The Trends in Plastics – How They Affect Our Oceans – and the Solutions

At a recent summit on the environment held in Kenya on the 6th of December, the delegates agreed on a new resolution, which is non-binding, to stop waste made of plastic from entering the oceans. According to the ocean chief of the UN, we have a planetary crisis, and yet sadly, not many of us are fully aware of the extent of the damage – how far it can reach. The agreement has, as part, the forming of an international team or task force which is supposed to advise different countries on how to deal with pollution.

The emotional connection

In other news, a recently concluded episode of Blue Planet II touched an emotional nerve when its narrator and host, Sir David Attenborough, urged viewers to reduce their use of plastics. The episode showed a whale that was carrying its newborn, which was stillborn, and this was apparently caused by the consumption of plastic and its effect on the oceans. The BPF, or British Plastics Federation, was quick to respond to the uproar, saying that plastics are not a significant toxin source nor are they persistent pollutants or the source of heavy metals in the seas. According to the BPF, plastics are an inert material, are safe, and are made to exacting requirements set forth in the legislation for food contact according to the EU.

A look at facts and figures – and progress

This year alone, the PET beverage packaging industry for Western Europe will consume more than 2 million tonnes of plastic material, and the industry itself will be worth almost $6 billion. This is particularly true for PET packaging for fruit drinks and beverages, which has shown significant growth in the last few years. With this in mind, it’s important to make sure that the plastic that continues to be used is as recyclable as possible.

There are certain materials used for drinks that have shown an increase in recyclability, however. Aluminium, for instance, became as much as 72.9 per cent recyclable in 2014, compared to only 1.6 per cent recyclable in the past. The recycling of cartons has also made steady progress.

One particular carton product could present a solution, too. The Frugal Carton created by Frugalpac has an outer cover or shell comprised of 100 percent paperboard, and inside it is a foil bag which provides the carton with another layer which is waterproof. This means that the product can be easily disposed of in the recycling bin, where it can be treated in much the same way as regular cardboard.

Big brands making significant changes and goals

Meanwhile, CCEP, or Coca Cola European Partners, just launched its new strategy for sustainable packaging in the UK, aiming to work with both national and local partners in order to cover its entire range of packaging so more becomes recycled.

As of now, only about 70 per cent of cans and about 57 percent of bottles made of plastic are recycled – and CCEP understands and believes that the percentage should be higher. Some of the actions CCEP has taken include making sure that all cans and bottles are 100 per cent recyclable, reducing the weight of packs, and making a long-term commitment to the use of rPET which is sourced locally.

The good news is that since big players like CCEP are taking action, other companies are bound to follow suit. Some major companies have already jumped on the bandwagon in recent years, such as Britvic, AG Barr, and LRS, which have all made their PET bottles more lightweight.

Also, huge corporations such as HP Inc. have said that there is also a manufacturing viewpoint. It stated that sustainability when it comes to print should address the entire manufacturing process, especially in regard to over-producing the packaging for products. According to HP Inc., the use of a digital printing process enables brands to be more sustainable, printing smaller packaging runs and matching the printing only to the demand for it.

A collective effort

In the UK, it has been found that although there is an effective infrastructure when it comes to the collection of waste from households, there still needs to be more focus on preventing or lowering the amount of plastic materials entering the oceans. The experts agree that the government should continue to take further measures to simplify the infrastructure of waste management and implement a national recycling scheme or system.

But consumers have their own part to play as well. The more consumers choose to engage only with brands that are environmentally ethical, the more potential the movement will have. The good news is that in the past 15 years, engagement has steadily grown – not just amongst companies, but amongst councils and consumers as well.


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