Published 1 year ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Burger King has partnered with Loop in the US and UK on reusable packaging options | Loop
Latest research from Planet Tracker proposes a practical business solution to the problem of plastic waste, whereby packaging is treated as an asset to be returned, rather than a liability to be tossed.
Companies currently treat packaging as an asset, up until the point that the
product is sold. After purchase, product packaging switches from being a
corporate asset to a liability for the consumer or local municipality, which is
responsible for its disposal.
The problem of plastic packaging is not going away — the latest OECD Plastic
Outlook: Policy Scenarios
predicts almost a tripling of global plastic waste by 2060, forecasting
consumption to rise from 460 million tonnes (Mt) in 2019 to 1,231 Mt in 2060 in
the “absence of bold new policies.”
Much as visionary architect and designer William McDonough proposed reframing our relationship to another problematic element — carbon — by viewing it as an asset, a new
by financial think tank Planet Tracker astutely asserts if
packaging remained an asset of the producer or seller throughout its life, it
would optimize the recycling of packaging and turbocharge the transition towards
a circular economy.
From a financial viewpoint, it is preferable to make the liability and its costs
someone else’s problem (an approach that has created our global plastic
but if assets can be maximized, then ownership through the entire lifecycle
holds tangible financial value. Therefore, the continued ownership of packaging
assets by the product company is a more practical solution than the current
model, with a ‘right of use and requirement to return’ taken on by the end
consumer — establishing a modern ‘rent-not-own’ model.
Attempts at keeping product manufacturers engaged and packaging materials in
play can be seen in the growing number of extended producer
(EPR) schemes popping up in Europe and North America; but they remain
piecemeal (state-by-state regulations in the US) and somewhat flawed (ex:
opponents say California’s recent extended producer responsibility
will raise the cost of consumer goods sold in the State) — making compliance and
standardization nearly impossible, and garnering pushback from industry and
But Planet Tracker’s approach, in which packaging is viewed as an asset from the
beginning, could cause a step change in achieving the mentality necessary to
implement a robust circular economy; and it would also come with several
financial advantages — including improved profitability and cash generation as a
result of lower packaging input costs, greater balance sheet strength by growing
the asset base, and additional profit if packaging assets aren’t returned and
where deposit levels exceed cost.
A similar strategy is already being trialed by
— a global reuse platform enabled by a multistakeholder coalition of
manufacturers, retailers and consumers that aims to eliminate the very concept
of ‘waste’. Participants include leading CPG companies such as Coca-Cola,
Procter & Gamble and Unilever; as well as leading retailers including
Carrefour, Kroger and Walgreens. This solution also offers scope for
a new outsourced, third-party packaging industry to emerge, which could help
commonality and scale.
As platforms such as Loop continue to proliferate, they help consumers shift
their view of packaging from something to discard to an asset that belongs to
someone else, with ongoing value — which should support increased reuse and
recycling rates, both key elements of a functioning circular economy.
From a business perspective, the report points out an asset approach to
packaging would help industry shift from treating it as a one-time-use liability
to seeing an asset with ongoing utility. And the resulting increase in asset
availability (security of supply of recycled feedstock) should support
investment in new processes and infrastructure built around refining and
refreshing recycled material.
John Willis, Director of Research at Planet Tracker, says: “It’s
abundantly clear that the plastics industry must find a way to urgently
transition to a circular economy. A shift in mindset, away from viewing waste as
a liability, is a practical way to ensure physical flows of packaging are
redirected to reuse and recycling models and could be the step change required
to achieve a circular economy. Planet Tracker’s proposed model represents a
financial solution to the waste crisis that will ensure waste is valued rather
Published Aug 5, 2022 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST