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G7 Summit outlines need for strategic approach to packaging

This article was co-authored by Oli Saunders, who recently joined us for an internship, and Hannah Worthington, Root’s Impact Analysis Lead. Root actively promotes the professional growth of young people in sustainability through its intern programme, and is keen to showcase emerging talent.

The recent G7 Summit saw the world’s biggest powers gather in Hiroshima, Japan, to discuss the climate crisis, identifying actions governments and businesses need to take to mitigate their impacts. In this article, we review the key takeaways from the summit, which clearly indicate the urgency for businesses to take action on packaging.

Member states’ discussions focused on the most pressing issue of our lifetime – tackling the climate crisis. States conversed on cutting carbon out of the global economy by reducing the use of fossil fuels via more sustainable methods of power and cutting single use plastic out of production cycles. The language used around reducing fossil fuels was more forthright than at COP27. Then the international stance was to “phasedown unabated coal power and phase-out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. At the G7 summit, this was replaced by a commitment from members to “accelerate the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels”, with leaders stating this will culminate in achieving net zero ‘by 2050 at the latest’ in all G7 energy systems (point 26).

Decarbonising Production

The global instability caused by the war in Ukraine was cited as having a major impact on global gas energy supplies, highlighting the need for global investment in sustainable sources to protect supply chains, improve the resilience of manufacturing, and increase energy security. Criticisms that the action discussed was too long-term and that more action was needed immediately was also vocalised.

Increasingly, it seems the onus will be on businesses to tackle their own environmental impact and decarbonise to reduce human impact on biodiversity and the environment. Alongside a reduction of fossils for power use, the summit highlighted the impact caused by material use and handling, which currently amounts to 70% of GHG emissions. Plastic is a notable carbon producer, emitting 1.8 billion tonnes of GHG in 2019. Major talking points focused on developing a more circular economy by addressing plastic.

Plastic is inherently linked to the fossil fuel industry as a by-product of oil and gas production. Along with the need for renewable feedstocks at scale in the next few decades, innovative solutions to increase circularity will be essential to the plastics industry.

Approximately 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic produced from 1950-2017 became plastic waste, ending up in landfills or dumped

Plastic Pollution in Focus

Plastic pollution is a global problem. Approximately 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic produced from 1950-2017 became plastic waste, ending up in landfills or dumped. As a finite, non-renewable resource, it is key to focus the use of plastic to sensible applications and minimise single-use and hard-to-recycle formats. This will help to maintain the material in the value chain for the maximum period of time. Fast action is needed to prevent further plastic pollution and resource wastage.

Businesses that don’t change their packaging offering to comply with recyclability requirements and the need for responsible packaging choices are likely to face rising EPR fees, packaging taxes and become the focus of NGO campaigns. On a positive note, behavioural changes in our plastic usage could really help to reduce GHG emissions, potentially leading to a faster result than the 2050 net-zero target.

International projects such as GPAP (Global Plastic Action Program) and the Global Plastics Treaty will drive policymakers even further in a bid to minimise plastic pollution in the environment, decouple from the fossil fuel industry, and mitigate the onslaught of biodiversity and human health issues caused by the irresponsible use of chemicals and modern-day bad actors.

Key takeaways

– Calls to cut down on plastics, with a bigger onus placed on businesses to reduce their single-use plastic usage or face further levies through the Plastics Treaty

– G7 energy sectors to become fossil free not later than 2050, with a focus on reducing the carbon emissions from energy intensive materials

– A third of global plastic production is used for packaging, often in single-use applications and in some cases where the non-renewable material is not recovered

What steps should you take?

Pragmatic and creative solutions are needed to solve the issues faced by the packaging industry and at Root we know how difficult it can be to know how and what project to prioritise to make your packaging more sustainable.

A Root Perspective delivers a 360-degree packaging overview for your businesses, mapping commercial, reputational, and impact-related risks quickly and cost-effectively, setting you up with a simple action plan for change.