range of stakeholders. It will also require a change in perception, seeing plastic packaging as an asset rather than trash, and a market framework to manage the assets. This, the authors argue, could be based on “crypto-credits or blockchain tokens”. The technology is being developed. Plastic Bank, a Canadian company, has established schemes in a number of developing and emerging countries that enable people to drop plastic waste at a collection center in exchange for credits on a blockchain-based app. Dutch start-up Circularise has developed a blockchain platform to accurately price recycled material and identify how many time it has been recycled. Enabling technologies like RFID and NTFS will be important to help trace materials through their journeys, and blockchain can provide a way to create a “material passport” that tracks the journey and stores information about the material. The limiting factor at the moment is the current “near-zero value” of plastic packaging, which could be addressed, for example, by adopting something like the deposit-return scheme model, adding a small surcharge to the price of a product, to be redeemed when the packaging is returned[Image Credit: © pasja1000 from Pixabay]
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