From shampoo bottles to food packaging, single-use plastic continues to be the main delivery system used by fmcg. Despite consumer efforts to cut plastic, according to Everyday Plastic and Greenpeace, UK households throw away approximately 96 billion pieces of plastic packaging annually. That’s an average of 66 pieces per week, per household.
This daily dependency on plastic has created a global environmental crisis. With an estimated 200 million tonnes of plastic now in our oceans – and rising by a further 11 million tonnes each year – it’s never been as important for fmcg companies to reduce their plastic footprint.
The next phase of the government’s recently implemented single-use plastics ban comes at a crucial time for the industry. Businesses will be banned from supplying single-use plastic items including plastic cutlery, trays, plates and bowls, as well as certain types of polystyrene cups and containers for food that is ready to consume.
While the ban is a step in the right direction, it is still just a fraction of the change needed to protect our environment.
Clearly disclose plastic in consumables
The ban fails to recognise other widely purchased single-use plastic items such as conventional chewing gum. Conventional gum is the world’s second most littered item and is made using plastic ingredients in the recipe alongside the single-use plastic packaging. Yet this has been overlooked.
It is the responsibility of manufacturers and governments to accelerate their efforts to a sustainable future. Several changes can be implemented to achieve this.
Firstly, the government should consider indirect means of creating price-parity for consumers in order to incentivise and subsidise sustainable buying decisions. This could be achieved by lowering the VAT rate to zero per cent on plastic-free products, or by implementing a penalty, borne by the manufacturers, to discourage the use of plastic in their products.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but secondly, manufacturers using plastic ingredients in their products should be required to clearly disclose this on the labels to ensure consumers are aware of the plastic they are consuming and disposing of. This is particularly important for the likes of conventional chewing gum where the plastic ingredient is disguised with the vague term ‘gum base’.
This could further extend to packaging by requiring manufacturers to disclose the amount of plastic used in a product on its label. More transparency in the sector will allow consumers to make fully informed purchasing decisions by taking sustainability into account, thereby making plastic-free products more attractive.
Government should incentivise fmcg to make green choices
Finally, all plastic wrappers and packaging should be swapped for biodegradable alternatives, where safe and possible to do so. From seaweed to potato starch, many sustainable and innovative packaging solutions exist today that make it easy for fmcg businesses to replace their plastic packaging without compromising the integrity of their products. We urge the government to support these decisions by providing incentives for the fmcg sector to adopt these solutions, thus stimulating further investment and research into the field.
To drive wide-scale sustainable change, there needs to be a unified effort from all stakeholders. The government should incentivise and support sustainable choices, whilst educating the public about best practice, and implementing plans to penalise destructive behaviours towards our planet. Businesses need to make it their mission to produce products that push the world towards a sustainable future. And finally, consumers should have the awareness and ease of making sustainable choices every day without compromise.
People often think sustainability requires sacrifice – whether it’s quality, cost or convenience – when the opposite is true. A lack of sustainable options bears a much higher cost on society and our planet’s health in the long run.
If we are to make a meaningful change in the amount of plastic produced and thrown away by the fmcg sector, we need to shine an even greater spotlight on the issue to drive societal growth and a brighter future for the planet.