March/April Sustainability Update: COVID-19 Changes the Plastics Conversation, but CPGs Still Innovating

The coronavirus raises concerns about reusable packaging and deals a blow to recycling, but amidst the uncertainty, CPGs and associations still work toward greater packaging sustainability.

With the pandemic, the amount of single use plastic and packaging is growing, and if not disposed of properly by the consumer, will head for the landfill.
With the pandemic, the amount of single use plastic and packaging is growing, and if not disposed of properly by the consumer, will head for the landfill.

As the coronavirus swept across the U.S. in March and April, the debate raged as to the relative safety of single-use plastics versus reusables, with a myriad of opinions from retailers, environmental groups, plastics associations, and consumers.

Read these related articles from Packaging World:

·     Opinion: COVID-19 Swings 'Reusable' from Good to Bad
·     How Safe is Reusable Packaging During COVID-19? 

Meanwhile, recycling both in the U.S. and Europe falter as the waste generated in foodservice and other away-from-home venues drops, and household waste increases, driving up costs. The drop in oil prices also impacts the viability of recycled content over virgin materials.

Read these related articles from Packaging World:

·      Recycling Takes Another Hit During Pandemic 

·      European Recycling Markets Reel from Coronavirus 

AMC Global and OpinionRoute released a study focusing on the environmental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and changes in consumer behavior and perceptions.AMC Global and OpinionRoute released a study focusing on the environmental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and changes in consumer behavior and perceptions. In other news, focusing on the environmental impact during the COVID-19 pandemic and changes in consumer behavior and perceptions, on April 30, AMC Global and OpinionRoute released the fifth wave of an ongoing weekly study. The key findings for the week of April 27 included the following:

  • 80% of consumers believe COVID-19 stay-at-home orders have had a positive impact on the environment.
  • 67% of consumers say they are now more aware of how their actions and the actions of others impact the environment.
  • Consumers predict their behavior post COVID-19 to include an increase in activities that are perceived to be beneficial to the environment. 26% say they are planning to increase their purchases from brands that are committed to being environmentally friendly, and 23% say they will purchase more from brands using sustainable packaging.
  • Prior to COVID-19, 65% of consumers were recycling; after the pandemic 8% (who were not recycling before) say they are going to increase their recycling efforts.

Despite COVID 19, there were plenty of new innovations announced over the past two months around packaging sustainability. Among them:

Starbucks launched a trial in early March of a “greener cup technology” in select stores in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Vancouver (BC), and London. The new cup uses the BioPBS™ liner, which makes the cup certified compostable and recyclable, while maintaining the same look and feel as the classic Starbucks cup. The company says the limited-time trial is part of its journey to develop a 100% recyclable and compostable hot cup solution by 2022. BioPBS technology was created by one of the winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge, and was identified as ready for in-market tests after months of internal research and development at Starbucks Tryer Center lab. Says Starbucks, the trial is designed to test the overall performance of the cup in its stores, providing key insights from partners (employees) and customers with the goal of no noticeable differences between the new cup and current cup.

Henkel announced that it has set further ambitious packaging targets for 2025 to promote a circular economy. The new packaging targets—100/50/Zero—include the following:

·      100% recyclable or reusable (excluding adhesive products where residue may affect recyclability or pollute recycling systems): By 2025, all packaging material will be recyclable or reusable; today the company is already at 85%. The main aim is to overcome the recycling hurdles specific to each packaging category—for example, by introducing solutions for multilayer flexible or black packaging.

Henkel announced that it has set further ambitious packaging targets for 2025 to promote a circular economy.Henkel announced that it has set further ambitious packaging targets for 2025 to promote a circular economy.·      50% less fossil plastic: Henkel wants to reduce the amount of virgin plastic from fossil sources in the consumer goods businesses Beauty Care and Laundry & Home Care by 50%, by reducing the volume of packaging, through increasing the proportion of recycled material in its consumer goods packaging to more than 30% globally and by using bio-based plastics.

·      Zero waste: Henkel wants to help prevent waste from being disposed into the environment. Therefore, the company is supporting waste collection and recycling initiatives and invests in innovative solutions and technologies to promote closed-loop recycling. Additionally, Henkel aims to support its consumers in responsible usage and disposal of its products. Each year, the company wants to reach more than 2 billion consumer contacts by providing targeted information about recycling and correct waste disposal, for example through dedicated icons on the packaging.

Read related stories from Packaging World:

·      P&G Greatly Expands Eco-Box Portfolio

·      P&G Debuts Paper Deodorant Tube

March and April also brought a lot of news from packaging- and plastics-related associations and NGOs.

In March, PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, released a new business intelligence report, ‘Packaging Sustainability: A Changing Landscape.’In March, PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, released a new business intelligence report, ‘Packaging Sustainability: A Changing Landscape.’ In March, PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, released  a new business intelligence report, “Packaging Sustainability: A Changing Landscape,” based on 60 interviews completed in early 2020 with food, beverage, Consumer Packaged Goods, and pharmaceutical manufacturers, as well as contract packagers, OEMs, and material suppliers. It concludes that packaging sustainability has moved beyond a trend and is now a global shift. An Executive Summary of the report is available to non-members, while members can download the report for free. Visit the site here. 

View related articles on the report from Packaging World:

·      The Shifting Sustainability Model

·      Material Innovation Key to Achieving Sustainable Packaging Strategy

·     Top Five Functional Machine Improvements for Sustainable Packaging Operations   

On Earth Day, Stephan Ango, co-founder and CPO of packaging supply chain management company Lumi, launched a new project called Slash Packaging a directory of brands that have a dedicated “/packaging” page for packaging transparency on their website. So far, 30-plus brands have joined, including Rothy’s, Ritual, Grove Collaborative, and Seed. Says Lumi, “Brands invest a lot of time and money into sustainable packaging, sustainability doesn’t look the same for every business. Slash Packaging gives brands the opportunity to share their priorities and rationale behind their decisions.” Brands that join Slash Packaging by May 22 will get an Earth Day 2020 Pioneer “badge” on their page.

On April 30, the American Chemistry Council’s Chemical Recycling Alliance announced it had changed its name to the Advanced Recycling Alliance for Plastics (ARAP) to reflect its growing membership and variety of members’ advanced recycling technologies. Said Prapti Muhuri, ACC’s Manager of Recycling and Recovery and staff lead for ARAP, “ARAP and ACC’s Plastics Division members are working to help answer increasing calls for solutions that enable society to use and reuse our valuable plastic resources and to overcome growth barriers for these innovative technologies. Advanced plastics recycling is one of the fastest growing solutions to America’s plastic waste concerns, and will help the plastics industry realize its goal of recycling or recovering all plastic packaging by 2040.” 

The Recycling Market Development will help connect stakeholders, accelerate the continued growth of plastics recycling, and provide guidance on how to better support plastics’ circularity.The Recycling Market Development will help connect stakeholders, accelerate the continued growth of plastics recycling, and provide guidance on how to better support plastics’ circularity. In other news from ACC, the council and More Recycling (MORE) have launched a new website to accelerate end-market development for plastics. The Recycling Market Development Platform will help connect stakeholders, accelerate the continued growth of plastics recycling, and provide guidance on how to better support plastics’ circularity. The free, open-source digital platform was developed by MORE with ACC as a founding partner. The site will be managed by the National Recycling Coalition with promotional support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In late March, the Association of Plastics Recyclers (APR), announced a process to endorse companies that provide third-party certification of post-consumer recycled content and promote APR member companies that receive certification. To support and grow the use of PCR plastics, APR says it is essential that PCR certification be reliable, consistent, and accessible by both producers and users of recycled plastic resins. Through this endorsement program, APR says it ultimately seeks to increase supply and demand of PCR plastics. APR’s PCR Certification Program includes three components: 1) APR endorses qualified third-party companies to conduct certifications; 2) Plastic reclaimers hire the APR endorsed companies to certify their PCR; and 3) APR members present their PCR certification to APR for nationwide promotion. Learn more about APR’s Postconsumer Resin Certification Program here.

In mid-April, the Consumer Brands Association released its new policy platform with recommendations to achieve the country’s optimal recycling system. Achieving America’s Recycling Future is the first policy platform released by the association, representing the views of the Consumer Packaged Goods industry, and focuses on finding scalable solutions to address the underlying issues in the recycling and recovery system. Says CBA, the CPG industry supports a national solution to fix the country’s broken recycling system requiring three key elements: a standard foundation; long-term financing mechanisms that drive needed outcomes; and strong end-markets to meet demand. Read the policy platform here.

A new report from international relief and development agency Tearfund found that consumer brands Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever are responsible for approximately 0.6 million tons of plastic pollution that is burnt or dumped per year in just six developing countries. “The Burning Question” report focused on plastic pollution in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Nigeria, and the Philippines and estimated that the four firms create enough plastic pollution to cover 83 football fields every day. Among the findings, Tearfund learned that the plastic that is burnt creates emissions equivalent to 5 million tons of CO2—the same as 2 million cars on U.K. roads a year; Coca-Cola is the worst of the four companies investigated, with 220,000 tons of plastic pollution—or around 8 billion bottles—burnt or dumped each year in these developing countries; and PepsiCo is the second worst after Coca-Cola with a plastic pollution footprint of more than 151,000 tons per year. Says Tearfund, the findings show that these companies must urgently switch to sustainable refillable and reusable packaging alternatives instead of single-use plastic packaging and sachets.

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