Published 1 year ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Aleksandar Pasaric
Whether the priority is to reduce the plastic in packaging, increase the recycled content or just figure out where to start, it all begins with opening up a dialogue with suppliers. That is exactly what one major US retailer did when it sought to re-energise its plastics and packaging pledge during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, Plastic Free
once again brought together millions of people across the globe to be part of
the solution to plastic pollution. The great thing about the yearly initiative
is that it provides its 100 million+ participants with a substantial set of
resources to help them make changes to reduce their use of household single-use
plastic. But plastic pollution is obviously not something that consumers can
tackle alone — it requires a collective and collaborative approach, one in which
brands, retailers and their respective packaging suppliers need to get involved.
One way the UK government decided to get businesses and manufacturers to act
was by introducing a tax on plastic
in April 2022 that aims to provide an economic incentive for businesses to
investigate and increase the amount of recycled plastic in their packaging. This
is done by taxing any packaging in (or imported into) the UK that does not
contain at least 30 percent recycled plastic. However, if the price of recycled
materials significantly increases or oil prices fall, then a fixed tax (of £200
per metric tonne of virgin plastic used) will not be enough to tackle the
problem. It needs be flexible enough to deter businesses from sourcing cheaper
virgin plastics and just paying the tax.
Many have argued that the UK tax is insufficient to have a positive impact.
However, anything that succeeds in increasing the demand for recycled plastic —
and in turn boosts the pitiful 9 percent of plastic currently being recycled
globally — is still a step in the right direction. In the sustainability world,
we take all the small wins we can get.
Plastic has a limited number of times it can be recycled before it is no longer
useable, and the virgin plastic industry is showing no sign of slowing down
production. This makes the increase in recycled plastic packaging only the pilot
project of a much larger journey for brands and retailers.
Here at Supply Pilot, we’ve love to tell you
that the majority of brands, retailers and their suppliers are smashing their
recycled content, recyclability and reduction targets and are ready to start
eliminating plastic from their packaging completely and work with suppliers to
innovate for home-compostable
But this is not the case.
Whether the priority is to reduce the plastic in packaging, increase the
recycled content, or even just figure out where to start with plastic packaging,
it all begins with opening up a dialogue with
That is exactly what one major US
did when it sought to re-energise its plastics and packaging pledge during the
COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the climate challenges, failing to meet a public
pledge was not an option; and the retailer recognised it needed external support
to accelerate its ambitious targets, which pledged three requirements:
To be 100 percent recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable by 2025
Plastics must contain 20 percent recycled content by 2025
Clear recycling communications, including QR codes, by 2022
Onboarding suppliers was critical. This was the catalyst that set everything
else in motion — from conveying accurate information about degradability and
recyclability, to tackling waste, increasing recycled content, and collaborating
on solutions to reduce plastic use. Eventually, it led to a final response rate
of over 90 percent for the retailer — well over the industry average of 25
percent for this type of collaborative activity.
The lessons learned by the retailer example showcase that brands need to
understand how ready and capable suppliers are to provide information about the
composition of packaging materials. Some suppliers might be mature enough in
their sustainability journeys to offer more sustainable solutions; others might
not even have a packaging technologist on their staff. This is where a
supplier-readiness survey, like the one deployed by the retailer, comes into
play to segment the supply base by maturity and capability. This enables brands
and retailers to better understand their suppliers and set realistic targets. A
target might outline a desired increase in recycled plastic content or an
overall reduction in the amount of packaging needed. If this seems too
far-fetched due to lack of supplier readiness, interim targets can help brands
and retailers to collaborate with current suppliers to adhere to any new
legislation and reduce any environmental impact where possible, prior to
tackling more ambitious targets. Remember, success is the sum of small efforts.
Tracking progress towards a target requires a reference point for the start of
the project — asking suppliers to complete a bill of materials for packaging
establishes this benchmark. It is then time to activate and align packaging
suppliers to this initiative and get them all singing from the same hymn sheet
about plastic. A supplier-readiness survey paves the way for this beautifully,
as it enables brands to target communications and supplier self-help to specific
groups of suppliers based on their knowledge and completion of the benchmark
Suppliers need to be consistently held accountable to providing accurate and
up-to-date packaging-composition data and fulfilling commitments they have made
to reach specific packaging goals. Only then can brands and retailers make
substantial, evidence-backed claims about packaging and be ready to face the
scrutiny about plastic packaging that is to come — the UK plastic tax is only
Published Oct 17, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST