7 October 2019


By WISE-213 Views-No Comment

The plastics crisis we are already in shows that the promise of recycling has already failed. But the new chemical recycling technologies promoted by big brands are are no silver bullet either. We could be waiting years before these become a commercial reality, only to find that they come with a high ecological cost and have already locked us into a never-ending growth of plastics production.

What of the other solutions offered by big food and big plastic? It’s easy to promote natural alternatives – such as paper and card – and alternatives that sound ‘natural’ – like bioplastics, that come with unanswered questions. But the volumes and scale of resources that would be needed would put unacceptable pressures on natural resources such as forests and agricultural land, which are already straining from overexploitation.

This is not an adequate response to the plastics crisis or the climate crisis. It’s clear that we cannot afford to wait. It’s also fortunate that other solutions exist, which can be implemented relatively quickly, that will benefit both people and the planet.

As a priority, we call for the reduction of units sold in single-use packaging, and for investment in solutions focused on reuse, refill and other systems not dependent on disposables. Ultimately companies need to rethink how products are delivered to the consumer. In the transition to avoiding throwaway plastic, replacing virgin plastic with non-toxic, recycled (and recyclable) plastic only has a limited role in addressing plastic overproduction.

There is no silver bullet, one-size fits all option for new reusable/refillable packaging that will be applicable to every company, product or geography. We propose, however, that FMCGs and retailers urgently prioritize investment into the delivery of reuse and refill options that meet the following criteria:

  • Affordable: Producers must take responsibility for the cost of the material, the refillable/reusable packaging and its collection, and not create only ‘premium’ reusable containers for well-off consumers.
  • Durable: Materials should be long-lasting and as strong as possible, to have the least amount of health and environmental impacts
  • Non-toxic: Reusable containers should be free of hazardous chemicals, extending not just to chemicals that have been regulated or restricted in certain regions but to all chemicals that have intrinsically hazardous properties.
  • Convenient: Consumers should be able to access a range of reusable and refillable products to fit various lifestyles, and reuse shouldn’t just be available to customers online, for example. Reusable packaging should be collectible, and companies should take responsibility for designing collection systems to ensure that reusable containers don’t become disposable. Retailers should allow customers to bring their own reusable containers as well as offer collectible options.
  • Simple: A transition to an agricultural system designed around ecological principles would include more consumption of food closer to the point of production, meaning that we would need less packaging and transportation.
  • Supports a just transition to a plastic-free economy: values manufacturing and delivery workers, small business owners, and consumers more than profits for upper management

What FMCG companies and retailers need to do:

Prioritize Reduction

Companies must publicly commit to phase out single-use plastics immediately, and achieve absolute reductions in the total number of single-use plastic packaging units (not lightweighting existing products). Companies should prioritize problematic and unnecessary plastics that are frequently littered or harmful to human health, or frequently not recycled despite recyclability claims. FMCG companies must engage retailers to pilot alternative delivery systems.

Invest in Innovative Alternative Delivery Systems

Companies have incredible power to collaborate with consumers to re-imagine our supermarkets or shopping experiences to deliver products without sacrificing the planet. Be flexible and creative to meet a variety of consumer needs. There are multiple ways that reuse and refill options can work for consumers; no single option will be the best for everybody.

Be Transparent

Companies must track and annually disclose their use of plastic, including the number, composition, and weight of items containing single-use plastics. Companies should review the policies taken by their trade associations and either work to ensure those associations act in accordance with their values or sever their relationships.

Read the full Greenpeace report here.