KANSAS CITY — A diverse coalition came together in Bali in late October and committed to reducing plastic pollution in the environment. The effort may one day lead to significant changes in the materials food and beverage companies use to package products.
The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment was born out of research demonstrating the damaging impact of plastic pollution on the environment. A report published by the United Kingdom’s Government Office for Science in 2017 said approximately 70 per cent of the trash in the oceans is made of plastic. The debris has been shown to adversely affect sea life together with the communities and industries around the world that rely on the harvesting of sea life for food.
Additionally, concern is mounting that ingestion of microplastics, which are fragments of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters, by animals may harm people who consume the meat or milk derived from them. The U.K. study said more research is needed to assess if there is any risk.
The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment takes these initiatives further. Companies joining the commitment include The Coca-Cola Co., Danone S.A., Mars Inc., Nestle S.A., PepsiCo, Inc., and Unilever P.L.C. These companies, and many others in non-food segments of C.P.G. that have joined, represent 20 per cent of all the plastic packaging produced globally. Other members of the Commitment include representatives from academia, non-governmental organizations and financial institutions.
But reducing plastic waste, particularly waste from single-use items like straws, packaging materials and utensils, is gaining momentum. Many food service companies, for example, have reduced or eliminated the use of plastic straws or set a goal for doing so.
Concern about the impact plastic pollution may be having on the environment signals a shift in consumer attitudes.
Each member has agreed to eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging and move from single-use to reuse packaging models; innovate to ensure 100% of plastic packaging may be easily reused, recycled or composted; and increase the amount of plastics reused and made into new packaging or products.
“We believe the time is now to step up and accelerate, embrace our responsibility and work with others to engage a radical shift that will help free the world from packaging waste,” said Emmanuel Faber, chairman and chief executive officer of Danone S.A. “We will be acting both at global and local level to ensure circularity of packaging becomes the new norm.”
Danone is working with Nestle and PepsiCo to develop renewable, bio-based materials. The companies have set a goal to bring the first 75% bio-based bottle to commercial scale by 2021 and aim to introduce 100% bio-based bottles by 2025.
Concern about the impact plastic pollution may be having on the environment signals a shift in consumer attitudes. The proliferation of single-use plastics, especially in food and beverage, relates in part to increasing consumer demand for convenience.
But attitudes are changing. The reduction trend started with many states and municipalities banning the use of plastic bags and has moved to single-use straws and utensils. There is momentum behind this movement, and like those companies that have joined the commitment others must prepare for a day when consumers may value social responsibility as much as convenience.