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And The Corporate Response


UK Retailers Are Trying Out A Wide Range Of Plastic Reduction Approaches

A review of UK retailer actions to abate plastic use shows considerable effort on various fronts. Here are summary points from leading retailers:

Sainsbury's currently uses nearly 120,000 tonnes of plastic packaging annually and after reducing plastic packaging by just 1% last year is seeking a more transformational approach. It pledges to reduce plastic packaging by 50% by 2025, including branded food packaging, own-brand food packaging, and packaging used by all of Sainsbury’s operations. It is looking at switching to replacement materials, using lighter packaging and introducing refills. The company has targeted plastic milk bottles, fruit and vegetable packaging, and packaging for carbonated drinks, water and fruit juices as key areas to focus on. It is, for example, looking at the feasibility of refillable milk bottles, returnable milk bottles, and a reusable milk jug with a lightweight plastic pouch. It is also seeking collaboration opportunities with manufacturers, packaging suppliers, ingredient scientists, other retailers, and waste management and recycling operators. 

Sainsbury’s has already (September 2019) removed lightweight loose produce bags and plastic trays from a number of vegetables and fruit. By the end of this year it will replace with recyclable alternatives fresh food black plastic trays fresh food black plastic trays, and by the end of 2020 will replace PVC and polystyrene trays, and plastic film on fruit and vegetables. It’s making available fresh water stands to allow customers to refill water bottles in 326 supermarket cafés, and shoppers are invited to take their own containers to meat and deli counters. It is testing in-store 'pre-cycle' areas that allow shoppers to deposit at the store plastic packaging before leaving.

It also announced a three-month trial in over 150 stores, selling fresh flowers in recyclable paper packaging rather than plastic sleeves, and using recyclable paper tape. In the coming weeks, it will stop using plastic bags in the bakery and fresh produce sections and for online grocery deliveries. 

Asda uses some 65,500 tonnes of plastic packaging each year. It has removed 6,500 tonnes of plastic from own-brand products over the past 12 months and has committed to moving to 100% recyclable packaging for all own-brand products by 2025.

It has been trialing a new coating on fresh produce that could double the shelf life, made from materials in seeds and fruit and veg pulp. It is also removing plastic wrapping from over 50 million greetings cards, inviting shoppers to take their own reusable fruit and vegetable bags to stores, and selling refillable cleaning products.

It said it would be the first supermarket to switch all of its own-brand fresh ready meals to 100% recyclable packaging. Over half of the range already uses recyclable plastic or foil trays. The new trays will be used for the remaining 97 products and are made from recycled materials. The ‘Evolve’ by Faerch trays, made from natural cPET, will be introduced from early November. 

Asda recently announced that it was replacing the packaging for its Extra Special Aberdeen Angus Steaks with recyclable cardboard trays. The company said that by removing black plastic trays across its Aberdeen Angus steak products it will avoid over 50 tonnes of plastic annually.

Morrisons uses around 100,000 tonnes of plastic packaging annually. It is promoting reusable containers and since last year, shoppers were able to bring containers to its meat and fish counters. It has also run a reuse and refill trial for pasta, seeds and frozen fruit, and has been focusing on offering unpackaged produce. It is offering paper bags to replace plastic ones, stopping the use of black plastic for own-brand packaging, and trialing reverse vending machines for plastic bottles at a handful of stores. Morrisons is also using a new front-of-pack labelling system that helps customers recycle more. Some products will have a ‘Recycle Me In Store’ logo, encouraging shoppers to bring back recyclable plastic packaging that isn’t typically collected kerbside, such as low-density polyethylene (LDPE) bags. Others will carry a ‘Please Recycle Me’ icon where the packaging can be recycled at home. The new labels will appear on 400 lines, but this will be expanded if the scheme proves successful. The initiative is a response to its own research that found around two thirds of customers are not sure if they can recycle some plastics.

Waitrose used 31,000 tonnes of plastic in 2018. It is already using reuse and refill schemes – a store in Oxford allows customers to refill their own containers with pasta, beer from a tap, and pick 'n' mix frozen fruit – and is rolling the scheme out to a small number of other stores. Other moves include removing black plastic from own label ranges, introducing colored packaging made from recycled plastic for ready meals, inviting customers to use their own containers at the meat, fish and cheese counter, and replacing single use fruit and vegetable bags with home-compostable bags.

Tesco used 252,500 tonnes of plastic packaging in 2017. It will remove the hardest to recycle materials from own-brand items by the end of the year, is focusing on excessive packaging, and will early next year trial the Loop online delivery scheme. It is using the Tesco Extra outlet in Cambridge as a store to trial new approaches to reduce waste. 

Aldi has removed plastic from a number of vegetables, with more planned, and has been trialing paper and compostable carrier bags. It is removing hard-to-recycle packaging, including expanded polystyrene, PVC and non-detectable black plastic, and is replacing polystyrene pizza bases with cardboard.

Beyond supermarkets, The Body Shop has opened a concept store. The refurbished outlet is testing a refill station for shower gels. The company tried this around 20 years ago, but it didn’t catch on with customers. The store also allows customers to refill water bottles at a water station and offers them a packaging return scheme, with a £5 voucher for every five empty bottles and containers returned. Many of the materials used in the store have been upcycled. If the trial is successful, it could be rolled out to other stores in Europe and North America.[Image Credit: © Image Credit With Retailers]


CCEP Replaces Plastic Shrink Wrap Used In Multipacks With Cardboard

Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) announced it will replace the plastic shrink wrap used to keep cans together within multipacks with cardboard. According to the company, use of sustainably-sourced cardboard will remove approximately 4,000 tons of single-use plastic a year. The move to 100 percent recyclable cardboard will take place across its western European business, supporting the company’s Action on Packaging commitment to make all packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. In June, Coca-Cola announced that its Honest, Glaceau Smartwater, and Chaudfontaine brands in Western Europe will  be sold in bottles made from 100 percent recycled plastic (rPET), replacing 9,000 tons of virgin plastic per year across Western Europe. [Image Credit: © Coca-Cola European Partners]

Coca-Cola Unveils Sample Bottles Made From Recovered, Recycled Ocean Plastic

The Coca-Cola Company is introducing a new bottle made using a technology that recovers and recycles discarded low-grade marine plastic. The company says the technology could someday be used to transform plastic ocean debris into food-grade packaging for food or drinks. Coca-Cola said about 300 sample bottles have been produced using 25 percent recycled marine plastic retrieved from the Mediterranean Sea and beaches. The innovative process breaks down the components of plastic and strips out impurities in lower-grade recyclables so they can be rebuilt. The technology was developed in partnership with the “Circular Seas” coastal clean-up project, Dutch recycling firm Ioniqa Technologies, and Indorama Ventures, a supplier of PET plastic and packaging solutions.[Image Credit: © The Coca-Cola Company]


Paperboard Alternative To Plastic Cosmetics Tubes Coming To Market

Stora Enso, a Finland-based company, has developed a packaging solution that could replace plastic tubes for cosmetics with a paperboard alternative. The material is a coated, grease-resistant paperboard that can reduce plastic use in tube bodies by 70%, and it’s working on a bio-composite replacement for plastic caps and tube shoulders. Henna Paakkonen-Alvim, vice president of innovation for the company’s Consumer Board division has called the technology a “super, super exciting new alternative” and the company is hoping to collaborate with cosmetics and personal care brands, as well as companies producing tubes for these categories.


Separately, L'Oréal has developed a tube for cosmetics in which plastic is mostly replaced by “a bio-based and certified paper-like material”. The company and its partner, Albéa will assess the solution for environmental impact using Life Cycle Analysis. A launch is planned in the back half of next year. L'Oréal says the collaboration is part of its pledge to improve the environmental or social impact of its entire packaging portfolio by the end of 2020. 
[Image Credit: © L’Oréal]


PepsiCo Outlines Progress On Plastics In Its 2018 Sustainability Report

The 2018 Sustainability Report from PepsiCo highlights progress on its sustainability goals, including updates on plastic waste reduction. PepsiCo announced a new target for virgin plastic: “to reduce 35% of virgin plastic content across its beverage portfolio by 2025”. It also aims to use 25% recycled content in plastic packaging in the same timeframe, and 50% in plastic bottles within the European Union by 2030. From 2020, LIFEWTR® will be sold in 100% recycled plastic bottles in the U.S., and bubly™ will be sold in aluminum. PepsiCo also aims to avoid the use of 67 million single-use plastic bottles by 2025 through its "Beyond the Bottle" initiative, and especially the SodaStream® business.[Image Credit: © PepsiCo]

CORPORATE ACTION: Procter & Gamble

The OPRL Recycling Label Scheme In The UK Adds P&G To Its List Of Partners

Procter & Gamble in the UK has joined the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) Scheme, during UK Recycle Week. The company said that the scheme provides consumers with “simple, consistent and recognizable recycling guidance”, and that it’s a “significant milestone” in its ‘Ambition 2030’ initiative aimed at reaching 100% of product packaging that is recyclable or reusable. P&G’s senior communications manager, Scott Popham, said that company research shows that on-pack guidance is the most important piece of recycling information for consumers, and they are looking for consistent advice. OPRL research found that 84% of consumers look at packaging for advice on recycling, but 54% throw at least one recyclable item in the trash every day. Launched in 2009, the OPRL scheme now covers over 600 brands across various sectors.[Image Credit: © Procter & Gamble]


New Sustainability Report Outlines SC Johnson’s Progress On Plastic Waste Reduction

SC Johnson has provided an update on its plastic waste reduction efforts as part of its 2018/19 Sustainability Report, and has confirmed that it’s on track to meet its 2025 commitments on plastic waste. Today, 94% of its plastic packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable, up from 90% in the previous financial year, and the company continues to discuss with experts the issue of plastic in marine ecosystems. The company has also partnered with Plastic Bank to explore plastic waste solutions. SC Johnson uses 100% post-consumer recycled bottles in several product lines and this year introduced a 100% recycled ocean plastic bottle. It has also broadened its concentrated refill options on e-commerce sites in North America and the U.K., with a wider rollout planned. The company’s Chairman and CEO, Fisk Johnson, says the world is at a tipping point on plastics, with companies, governments and consumers making changes, but there are “no easy solutions”.[Image Credit: © S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc.]

PureCycle Technologies Is Recycling Polypropylene At Scale

Only 3% of polypropylene is recycled in the US, but that might soon change. It’s currently difficult to recycle, and its use as recycled content is limited, but John Layman, a Procter & gamble chemist, has been working on a way to purify it at a molecular level. The result, he claims, is clear and nontoxic pellets, with no odor, which can be turned into bottles that use a fraction of the energy needed for virgin polypropylene. P&G has licensed the technology via a startup called PureCycle Technologies, which ran the process at commercial scale in July this year. The company has signed deals with a number of manufacturers, including Nestlé and L’Oréal, as well as P&G, and has presold over 20 years of output from the capacity of its first plant. It aims to rollout the technology elsewhere in the US, and also Europe. The plant has been able to successfully recycle polypropylene used in almost every application, with the focus currently on recycling the polypropylene from old carpets.[Image Credit: © Monfocus from Pixabay]

Napolina In The UK Is Switching To Cardboard Packaging For Some Dried Pasta SKUs

Italian food band Napolina is to switching from plastic to 100% recyclable cardboard packaging for some items it sells in the UK, removing 17.5 million tonnes of plastic. It will start rolling out the new packaging on some dried pasta products from the end of October. The “fully coated folding boxboard” from Tambrite was developed in tandem with Ferrara, its pasta supplier, and adds 15% to costs. In 2018, Napolina introduced 51% rPET bottles for its olive oils. [Image Credit: © Napolina]


GMA Campaigns To Put Blame On Recycling System

In the US, the Grocery Manufacturers Association continues its criticism of the recycling system, identifying it as a primary cause in the plastics crisis. The GMA largely exonerates the industry it represents, CPG suppliers, saying they have “meaningfully stepped up with unprecedented commitments to recyclable, compostable packaging and using recycled content” and instead seeks to shame the recycling system, saying it has failed to take responsibility, adding “we’ve seen ineffectual finger-pointing, villains of convenience and bad legislative proposals that ignore the realities of a broken recycling system.”

This has been GMA’s line for a while. In April 2019 it critiqued the US recycling system. It rightly pointed to high levels of fragmentation and varied regulations and policies across the country that make recycling confusing; a survey found that Americans find recycling harder to understand than furniture assembly or taxes.

Certainly, in the wake of China’s National Sword policy that stopped the import of recycled waste, the economics of recycling in America were upended, leaving excess supply and inadequate processing capacity. And yes, the industry needs national standards that harmonize rules and make it easy for consumers to understand and recycle correctly. 

But GMA protests too much. It seeks to avoid producer responsibility and fights all legislation that puts the onus for waste collection and processing on suppliers, whether that means a plastics tax, deposits, collection responsibility or anything else. It wants to limit supplier responsibility to tweaking packaging design and content. It also implies that the industry has already done enough. 

In an April press release it said “As local governments scramble to figure out solutions in the wake of China’s new requirements, the CPG industry continues to innovate. Going beyond its rigorous commitments, CPG companies are slimming down packaging, piloting refillable containers and even using beach plastic to make shampoo bottles”.

But these commitments are too inadequate to stop total plastic or even total virgin plastic use from rising (see May 2019 issue for analysis on this). Yes, they help but in no way do they address the plastics crisis.

GMA wants a functional recycling system so it can carry on largely as it has been with the subtext that the amount of plastic the CPG industry will use will keep rising. This may be GMA’s position but some of its members are leaving it behind. Seeing shifting consumer opinion and the passion of feeling, leading companies are moving to accept responsibility and act accordingly. For example, Unilever CEO Alan Jope recently said “Our plastic is our responsibility and so we are committed to collecting back more than we sell…”

GMA is correct to campaign for an improved recycling system. But it also needs to accept the emerging reality of producer responsibility.[Image Credit: © Grocery Manufacturers Association]


Dow Partners With RB And Drukpol.Flexo To Create New Recyclable FINISH Dishwasher Detergent Packaging

Dow has teamed up with Reckitt Benckiser (RB) and Poland-based Drukpol.Flexo to develop a resealable pouch for RB’s FINISH perfume-free dishwasher detergent products. The new mono-material pouch has been “designed for recyclability and end-of-life disposal into existing recycling streams” and uses Dow’s polyethylene films. The packaging can be produced on existing equipment, enables consumer functionality like zippers to be added, and is supported by existing recycling systems. RB’s head of packaging innovation said that the company continues to look for solutions that help address plastic waste and believes packaging designed for recyclability is “the way forward”. The new packs have been trialed in Germany and received positive feedback, and Dow will be showing the packaging at K 2019, the plastics and rubber trade fair, in Dusseldorf, Germany, from October 16. [Image Credit: © Dow]


University Of Surrey Report Questions Companies’ Commitment to Plastic Reduction

A new report from researchers at the University of Surrey, UK, looks at the commitments food and beverage companies have been making on reducing single-use plastic. It covers 12 companies that represent some of the most well-known brands in the UK, including manufacturers and supermarket chains. Each claims to be a pioneering force for plastic reduction, but the authors, from the University’s School of Law, say the impact of these efforts remains unclear. One of authors said that they deflect attention from their contribution to the problem by using “optimistic language” that obscures the fact that companies have only scratched the surface of the challenge, and that their initiatives have been motivated by new legislation. The report also argues that strategies to tackle the problem of plastic require “transparent and meaningful evidence-based measurement”, and that’s missing at the moment.[Image Credit: © pasja1000 from Pixabay]


Biodegradable Monodose Capsules Could Make Beauty Products More Sustainable, Effective

Single-dose capsules are seeming to be a more sustainable way to deliver some beauty products and also a way to ensure they are more effective. Various beauty companies are launching monodose capsules and some commentators believe they could help the industry become more sustainable. 

Single-use capsules have been around at least since Elizabeth Arden’s Ceramide Capsules some 30 years ago. Recent innovations center on biodegradable and even vegan casings. Elizabeth Arden has released various capsule-based products and this year launched Vitamin C Ceramide Capsules Radiance Renewal Serum, the capsules for which are vegetable- and mineral-based and dissolve in water.

One upside of capsules is that by preventing exposure to air, capsules can ensure each dose is more effective. 
[Image Credit: © Jukka Niittymaa from Pixabay]

Italy Proposes Discounts On Food And Toiletries With Plastic-Free Packaging

As part of its efforts to become a sustainable leader, Italy is reviewing proposals that would offer discounts on food and toiletry products that do not have plastic packaging. Some commentators talk of a 20% discount on goods that are plastic-free, which would likely have a significant impact on consumer spending patterns and force suppliers to make changes. The proposals are part of a broader range of measures that include offering public transport season tickets to people who stop using their cars, mopeds or scooters, investment in electric and hybrid school buses and an urban reforestation plan.
[Image Credit: © kytrangho from Pixabay]

Carlsberg Shows Progress In Efforts To Create Paper Bottle For Beer, New Partners Join

Since 2015, Carlsberg has been working to create its Green Fibre Bottle, the world’s first "paper bottle" for beer. It recently revealed two research prototypes, both of which are made from sustainably sourced wood fibers, are fully recyclable and have a waterproof lining. It’s the linings that create recycling issues. One prototype uses a thin recycled PET polymer film barrier, and the other a 100% bio-based PEF polymer film barrier. Carlsberg did not indicate when the Green Fibre Bottle will be ready for use, but it did say this advance was an important step. It also announced a broader set of partners with The Coca-Cola Company, The Absolut Company and L’Oréal joining Carlsberg in a “paper bottle community” – Paboco – to work together in developing the paper bottle.[Image Credit: © Carlsberg Breweries A/S]

Beauty Leads The Way With Sustainable Packaging, May Leave Mass Brands Stranded

Niche and indie beauty brands often lead where mass follows, and indications on sustainable packaging suggest mass brands are lagging. An increasing number of indie beauty brands are very serious about sustainability, partly because consumers want it and partly because it’s seen as the right thing.

At the recent Indie Beauty Expo in New York City sustainable packaging was very evident, with brands using a wide range of novel materials – Elate Beauty using Chinese bamboo for its color cosmetics lines, for example, and Captain Blankenship, using paperboard or glass for its hair care products

Some companies are redesigning packaging to be more sustainable. The German cosmetics brand, Nø, from Kroll, is moving to recycled aluminum packaging while au Naturale Cosmetics redesigned some of its packaging to use post-consumer recycled plastic and aluminum closures

Another gaining strategy is to use refillable packaging, which is possible across most categories: 
Myro sells refillable deodorant, Alima Pure offers a range of refillable makeup, and L’Occitane sells a range of personal care refills from its website – 11 in the US and 18 in the UK.

A study by The LCA Centre found that refillable packaging is superior to recycled packaging. Compared with newly manufacturing a product, a refill system can save 70% on CO2 emissions, 65% on energy use and 45% of water consumption.

Margins in niche beauty can support sustainable packaging that can be significantly more costly, but in the mass market, price pressures force manufacturers to lower-cost plastics. But a number of factors could quickly change things. A plastics tax would change the economics, regulation could restrict packing options and refillable technologies may get cost competitive. Mass brands need to be readying for this but thus far, there’s little action.
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