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:
What FMCG companies and retailers need to do:
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.
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.