The European Commission’s Plastic Strategy – 5 Packaging Design Essentials
Root founder, Tracy Sutton
Following on from my interest and debate that entailed as a result of my packaging perspective on the Governments 25 Year Environment Plan (read here) here, I translate the European Commissions’ Plastics Strategy into an easy to digest overview that you can scroll through on your commute.
The Plastics Strategy is part of the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package and it has been launched to help catalyse industry action towards the goal of ensuring that all plastic packaging is recyclable by 2030.
The Commission calls on the industries involved to swiftly come forward with an ambitious and concrete set of voluntary commitments to back this strategy and its vision for 2030.
Designers and converters currently have little or no incentive to consider sustainability – although many of them do and are very passionate about the topic, if it’s not in the client brief it’s hard to get it in the client brief. If there’s not enough demand, the converters won’t go near the idea.
– THE VISION
‘A smart, innovative and sustainable plastics industry, where design and production fully respects the needs of reuse, repair, and recycling, brings growth and jobs to Europe and helps cut EU’s greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on imported fossil fuels.’
There are 5 key areas of focus, for this piece I’m going focus on the first one – and I’m very pleased to see it be one of the design approaches that I’ve studied and implemented for over 15 years – Design for Recycling.
KEY MESSAGE: DESIGN FOR RECYCLING
The document outlines how product design is one of the keys to improve recycling levels. This is something I wholeheartedly agree with and have vast experience of as I shave a degree in Sustainable Product Design.
– WE NEED BETTER DESIGN
Alongside new business models and innovative products, the key is to get it right from the start when the product and pack is being designed. Design issues must be addressed systematically and with the right knowledge – don’t take the word of a biased seller, get independent advice.
– IMPROVE DESIGN
Choose material, colour and decoration method with care because a short term aesthetically-driven choice to get a bottle on the shelf (and sold) can also negatively affect the value of polymers and make them harder to recycle. Remember that most plastics are from fossil fuels which are finite and can’t be replaced – be responsible and ask yourself what other options you can consider.
– SUPPORT INNOVATION
Either through specific projects that run in parallel or by allowing additional time before the core project kicks off. Innovation is not easy by any stretch, but investing time and budget with sufficient notice can reap rewards.
SECOND MESSAGE: BIODEGRADABLES / COMPOSTABLES ARE NOT THE ANSWER
These types of plastic certainly have a role in some packaging applications – the document highlights that innovation efforts in this field are welcomed. It also clarifies that there is insufficient waste collection and recycling facilities for the materials and that they are a contaminant for most recycling factories. In addition, the Strategy highlights that plastics labelled ‘compostable’ are not often suitable for home composting.
I’ve written in previous posts that most plastics labelled as ‘biodegradable’ generally degrade under specific conditions which may not always be easy to find in the natural environment, and can thus still cause harm to ecosystems. Consumers must be provided with clear and correct information about how and where they should be handled after use.
Biodegradable and oxodegradable plastics should not be put forward as a solution to littering or ocean plastic, they most certainly don’t just disappear.
PUTTING THE PLAN INTO PRACTICE
The Commission states it will propose ‘concrete’ measures to achieve the vision but highlights that making it a reality requires action from all players in the plastic value chain, from plastic producers and designers, through brands and retailers, to recyclers.
I’m pleased that Design has finally got the recognition it needs in the journey to reduce the environmental footprint of packaging.
It has been calculated that design improvements could halve the cost of recycling plastic packaging waste and it really does make business sense to start exploring what you can do today to make your packaging recyclable.
If you don’t have a plan and you don’t have a Packaging Design Strategy, now is the time to develop one – get there before the European Commission and the UK Government – get there before law and regulations force you to act.
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