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The companies tackling the plastic problem through sustainable innovation

18-04-2017 Matthew Drane

Companies are rethinking the use of plastics in their products and packaging in order to address the growing plastic problem. This is delivering exciting innovations that benefits both business and the environment.

Plastic waste is an alarming problem. It affects our environment, our health and is increasingly affecting the food chain. Current predictions are that our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050. Yet, still the world recycles just 14% of the plastic packaging it uses.

As companies recognise their role in creating and responsibility in tackling plastic pollution, the use of plastics across the product life-cycle is being rethought. The New Plastics Economy Initiative led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is driving efforts to rethink and redesign the future of plastics, starting with packaging. According to a recent report by the Foundation, without fundamental redesign, about 30% of plastic packaging will never be reused or recycled. This is a missed business opportunity as well as being disastrous for the environment. The opportunities offered by the new plastics economy are clearly significant and as companies are realising the potential for business-driven solutions, many are adopting ambitious targets for the future. For example, Unilever, the consumer goods giant which uses over 2 million tonnes of packaging a year, has pledged to make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.  

‘The Threat into a Thread’
Rethinking the use of plastic is driving some really exciting innovation and resulting in some ground-breaking products. Adidas has collaborated with Parley to transform ocean plastic pollution into high performance sportswear. This turns the problem of ocean plastics into a solution, or in their words ‘the threat into a thread’. Their latest collaboration is a collection of swimwear that is made from upcycled fishing nets and debris. This follows their earlier work on the release of 7000 pairs of trainers made from ocean plastic. The pace of the innovation is equally impressive as the ingenuity as these product ranges scale up from design-studio prototypes to real-life solutions. For example in 2017, the company aims to produce 1 million pairs of the trainers from more than 11 million plastic bottles. The scale of the plastic problem is forcing companies to adapt the way they do business. But, in doing so they open up countless opportunities for more efficient supply chains and exciting new products. 

Plastic packaging
The focus for companies at the forefront of the new plastics economy has not been limited to just their products, there have been exciting developments in terms of packaging solutions as well. Rethinking the use of plastic packaging has the potential to unlock huge cost savings for companies as they look to embed circular economy principles. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 95% of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80-120 billion annually, is lost to the economy.

Computer firm Dell recently announced that it would be using waste plastic found on beaches in its new packaging for one of its laptops. The company estimates converting the waste plastic into new packaging will prevent over 7000 kg of plastic from entering into oceans in 2017. Other examples include consumer goods giant P&G’s plans for a run of Head & Shoulders shampoo bottles made partly from plastic waste collected by volunteers on France’s beaches and the significant steps Britvic have made in developing a sustainable bottle made from wood fibre.

Want to find out about another example of exciting packaging innovation, check out our recent blog on Snact and their compostable packaging.

Rethinking business models
The business case for rethinking plastics is clear. By tackling the problem of plastic waste through sustainable innovation, companies are seeing the benefits of improved supply chain risk management, efficiency-driven cost savings, new revenue streams and enhanced brand reputation. The traditional linear model of 'take-make-waste' is being radically disrupted by forward-thinking companies, the question is how quickly this can lead to wider systemic change.

  

 To understand how sustainability can unlock business benefits for your organisation, download our sustainability strategy services brochure

 

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