25 Year environment plan – 5 Things you need to know about packaging

Root founder, Tracy Sutton

Following on from my previous post about the latte levy and the public’s reaction to Blue Planet 2, (read here) I’m sharing my packaging-specific overview of the UK Government’s recently revealed 25 Year Environment Plan.

For those who don’t know me

I am independent. I wear the hat of no brand, no raw material and of no supplier. I speak from the voice of someone with a Ba (Hons) in Sustainable Design and as a member of the Chartered Institute of Waste Management. I speak as an expert who has been a Packaging Technologist, a Technical Director in a leading London brand and packaging design agency and I speak as an expert who has held workshops and defined Sustainable Packaging Design Strategies for global brands.

THE BASICS

There are 10 core themes for the goals and although the design, manufacture and recycling of packaging impacts, and is influenced by all of the goals outlined, for simplicity, I will focus on what I believe are the 5 most important points for my network based on my 16years specialising in sustainable packaging.

We’ll be focusing on goal number 8: ‘Minimising Waste’. (I wish we’d stop calling it waste). There are also 6 key areas of policy, we’ll be focusing on number 4, Increasing Resource Efficiency and Reducing Pollution and Waste.

I’m going to take the Twitter approach and keep things short so have outlined the goal, what I think is the key challenge and also, the opportunity.

MINIMISING WASTE: OVERARCHING COMMITMENT

“We will minimise waste, reuse materials as much as we can and manage materials at the end of their life to minimise the impact on the environment”.

Teresa May and Michael Gove commit to do this by:

GOAL 1: ZERO AVOIDABLE WASTE BY 2050

Challenge: Defining ‘avoidable’

Opportunity: Many brands will argue that certain elements of a pack are ‘essential’ to be able to promote/market or distribute their product effectively. I’d like to see clear rules that rigorously consider excessive packaging on luxury goods and fragrance and key non-recyclable items such as throwaway plastic / metal embellishments. I’d also like to see serious consideration given to multilateral laminate packs that could be optimised to use less differing materials.

GOAL 2: ZERO AVOIDABLE PLASTIC WASTE BY 2042

Challenge: Defining ‘avoidable.’

Opportunity: Is a plastic bottle avoidable for a water brand? Is is essential for a medicine bottle? Specific packaging format and material details need to be highlighted to ensure clarity and understanding of what is deemed ‘avoidable. A plan is also needed to sequentially review all products before significant investment at the NPD concept stage by an independent body so that concepts don’t get to market unless they meet certain criteria.

GOAL 3: DELIVER A SUBSTANTIAL REDUCTION IN LITTERING

Challenge: How this is achieved. Consumer behaviour is the hardest thing to change.

Opportunity: For all brands with local or global reach to commit to invest time or budget into helping consumers recognise the monetary value in packaging and to take a responsible stand in helping get their packaging out of a consumers hand into the right material stream. There is also a design opportunity to design packaging with less tear-off functions so this is something that those involved in tamper evidence should be looking to explore alternatives.

GOAL 4. SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCING AND PREVENTING MARINE PLASTIC POLLUTION

Challenge: That the whale is not the new polar bear (cute and fluffy to some, miles away from tangibility and action for others). Evidence of marine pollution on our own shores would no doubt catalyse action and commitment faster because consumers can really connect with their own home environment’

Opportunity: Connecting your brand to doing good in this area will no doubt reap rewards of increase trust and loyalty. Bear in mind that although Marine pollution is the current focus, there will be another environmental urgency after that, and another just on the horizon, so don’t set yourself up to be marine-specific or you’ll be constantly chasing your tail from one environmental hot-spot to another.

GOAL 5. MEETING ALL EXISTING WASTE TARGETS FOR LANDFILL, REUSE AND RECYCLING

Challenge: Meeting a waste target encourages a disposable lifestyle.

Opportunity: To share targets and provide tangible actions as to how these targets can be met. I am personally unaware of any reuse targets – ever. And if I don’t know, then most people reading this article will not know either. A UK target is meaningless to the vast majority dealing with the design and specification of packaging unless support is provided to translate targets into actions.

WHAT ABOUT DESIGN?

I’m skeptical on the awareness of design – the word is used loosely in the document, a great example is where it talks about reducing plastic use by:

‘work to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste over the lifetime of this Plan through a four point plan taking action at each stage of the product lifecycle – production, consumption and end of life’

Well…that’s not the entire lifecycle. The government have missed out the process right at the beginning. DESIGN. 80% of a product’s environmental footprint is defined at the design stage, so I don’t know about you, but as per my previous article – I think we might be missing a crucial point.

PUTTING THE PLAN INTO PRACTICE

We are awaiting the 2018 Waste and Resources Strategy which will soon set out the policy framework to implement the Clean Growth Strategy, the Industrial Strategy and the new 25 Year Environment Plan.

Hopefully this plan will have some backbone to it and include a set of clear metrics to assess progress towards these 25-year goals. The report promises this, so lets see if, and how it delivers.

I became aware of the Packaging Waste Regulations and PRN system when I graduated in 2001. Since then I’ve read numerous examples of businesses getting fined for not reporting on the PRNS correctly but, not once have I read about a product being taken off sale because it’s packaging did not adhere to the guidance set out in the Packaging Waste Regulations. So there is a risk that we leave absolutely no incentive to guide designers or brands to change what they are doing.

If we’re going to have a plan, let’s put it into action.

If the thought of a whale ingesting polymers was emotive for you then watch out for my piece very soon about how an energy drink can nearly cost a farmer the life of a very wonderful cow.

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