As a new age of consumer behaviour emerges, and governments are distracted by the pandemic - environmental concerns have fallen from the political and public agenda.
The dramatic increase in e-commerce and home deliveries has caused a sharp rise in packaging waste, which comes with high environmental costs. At current rates, 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will end up in landfill and the natural environment by 2050. As countries experience further restrictions on movement and a second wave of Covid-19, consumer behaviour is unlikely to rapidly revert to its pre-lockdown state.
Hence, sustainable packaging and paper solutions must be adopted so the global community can protect the planet effectively. There is no time to waste.
Plastics are the most common and wide-ranging materials used for packaging. They are central to FMCG and global industrial supply chains, protecting goods in transit and extending their shelf lives. Their ubiquity means a serious plastic packaging waste crisis must be addressed before irreversible damage is done.
According to the UN, 300 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced every year. Since the early 1950s, 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced and c. 60% has ended up in landfill or the natural environment.
Plastic waste is a primary contributor to global ocean pollution with rivers carrying waste from far inland to the sea. Each year, eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans and 100 million marine animals die from entanglement, ingestion, or interaction with this waste. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that, by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea.
The issue extends beyond the environment; plastic waste comes with a significant human cost. In 2019, Tearfund, Fauna & Flora International and Waste Aid reported between 400,000 and one million people die each year from preventable diseases linked to mismanagement and burning of plastic waste in developing countries.
Plastic waste pollution also impacts people’s livelihoods and the economic development of developing countries. The UN Environment Programme reports ocean-based plastic pollution has an annual economic cost of US$13 billion due to revenue losses in fisheries, agriculture, and tourism.
We have a collective responsibility to tackle this plastic pollution crisis. The environmental and human toll is too great to ignore. Sustainable alternatives to traditional packaging and paper exist. It is time for multinationals, manufacturers, and retailers to integrate them into their working practices to help reduce global pollution; protect marine and wildlife species; and those in developing countries.
The growing consumer awareness of this crisis is promising. A recent study of 2,000 UK shoppers revealed 62% are thinking more about sustainability now than five years ago and increasingly looking for environmentally friendly options.
Popular culture is also playing a major role in raising awareness of packaging choices. Notably, David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet II’ series focused on ocean waste and triggered a passionate global response. Consumers are more aware nowadays that a product’s lifecycle does not end after consumption – rather after its proper disposal.
Nonetheless, the pandemic and the new normal means individuals are more reliant on e-commerce and delivery services than ever before. Manufacturing environmentally friendly packaging and paper is therefore essential. It will help protect the planet and maintain business profitability as consumers increasingly look for eco-friendly choices.
Political and tax incentives for incorporating environmentally friendly packaging and paper are also evident. From 1 January 2021, the EU will tax non-recycle packaging waste through national contributions. In April 2022, the UK will introduce a tax on plastic packaging containing less than 30% recycled content. These plastic reduction policies and public appetite make environmentally friendly packaging and paper attractive for business.
Manufacturing environmentally friendly packaging and paper is vital for the future – on an environmental, human, and corporate level. There is no time to waste.