2.3 Disposable Packaging
- At The Heart Of The Problem -
“Disposable plastics in packaging is the main source of the problem… the consumption has spiralled out of control. These items are used for seconds, hours, days but their remains last forever” - PlasticPollutionCoalition.com
The largest market sector for plastic is packaging. Packaging is defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as “Materials used to wrap or protect goods”, and disposable defines as “(of an article) intended to be thrown away after use.(27)(28) Disposable plastic is meant to be “thrown away” and are destined to to end up in either landfills or to be incinerated. Disposable packaging is designed to become waste.
In Europe, Germany is the number one producer of packaging waste and the consumption has grown by 13% the last decade, reflecting a world wide trend. According to Thomas Fischer from the Deutche Umweltshilfe it is the increasing number of single households responsible for raising the amount of plastic packaging, but companies are also doing this to increase their margins or hide shrinking product sizes.(29)
Perhaps the most interesting and successful initiative that addresses the problematics around plastic packaging is “The New Plastic Economy” initiative issued by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The aim of “The New Plastic Economy” is to contribute to more effective plastics system based on circular economy principles and was made in cooperation with stakeholders from the whole production chain, scientist, and environmental experts.
The initiative has been backed up a by dozens of leading businesses, philanthropists, cities and governments, such as the UN, The Coca Cola Company, New Yorks Office of Sustainability, Veolia, L’ORÉAL, MARKS & SPENCER etc.(30) Earlier this year the European Commission released a road map for “Strategy on Plastics in a Circular Economy”.(31) It is however unclear if the publication was in relation to the research done by the Ellen MacArthur foundation and partners or not.
The extensive research report The New Plastic Economy - Rethink the future of plastic (2016) presented many and important facts about the environmental and economical drawbacks caused by plastic. Some key findings were:
1.) Plastic will out weight fishes by 2050 in predicted conditions.
2.) 50% of all plastic packing (or 30% by weight) are not reusable nor recyclable
3.) Only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling,
4.) 30% of plastic packaging leaks out in the environment.
5.) 95% of material value is lost after one use cycle, which is equivalent to a economical loss of USD 80–120 billion annually.
In the most recent report, The New Plastic Economy - Catalysing Action (2017) a segment of plastic packaging was identified which almost exclusively was limited to single-use product and of for various reasons, can not be reused or recycled. They found that these, “packaging applications – representing at least half of all plastic packaging items, or about 30% of the market by weight – are, by their very design, destined for landfill, incineration, or energy recovery, and are often likely to leak into the environment after a short single us.”(32) They further conclude that a combination of redesign and innovation is required to make progress in these four challenging plastic packaging segment.”(33)
The New Plastic Economy, Catalyzing Action (2017) - Disposable plastic packaging that can't be reused or recycled.
Compostable Materials - A Sustainable Replacement Of Petroleum Based Packaging?