It’s all very well declaring a war on plastic, but unless we can find viable alternatives, the war will only end in defeat. Some solutions may come from revisiting old technologies like glass, aluminium, paper, board and cellulose, but these won’t always work. With pressure coming from government and demand now from industry, some interesting new solutions are emerging. Only this week, a German retailer started trialling edible packaging - made from algae. We’ve also identified other alternatives at various stages of development, including solutions made from egg whites and chicken feathers. The question is: which will come (to the market) first? The chicken or the egg?
Meantime, urgent work is needed to make plastic more sustainable, as the recycling infrastructure in the UK is clearly failing. It’s high time leading players in the industry came together to take collective action, to address this on the front foot, rather than foot the bill anyway, but on the defensive.
Happily, in this week’s issue, The Grocer can reveal two such actions. In the first, Tesco is working with Coca-Cola, the Co-op and Heineken on schemes that could prevent tens of thousands of tonnes of plastic from local authorities going to landfill. In the second, other soft drinks suppliers will work together to build consensus on a way forward via a quasi dispute resolution process. Wrap is also expected to publish broader industry pledges on plastic next month, though how stretching they are and how many companies have signed up remains to be seen.
But anyone in the industry who still doubts they need to rise to the challenge on plastic is in for a nasty and costly surprise. Last week, Chancellor Philip Hammond raised the possibility of a new tax on single-use plastic products and packaging. Sources believe the government is drawing up proposals for a tiered model, similar to the soft drinks levy on sugar, depending on the mount of plastic content. Those in the higher tier can expect draconian taxes, they say. So if you’re one of those making excuses all the time and talking about how the government doesn’t understand the need for plastic, this sort of argument is just not going to wash.