The need to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that the battle to reduce the use of single-use plastic has taken a back seat in recent months.
But it hasn’t gone away, and a couple of recent developments could prove transformative in the struggle to reduce the impact of plastic waste.
Three of the world’s biggest FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) companies have announced plans to create 100% plastic-free paper bottles.
Diageo will introduce paper-based bottles for its Johnny Walker whisky brand, which will be made from sustainably-sourced pulp and recyclable in standard waste streams. The bottles will be manufactured by Pulpex, a joint venture between Diageo and venture management company Pilot Lite that will focus on sustainable packaging.
Pulpex will also create paper bottles for Unilever and PepsiCo, which are also set to hit the market next year.
Consumer goods companies are coming under increasing pressure to act on plastic packaging from governments, consumers, retailers and investors.
“Renewable, recyclable and biodegradable pulp bottles have the potential to deliver significant improvements on the carbon footprint of glass bottles (90% savings) and PET (30% savings), addressing recycling rates and access to recycling infrastructure and removes harmful plastic fibres from the environment,” the company says.
Taking a different approach is Loop, an offshoot of Terracycle, a company that specializes in hard-to-recycle goods such as toothpaste tubes, juice boxes, chip packets and plastic gloves. Loop is also partnering with Unilever and PepsiCo, as well as other huge groups such as Mars, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Clorox, Coca-Cola, Mondelēz and Danone, as well as a number of smaller brands.
Loop is introducing reusable packaging for a range of products, which customers return once they have finished the product instead of throwing it away. Loop then cleans it and reuses it. The products range from sauces, yoghurt and beverages to soap, shampoo, moisturiser and toothpaste. Customers pay a deposit for each piece of packaging, which is refunded when the packaging is returned. Loop will, in effect, be acting as an online retailer, but one that retains ownership of and responsibility for the packaging of the products.
The company aims to roll out the scheme to supermarkets. The scheme has just launched in the UK with the country’s largest supermarket chain Tesco, following a pilot scheme in Paris in 2019 in conjunction with the retailer Carrefour.
The success of that pilot project attracted interest from the UK media group Sky, which has a commitment to tackle the impact of single-use plastic on the oceans and invested $2m in the initiative. New brands are being added all the time, with products such as Clorox wipes and Haagen-Dazs ice cream among the best sellers in the US, where Loop is currently working with Kroger and Walgreens. The service is set to be launched soon in Canada, Germany, Japan and Australia, with other markets to follow.
“Loop was designed from the ground-up to reinvent the way we consume by learning from historic circular and sustainable models like the milkman from yesteryear while honouring the convenience afforded by our single use consumption of today,” said Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of Loop and TerraCycle.
The partnership aims to test a new way of helping customers use less plastic, explore the potential of reuse and then roll it out at scale to have a significant impact on plastic waste, said Tesco Group CEO Dave Lewis. “We will learn what works at scale as we develop plans with Loop to introduce reusable packaging into our business.”
These are small steps in the fight to reduce the impact of plastic waste, but if they scale up, they could have a big impact.