The world was recently poised to hear the outcome of COP26, where world leaders effectively hashed out their plans for how to unite against climate change. It was a fraught process to be sure, with many nations butting heads about how to proceed, but, ultimately, targets were put in place to ensure our planet does not go above a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius. A success, to be sure, but this has now resulted in a lot of work that will need to be done quickly in order to meet these targets.
As we have mentioned many times on this blog, the packaging industry definitely has a duty when it comes to meeting these targets. Packaging is a necessity in day-to-day life, and the industry is not going anywhere, but when it comes to ensuring sustainability, how are we able to meet these targets?
In terms of the process of how we work, we are a wholesaler for packaging goods. As such, we do not make the products we sell, but rather we order in our products from suppliers. As we’ve mentioned before on the blog, there is an element of being a slave to the materials our suppliers use, but that is not to say we cannot change our suppliers should the need arise.
In our infancy, back when we started as a company, our ability to buy sustainably from our suppliers was limited. It has only been the last year that we have been able to move towards the likes of plant-based plastics, sustainable cardboard, and starch built void fillers. This also took some digging on our part to ensure there were suppliers we could use to ensure we could sell legitimately sustainable products. There are still aspects that we cannot control though. Try as we might, there is still no sustainable version of bubble wrap readily available in the UK, nor is there sustainable pallet wrap.
But the issue of sustainability goes beyond the wants and needs of one packaging company. On December 7th of this year, Gartner Inc reported the roughly 90% of public sustainability claims will not be met by 2025. This is a considerable blow, especially when you take into account that companies like Kraft, Sealed Air, Mondi, and Mars, have all pledged to not only reduce the amount of virgin plastic they produce, but also to ensure ALL their packaging is recyclable, compostable, or generally reusable within the next three years.
The issues that Gartner raise are more toward current infrastructure than anything else. The ability to mass recycle plastic is still greatly limited in many developed countries, and there are still many plastics that are still simply not recyclable at all. There is also an unwillingness from some sectors to stray away from the likes of fossil-based plastics, purely from an economical standpoint. It still remains cheap to produce oil-based plastics over plant-based ones, and until the opposite is true, it could be difficult to convince companies to move away from what they know.
There is, however, a positive side to this. Innovation is needed quickly, and this has spurred big companies to invest in alternative solutions on a large scale. Just think about the advances in technology for electric cars. In only the last five years the electric car has gone from something of a novelty to a fully viable commercial product. Their batteries have better charge, and the speed you can now charge them has greatly increased. There are also more charging stations available, incentivising the move toward electric cars over gas. This is all down to continued innovation and its efficiency continues to improve.
The same is now becoming true of packaging. We already have plant-based carrier bags readily available, that are also advertised as being fully compostable. This is a great start and has shown that innovation works. This has indirectly led to Coca-Cola developing a plant-based ridged plastic that is at the prototype phase. This is a significant step forward and with the announcement that Coca-Cola doesn’t plan to patent this technology means that other companies will be able to utilise it too. Whether any of this will be done quick enough to meet the deadlines set out by COP26 is still currently debateable, but what is obvious is that many companies are taking it very seriously.
So, what does this mean for companies like ours? It means economical and readily available products that we can claim are 100% sustainable. And with news that the Sealed Air company is moving to plant based, we can finally boast that our bubble wrap will be sustainable too.