The Latte Levy and Blue Planet – Why We’re Missing the Point

Root founder, Tracy Sutton

The value of packaging material is currently being lost in amongst the reactive talk of taxes, ‘anti’ campaigns and finger pointing.

Whether it’s the image of a whale eating a plastic bucket revealed by the honourable Sir David Attenborough, or the thought of a 25p tax on our essential cup of coffee – consumers are starting to recognise that something has to be done about the way we make, use and dispose of packaging. This, in turn is activating brands to think about alternate ways to package their products, which is a shift that I, personally am pleased to see.

The problem is, that we don’t have a strategy. We don’t know why we’re doing, what we’re doing.

We’re in danger of panicking and making the wrong decisions.

We’re in danger of specifying materials that sound great but that don’t have sufficient infrastructure to manage them.

And we’re missing an opportunity to connect consumers with the value of packaging.

Greenwashing

Compostable and biodegradable packaging just disappears, right?

A significant amount of packaging is currently being marketed as ‘Compostable’ when it can only be industrially composted. The EU compostability standard EN13432 covers home compostable and industrially compostable material – but many companies don’t tell you that.

If you take a look at your local authority recycling leaflet it’s unlikely that ‘Compostable Packaging’ will be mentioned. It’s therefore unlikely that what you’ve been sold will actually get to where it’s proposed to end up, unless there is a specific scheme set up to collect and organically recycle the pack.

There are a few coffee cup manufacturers who promote compostable cups as the answer to Ocean Plastic – not a smart move if your material does not have sufficient infrastructure to make sure it actually gets recycled.

As for ‘biodegradable’ – the same question arises – where do I put it when it’s empty? And are people more likely to litter if it just disappears?

Transparency

Consumers will soon become aware of this disparity between claims and reality – in 2016 the recyclable vs recycled coffee cups situation was uncovered, maybe compostable cups will be next on Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall’s 2018 agenda.

Resources

Whether mining finite metals and oil or using renewable materials in a disposable fashion – all this material has a value – a value that so many people are totally disconnected to.

I took the photo in this post when I was in Cambodia a few years ago and I’m sharing it because it hits home the message about value: at the end of every day the children would walk the length of the beach collecting glass bottles, metal cans and plastic bottles and their father exchanged them for cash at a local collection and sorting facility – the value of the material was clear and their essential behaviour of collecting the material played a crucial part to maintain the successful flow of material into another circular stream.

GDP and Disposability

A large proportion of our monetary growth has resulted in a loss of connectivity to the value of materials and packaging. A large proportion of our growth as a nation has also been at a cost to the environment as we have developed into a world that thrives on a totally disposable lifestyle.

The Future

I’d prefer that more time and consideration be put into the bigger picture thinking about behaviour change and understanding the bizarre norms we have adopted as a nation to invest millions in cleaning, sorting, reprocessing, transporting and burying material that was intended to only have one use.

Let’s use the Blue Planet connection with consumers while it’s still emotive and look to connect them one step further with what is going on in the UK, on our beaches, to our wildlife (more on that to follow in another post).

Let’s use this opportunity to introduce ‘Reuse’ as a serious business model.

If we don’t consider where all this stuff goes and why we’re not recycling, in 2025 we’ll be urgently trying to figure out how to deal with new piles of material that can’t be collected, buried or managed within our own rather small piece of land.

If you’d like to talk about how a Packaging Strategy can help your brand future-proof itself against regulation and negative PR, please get in touch through the ‘connect’ link on the website.

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