Given the overwhelming pressure humankind is exerting on the planet and the climate change crisis we’re facing (indeed, already experiencing), the recent news that Coca Cola, the world’s largest producer of plastic bottles (108 billion bottles per year, more than a fifth of the world’s PET bottle output), will not ditch single-use plastic bottles as to do so could “alienate customers and hit sales”, is hugely disappointing.
Instead, Coca Cola is building a plastics recycling plant. The problem is that recycling is not the environmental Holy Grail we’ve been led to believe, especially for plastic. In fact, a significant proportion of those 108 billion bottles won’t even make it to a recycling facility, but will end up in landfill or polluting the oceans. And, even if they do make it, a plastic bottle can generally only be recycled up to a maximum of 10 times.
The net result is that we’re just not getting enough back from the recycling process and are still having to produce fossil-fuel-derived virgin plastic. We need to be moving towards a circular system of biodegradable and compostable packaging.
And on that note, what's inspiring is the innovation coming out of brands that are trying to address the issue by thinking and doing things differently. They’re the ones making a real difference, and prioritising values over corporate greed.
Ecovative Design – its patented design MycoComposite™ is made from mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus) and the agricultural by-product of hemp. This fast-growing fungus can be cultivated in moulds and produces a strong, cost-effective alternative to plastic and Styrofoam. And it’s fully compostable, taking just 30 days to decompose.
Ikea started using MycoComposite™ packaging last year to replace the Styrofoam in all its products. The sheer scale of how much of that polluting packing will be taken out of the equation by this pioneering move is mind-boggling.
Lush – this cosmetic brand has long been known for natural and ethical products but has more recently thrown themselves into removing packaging altogether or radically changing it to reduce plastic. Many of their makeup products come with natural wax holders and are packed in recycled and recyclable cardboard.
Elate Beauty – another cosmetic company striving to abolish the torrent of disposable plastics, Elate uses glass and bamboo for their packaging and offer product refills.
Soapbottle – packaging for bath and shower products that’s made from soap, so when the inner product is finished, the container itself can be consumed. Genius!
Future Shape – an investment company established by iPod inventor, iPhone co-inventor and Nest founder, Tony Fadell, that invests in technology and businesses that will have a positive environmental impact on the world. They have several areas of focus, one of which is developing consumer-compostable plastics for packaging that are made from biowaste (hint, hint, nudge, nudge Coca Cola!).
As consumers become ever more conscious about their product choices and their impact on the planet, brands will need to focus more on sustainability and environmental responsibility.
With that comes immense opportunity for creativity, from brand building and product design to packaging reformation and graphic design on different materials.
I sense a future ‘packed’ with possibility and promise.
Anyone that says plastics are a waste management problem is lying.