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Plastic - Business success and environmental disaster


production of plastic bottlesIt'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. 


Why are businesses taking action now on plastic Sustainability?

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. 

plastic litter on a beach

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 sustainable plastics guide explores how your organisation can create an actionable strategy to fully address these plastic sustainability issues.

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Creating your plastic strategy

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.

Anthesis packaging and plastics offer infographic

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Implementing your plastic strategy

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. 

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Getting the rest of your supply chain in order

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.

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Our plastics and packaging projects 

A snapshot of the clients we have worked with on plastics, sustainable packaging innovations and the recycling of packaging. 

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coveris log belu logo Huhtamaki Logo
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Project 1: Meeting plastics packaging targets for an international retailer

Seconded two days a week for six months to support a retailer in setting their plastic and packaging reduction targets. This involves working with the internal Corporate Social Responsibility team, buyers and suppliers to establish a baseline, strategy of change and a monitoring and reporting programme going forward. 

Project 2: Setting achievable plastic and packaging reduction targets for a high-end retailer

Working with the in-house sustainability team to assess the draft plastic and packaging reduction targets. The draft targets were assessed against competition and deliverability. Advice was also given on the text to be presented to the UK board on the goals and targets. 

Project 3: Assessing the design impacts on recyclability of hard to process packaging formats in the carbon board industry

Helped establish a trial of three MRFs (Materials Recovery Facilities) to identify the challenges and opportunities for enhancing the sorting, recycling and reprocessing of carton board packaging, including paper cups. We also assessed the interaction between material and product design choices on performance in the recycling infrastructure. 

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What's next for plastic Sustainability?

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.


Debbie Hitchen - The Sustainable Plastic Challenge


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UK Resources & Waste Strategy and Plastic Packaging consultation

In February 2019, the UK government released four parallel consultations off the back of the landmark Resources and Waste Strategy published at the end of 2018. 

With heightened anticipation, and perhaps a sense of relief for policy direction, businesses now have the opportunity to digest the options and table their own experiences and evidence towards the new proposals. Industry engagement is highly welcomed and it should recognised that the outputs will shape the future landscape for potentially decades to come. 

It's important that businesses at least understand how this will affect their longer term strategies and operations, if not participate in the debate themselves. 

Below we've summarised the main points of the four consultations: 

  • Defining the products within the scope of the tax
  • Setting a threshold for recycled plastic content and how businesses can demonstrate this
  • Where in the supply chain should the charge take effect and who is liable to pay
  • Minimising administrative burdens for smaller/low volume producers
  • The treatment of imports and exports
  • Robustness to claims and compliance, and preventing tax avoidance or evasion
  • Defining full net recovery and approaches to recovering full net costs from producers
  • Incentives to encourage producers to design and use packaging that can be recycled
  • Who would be affected and obligated as a producer
  • Financing local authorities collection and management of household and household-like packaging waste
  • Mandatory labelling on all packaging to indicate if it is recyclable or not
  • New packaging waste recycling targets for 2025 and 2030, and interim targets for 2021 and 2022
  • Alternative models for the organisation and governance of a future packaging extended producer responsibility system
  • Strengthening monitoring and enforcement including exported packaging waste
  • Developing a core set of dry recyclable materials
  • Separate weekly food waste collections from households
  • Free garden waste collections
  • How to achieve greater separation of dry materials in collections, especially paper and glass to improve the quality of dry recyclables collected from households and businesses
  • Whether statutory guidance on minimum service standards for waste and recycling services should be introduced
  • How to develop non-binding performance indicators and support joint working between local authorities on waste (including alternatives to weight-based targets and having standardised bin colours)
  • Measures to reduce costs of waste collection for businesses and organisations, with better availability of data from businesses waste and recycling
  • Including the same materials for either proposal, PET and HDPE plastic bottles, steel and aluminium cans, and glass bottles, proposing that a broad range of drinks, including water, soft drinks, juices, alcohol, and milk-containing drinks, where they are sold individually
  • Should an all-in approach be taken with no restriction on size?
  • An alternate ‘on-the-go’ option - with restriction of containers in-scope less than 750ml in size
  • An exclusion of DRS scoped products from the producer responsibility system


Each call to industry promises significant changes to the way we think about packaging and its waste, and will surely see significant financial implications across the supply chain from manufacturers to local authority and packaging processors. With such pressure on all organisations across the supply chain, it's important to engage, otherwise how can we comment or criticise on the results?

The bespoke nature of a consultation response needs a constructive, balanced and evidenced-based approach, and there's plenty to discuss before the 12th May 2019 response deadline. If you want to know more about the impacts or responding, please contact one of our packaging specialists.

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  PDF guides to download

Plastic waste dumping maldives-2

packaging line

plastic pollution in lake-206156-edited-113662-edited

How to tackle the sustainable plastic challenge

Sustainable packaging & manufacturing solutions

Single-use plastic FAQs for businesses


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Related plastic content:

2019 predictions blog image clothes on rail plastic-packaging-bottles-production-369x369

2019 Prediction Series - What will happen with the sustainable plastic challenge?


 Why brands should be prioritising the reduction of microfibers


Future of plastic: How should businesses respond to plastic-mania?



circular economy globe plastics webinar Plastic-pollution-in-ocean-644461-edited

How to embrace a circular economy in your own operations

PDF guide

Single-use plastics webinar on actions businesses can take


How businesses can reduce the amount of marine plastic pollution in our oceans



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 Get in touch


Would you like to speak to someone about addressing your plastic challenge?