Published 8 months ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Glad Australia
/ This article is sponsored by
This is the second in a three-part series covering key opportunities to turn “the plastic recycling problem” into a circular economy for plastics.
As we discussed in part
of this series, the amount of plastic recycled each year (less than 10 percent
of plastic in the US) not only pales in comparison to how much ends up in
landfills (86 percent in the US
it’s also getting lapped by virgin plastic production. Because only a tiny
fraction of plastic gets recycled, new material must continue to be produced to
keep pace with increasing demand.
In the last three decades, global plastic consumption has
In 2019, 353 million tonnes of plastic ended up as waste across the world —
roughly 32 million tonnes of that were recycled, while more than 176 million
tonnes entered landfills. Meanwhile, manufacturers created 460 million tonnes of
new plastic. The forecast for 2030 shows a troubling trajectory — with new
plastic production continuing to far outpace what’s expected to be recycled.
Many manufacturers say they worry about the costs associated with integrating
recycled plastic into their products; and their concerns are somewhat
legitimate: Mechanically recycled plastic polymers aren’t always as
against wear and tear as their virgin plastic counterparts. But that view can be
At Oceanworks, we know that in many instances a
near-perfect substitute already exists. The extreme
under which manufacturers test their products often don’t reflect the real-world
conditions those products will face in the hands of consumers. And although a
recycled-plastic product may not be able to withstand a fall from a skyscraper
as well as its clone made from virgin plastic, the tradeoff to have a smaller
environmental footprint may ultimately be more appealing to consumers: A recent
the Finnish Environment Institute reveals 93 percent of consumers who
purchased goods made of recycled plastics are satisfied with those products; and
the use of recycled plastics positively influenced purchasing decisions of 86
percent of consumers.
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The bottom line is that recycled plastic’s quality is seldom an
in the real world; and manufacturers that have concerns about quality have
several measures to bolster their use of recycled plastics — including
single-source recycling and quality-enhancing additives. Brands often undervalue
the appeal that incorporating post-consumer recycled
into their products has for consumers; even modest additions of recycled
materials can influence a consumer’s purchasing decision. Most
— especially millennials and Gen Z shoppers — prioritize purchasing from brands
that are focused on improving their environmental footprint, especially when
those efforts are paired with transparent messaging around impact.
Glad® Australia utilized 50 percent oceanbound plastic to create its Glad to be Green® Bin Liners and worked with Oceanworks® to ensure accurate language to communicate the product’s impact to consumers. Image credit: Glad® Australia
At Oceanworks, we have discovered an interesting lack of raw material
accountability at the brand-level, specifically related to plastics. For
instance, many global brands that utilize metals and plastics may track metal
commodities, but still don't track plastic data. This becomes an issue when
pushing for recycled-plastic implementation and drafting contracts with
manufacturers; brands are at the mercy of manufacturers who have little
incentive to switch from virgin plastics to recycled plastics. If the brand
teams lack knowledge around recycled-plastic commodity pricing, serious
discussions of change quickly become unrealistic.
But changes are on the way. As consumers become more aware of and concerned
about the problems with
brands are becoming more intimately involved in their manufacturing processes
and sourcing to minimize their environmental footprint; the ones that don’t are
sure to be left behind. To succeed, brands need a mix of key
— strong executive leadership to make sustainability a priority from the top
down, materials experts to help them navigate their supplier networks, inspired
marketing teams who are fully committed to
and trusted sustainability partners who can provide assistance.
It all adds up to the reality that suppliers are facing mounting pressure to
integrate recycled material into manufactured goods. And as consumers get more
visibility into how a brand’s products are sourced and
their confidence that some brands are truly committed should drive more demand
for recycled-plastic products and a willingness to pay a premium for those
of this series discussed how to fix the broken plastic-recycling system. Part 3
will cover how to reduce confusion about plastic recycling and boost consumer
Published Mar 13, 2023 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.