Helping to create a more sustainable plastic future.

My visit to The Telegraph’s Plastic Sustainability Summit.

By Mark Barter, Wessex Packaging Managing Director.

I spent an interesting day with industry experts at The Telegraph Plastic Sustainability Summit in London on 21st March.

Stakeholders from across the globe gathered to discuss the plastics value chain and how businesses can keep plastic in the economy, but out of the environment.

Obviously, a key question was how to solve the problem of ocean pollution from plastic packaging. A concern that has now overtaken climate change as the public’s single biggest issue. 44% view ocean plastic waste as the biggest priority, compared with climate change at 20%.

Unbelievably, a recent beach cleaning campaign in the Pacific Islands collected 9,000 tonnes of plastic, but this huge amount is still only equal to the amount that is dumped in to the sea every 25 seconds. Clearing beaches is a good thing, but to make any difference, we must get to the root of the problem.

We all know we’ve got a problem, but what are we going to do about it?

It is a fact that we are all addicted to plastic. Since it first appeared in the 1950’s we have produced 6.3 billion tonnes of the stuff and only 9% has been recycled. The rest of it has either been incinerated, littered or is sitting in landfill somewhere.

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of The Plastic Planet, emphasised that the largest single-use plastic item is water bottles. Vast quantities of these are used all over the world. If they were put end to end, the amount produced in a year would stretch halfway to the sun.

However, bottled water is often the only source of clean drinking water source for underdeveloped countries. They also happen to be the countries lacking recycling and waste management facilities.

So, the onus needs to fall on business to make a change. Governments take too long, and the public don’t have a powerful enough voice. And today, the consumer isn’t willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, they expect it as a given.

As Virginie Helias, Chief Sustainability Officer at Procter & Gamble, stated, “brands need to drive responsible consumption…with P&G believing that you need to make change irresistible.”

Helias also went onto say that “The days where you can make significant progress alone are over, larger scale partnerships are essential to unlock the power of innovation which will enable sustainability at the scale needed to address plastic waste and ultimately drive the positive change we all want to see.”

Since Wessex Packaging was founded by my father in 1975, partnerships are a fundamental part of our ethos, and I’m pleased to say that we are increasingly working with our customers and suppliers to find more sustainable packaging solutions.

This obviously involves a greater range and emphasis of eco-friendly cardboard products, but also by introducing the next generation of plastic products, with the aim of fitting into a more circular economy.

For us, X-Pro® pallet wrap is a prime example of how we’ve taken the initiative to significantly reduce the plastic footprint for many customers in their supply chain, with a lighter, yet stronger film that reduces plastic waste within their logistics operations.

The Summit challenged brands, designers, manufacturers, recyclers, waste managers…and governments to connect the plastics value chain and promote long-lasting change throughout – and ultimately help take steps to globally lessen the amount of plastic waste that ends up in our oceans.

So, what can we all do?

11 Steps to Combat the Ocean Waste Crisis

  1. Stop exporting our own waste plastic to countries with records of waste mismanagement. An Early Day Motion, calling for a ban on plastic export already has signatures from 40 MPs.
  2. Use less printed packaging, especially for online retail where it doesn’t need to do a selling job as the products are already sold. This can make the product harder, or impossible to recycle.
  3. Local councils need to educate the public in household recycling, especially in more deprived areas.
  4. We need better recycling infrastructure, the irony is that here is a lack of recycled plastic, but a huge problem with plastic waste, we need to sort out the broken system.
  5. Plastic free aisles in supermarkets.
  6. Plastic free trials.
  7. Companies to undertake an annual packaging ‘MOT’ to check relevancy and eco-attributes.
  8. Big PLC’s to engage in Open Source Innovation, where information is shared for the wider good, not to gain a competitive advantage
  9. Bio products are confusing the consumer and contaminating the recycling stream, we need clarity on this.
  10. A plastics tax will help create a level playing field.
  11. Encourage companies to look at their plastics footprint.

As MD of Wessex Packaging, I believe it is my responsibility to help connect the plastics value chain and will do my utmost to drive this change.

 

Read about The Telegraph Plastic Sustainability Summit 2019 here.

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