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When rethinking plastic packaging waste and potential alternatives, we must take into consideration how sustainable these replacements actually are? 

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The harsh reality that confronts us when rethinking packaging!

When we think about plastic packaging it all too easy to condemn it straightaway without thinking of the consequences that will occur with replacement materials.  


Nowadays landfills are overflowing with plastics. Aside from Plastics Oceans International say that in excess of 8 million tones are thrown in the ocean each year.


Packaging waste is a huge global burden accounting for about 40% of the planets plastic usage. Despite this shocking statistic a meager 14% of plastic packaging is recycled. 


This low rate will probably surprise many people who go to the trouble of separating their waste when it comes time for their rubbish to be collected. It is dues to a variety of factors including public awareness as to the true cost of plastic packaging but also recycling itself and in the infrastructure behind it. 


It is true that many large retailers and packaging manufacturers are increasing their sustainability efforts along with improvements to their environmental credentials. Their efforts are mainly focused on the reduction of plastic packaging as a preferred choice or at least ensuring it is easily recyclable. Or even reusable. 



It would be very difficult at present for most retail businesses to completely cut out plastic packaging from their supply chains. The emphasis should more be on cutting out plastic packaging waste than plastic packaging itself. 


This philosophy was backed up by Laura Rowell who leads global sustainability at Sonoco Packaging. Sonoco manufacturers laminated foil packaging film as well as heat seal packaging and various other paper and corrugated products.  


What goals should we set going forward


Over 250 companies have signed up to the goals that were set by the new plastics economy. This is a vision initiative from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation promoting awareness and the eventual elimination of problematic and overused plastic packaging materials. The end game is to have all plastic packaging either recyclable or compostable by 2025.  


Current participants include Coca Cola, Pepsi and Unilever. 


Wallmart is also encouraging all of its suppliers to follow suit with the sustainable packaging playbook. This provides any retailer with advice & guidance on best practices to ensure packaging is as environmentally friendly as possible. 


Sonoco for example have set goals to eliminate plastic packaging waste through in depth reviews of their current processes. 


They currently utilise 22% recycled plastic in their manufacturing operations with 19% after market plastic. 


Trader Joe’s meanwhile is looking at packaging through the lens of its sustainability framework. This recommends on the sourcing of renewable and recycled packaging whilst choosing packaging that can be recycled efficiently. 


They have currently replaces consumable plastic packaging and replaced it with alternatives like Sealable Pouches and paper alternatives. 


They have also introduced new biodegrable storage packaging materials for their loose fruits and vegetables. Futhermore the infamous Styrofoam trays have now been replaced with pet/alu/lldpe alternatives.  


There is much work to do but it is a start!