It's difficult to imagine our modern lives today without plastics. Since large-scale production of plastics began in the 1950s, it's estimated that 8300 million metric tonnes have been created - the equivalent to one billion elephants. Showing no sign of slowing up, production is firmly on the rise. In 2015 alone, the world manufactured almost 500 million tonnes, more than twice as much as made in 1998.
Of the 8300 million tonnes of virgin plastic produced:
- 4900 million tonnes (59%) have accumulated in landfills or the natural environment
- 2500 million tonnes (30%) is still in use
- 800 million tonnes (10%) have been incinerated
- 600 million tonnes (7%) have been recycled
The business success of plastic is undoubtedly down to its extreme adaptability, durability, flexibility, plus its very light weight nature.
On a reverse side, the material has played an important role in reducing the overall environmental impact of products through reduced damage in transit, reduced environmental impact of transportation and a reduction in food waste levels thanks to its ability to enhance protection and extend shelf life.
For all its benefits and business-use, there's now a wider movement for a more sustainable approach to plastics. With consumers becoming increasingly concerned about its environmental impact - from the production of plastic using fossil fuels to the unsustainable disposal at its end of life and accumulation in the natural environment - there are real issues for businesses to address throughout the supply chain.
Find your way around our in-depth plastics page:
- Plastic - a success and a disaster
- Why now? What's caused the business response?
- How to create an effective plastic strategy to combat the negatives
- How to implement your plastic strategy
- Getting the rest of your supply chain in order
- Plastic projects and case studies
- What's next for plastics in 2019?
- Download our free takeaway PDF guides
- Related content
Since the end of 2017, there have been a wave of pledges and position statements released by manufacturers and retailers around their plastic reduction ambitions.
Why now? The problem of plastic pollution seems to have reached a critical point among consumers and the public. The regular images being seen could not be ignored any further. With consumer pressure rising, other bodies have had to react. We've seen governments discuss and introduce new policies and initiatives, boards asking for change and investors demanding more transparency. The change we are seeing is here to stay.
Mounting public pressure means companies across the world are now responding to the waste crisis to help reduce familiar scenes as shown above and create a healthier business.
Reducing the impacts of plastic on the environment is a particular priority for businesses who use plastic to package their products. It's packaging that is the largest market for the plastic material created in large thanks to a global shift from reusable to single-use containers. Around 42% of all plastic ever created has been used for packaging - it's therefore vital to improve plastic packaging sustainability.
That said, addressing plastic sustainability is complex.
There are many business factors competing simultaneously that need to be considered when developing action and strategy plans. A decision that looks good for one area of the business, may have knock-on effects in another area or impact upon the supply chain.
Reacting to the challenge now also presents businesses with great opportunities, such as:
- Innovation around new products
- Developing new USPs, brand messaging and positioning
- Securing customer loyalty and brand recognition
- Safeguarding supply chains for long-term success
- Create a more circular business economy to cut costs and waste.
We fully understand the importance of plastic packaging for retailers and manufacturers, with the role it plays in protecting and ensuring the safe delivery of a product. We also understand the necessity in reducing plastic waste and single-use plastic, the amount of products containing microplastics, littering and ensuing sustainable end of use handling of plastics.
Our free sustainable plastics guide explores how your organisation can create an actionable strategy to fully address these plastic sustainability issues.
It's going to be vital for businesses to respond to the issues on a strategical level. Effective propositions need to make sense financially and on a long-term scale. Without a well-thought out strategy, any actions you take could fall at the first hurdle or even have a negative impact further down the line.
If you're not sure where to start, download our 7-page single-use plastic FAQ guide, where we give our expert view on a series of questions published by the UK government. This will help to give you a better understanding from where you can develop your approach.
Developed from working with businesses on this topic, our deep subject expertise can help you start the journey, define your strategy and mobilise your team.
Good starting places:
- Understand how the current political landscape, consumer concerns and other disruptive factors could impact on your business model.
- Undertake a plastic packaging inventory and hot spot analysis to identify the volumes, types and formats of plastics used within your business to identify potential risks and opportunities.
- Develop your company’s priorities in relation to plastic reduction and what it wants to achieve. These could be tied to Sustainable Development Goals or other existing sustainability targets
- Identify priority areas of focus and potential solutions to develop using prioritisation processes, informed through the initial three actions.
Creating a business conscious plastic strategy is your first step. After that comes implementation where your company can start to make a real change. Rest assured, change shouldn't be to the detriment of your business, on the contrary, it should provide a long-term benefit - this is where having a strong strategy comes to fruition. We can help you make crucial, evidence-backed decisions.
The unique set-up of Anthesis as true specialist in the market, means we can bring additional insight to the table. We understand the technical issues and positioning strategies, but can also provide implementation with design, materials expertise and software solutions.
When it comes to packaging we can provide support with:
- Alternative packaging reviews
- Compliance measures
- Materials sourcing and advice
- Designing for recyclability
- Raw material substitution and impact assessments
With sustainable chemistry experts at hand, we can thoroughly assess substitution strategies for the packaging you use, as well as green claims, eco-toxicity assessments and regulation guidance.
As many business supply chains span across the globe, it's not as simple as getting your own house in order. Many companies now are focussed on creating sustainable supply chains where best practice is identified and rolled out to all your suppliers.
Our experience in working on a global front, can benefit your organisation when it comes to supply chain design, risk assessment and resource efficiency reviews.
We can help you create and implement a strategy to come full circle (as shown above) in your approach through production, consumer use and end of life. Where your product ends up when it is no longer needed or desired is the final step that is often missed out. Our experience of recycling and waste management will enable you to get this right so you have true solutions running through your products.
A snapshot of the clients we have worked with on plastics, sustainable packaging innovations and the recycling of packaging.
Project 1: Meeting plastics packaging targets for an international retailer
Project 2: Setting achievable plastic and packaging reduction targets for a high-end retailer
Project 3: Assessing the design impacts on recyclability of hard to process packaging formats in the carbon board industry
As part of our 2019 sustainability predictions series, Debbie Hitchen, Director in Waste and Resource Sustainability, explains what she thinks might happen with plastics in 2019, and the potential impacts on business.