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Cohesive approach to solving the plastic waste problem
Source：Food Bev Asia
Date Published：7/18/2019 11:07:40 AM
CALLS for more sustainable production, use, and disposal of plastics are getting stronger, and along with them, the urgent need for effective unified actions.
Statistics from the UN Environment bear these out. On the manufacture and consumption side:
- 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced, using 17 million barrels of oil each year
- 1 million plastic bottles, 10 million plastic bags are bought every minute
- 50% of consumer plastics are single use, and 10% of all human-generated waste is plastic
- 80% remains in landfills or the environment
Given that it takes about 100 years for plastics to degrade in the environment, and considering problems with improper disposal and plastic waste leakage, the world is now faced with:
- 13 million tonnes of plastic that enter the oceans each year
- 100,000 marine animals killed by plastics annually
- 90% of bottled water found to contain plastic particles, 83% of tap water
The UN Environment urges governments to enact strong policies for a more circular model of design and production of plastics. It likewise encourages citizens to demand sustainable products and embrace sensible consumption habits. The global body is also pressing for greater accountability from the private sector to introduce changes and adopt business models that reduce downstream impact. Its key messages: innovate and use alternatives. Innovation means:
- Taking a long-term view of reducing consumption of single-use plastic
- Eliminating difficult-to-collect and recycle items
- Harmonising plastic quality standards and types of recycled plastic and packaging
- Designing packaging that is easier to reuse, collect and recycle
- Collaborating with waste management and recycling industries to a Circular Economy in the plastic value chain
In addition, the UN is pushing for reusable objects, natural polymers, bio-massed based compostable bio-polymers.
(Photo © Dreamstime.com)
Such messages are of course being taken seriously by big brands with significant stakes in Asia. Among them, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Swiss packaging firm Tetra Pak.
In its World Without Waste Framework, Coca-Cola stresses that “every package has value and life beyond its initial use and should be collected and recycled into either a new package or another beneficial use. It submits that it is “unacceptable that packages end-up in the wrong place, in our oceans and waterways or littering the communities where we work and live”. The beverage giant also accepts its responsibility “to ensure that our impact is a positive one and our actions inspire others to help generate solutions that leave our world better for generations to come”.
The Framework has a three-pronged approach: Design, Collect and Partner where the company targets to make all its packaging 100% recyclable by 2025, and to make bottles with an average of 50% recycled content by 2030.
To support this, the company has invested in bringing low-quality PET waste back to virgin-quality, food-grade PET. It also established a way for authorised bottlers to purchase 100% recycled Loop PET2.
Coca-Cola has likewise set a bold target to collect or recycle a bottle or can for every one it sells. This it does through detailed studies to establish baseline and collection and recycling rates and on-the ground realities; collection partnerships with industry; and catalytic funding to scale.
In engaging various stakeholders to partner with it, Coca-Cola has initiated recycling efforts including those tied to winning rewards or mobile load, and concert drives that encourage attendees to bring empty PET bottles as part of donations.
An integrated scheme
Tetra Pak, takes a more cohesive approach to plastic waste reduction. It is also further along in terms of innovation and the use of alternative materials.
In line with its efforts to use plastic made of renewable feedstock, the company has launched the world’s first fully renewable package made from bio-based closure and coating. Its Tetra Rex milk carton in 1000 ml size boasts the use of wood fibres for its paper board, and sugar-cane derived bio-ethanol plastics, specifically high-density polyethylene (HDPE) cap, and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) neck and coating. In addition, its Tetra Brick is the world’s first aseptic packaging certified for its use of materials from renewable sources with the highest class available. According to a life cycle analysis study3, this significantly reduces carbon footprint by up to 17%. Both the Tetra Rex and the Tetra Brick use the same production process, and recycling is possible in the same stream with other packages.
Tetra Pak has aimed to launch paper straws for its portion-size cartons, explains environment manager Teera Puxsupachat. In the interim, it advises consumers to always put the straw back in the pack to ensure it goes through the recycling process.
As part of its strategy to improve packaging recyclability, Tetra Pak launched its Tetra Top Separable Top. A perforation below the top makes it easy to separate the sleeve, and to recycle both parts. This is especially a boon for markets that require such waste management.
Other F&B companies are doing their share and setting targets for 2025. Danone has committed to use 100% recycled plastic in bottling its mineral water brand, Evian.
McDonald’s is looking to use all recycled or other environmentally friendly materials for its soda cups, Happy Meal boxes and other packaging.
PepsiCo’s goal is to make 100% of its packaging recoverable or recyclable. It is also collaborating with other stakeholders to encourage packaging recovery and recycling rates.
“Self-regulation is always better for industries,” according to Janet Salem of the UN Environment Asia and the Pacific Office. But if this does not work, fines and regulations are options.
The UN Environment lays the groundwork for implementing these in its 10-point roadmap for levies and bans.
As a first step, it calls for knowing the baseline: identify the most problematic single-use plastics; assess current causes, extent and impacts as well as evaluate consumer’s willingness to pay.
Secondly, it says there is a need to evaluate possible actions to take including regulatory, voluntary, economic or a combination of the previous three. Once the preferred action is identified, the next step is to assess its impact.
All hands on deck
Stakeholder engagement is key says the leading global environmental authority. Everyone from the central and local governments, industries, retailers, waste management authority, the citizens and tourism associations, has to be in on the fight. In raising awareness, be it through educational programmes, TV ads and campaigns, the message according to the UN Environment should include an explanation why the policy is being introduced, and what are the expected benefits and potential punitive measures.
The UN agency adds that in promoting alternatives, the considerations should not only focus on being environment-friendly but also on being affordable and in fitting purpose. It identifies incentivising industry as a way to get buy-in and that it should allow for the transition, offer tax rebates, and keep certain eco-friendly materials tax free.
The UN agency also stresses the need to ringfence revenues to support waste management, recycling, environmental projects and financing awareness initiatives. Effective enforcement requires setting roles and responsibilities, ensuring sufficient human manpower for enforcements, communicating enforcements process, as well as prosecuting offenders in line with policy revision. Of course, as efforts take off and gain traction, monitoring becomes inevitable through audits, surveys, studies and interviews to also guide possible adjustments in policy. - JEAN ALINGOD GUITTAP
1Turning the Tide on Plastic Waste, presented by Janet Salem Sustainable Consumption and Production, UN Environment Asia And the Pacific Office, at ProPak Asia 2018
2Coca-Cola Announces New Investments in Enhanced Recycling as Part of ‘World Without Waste’ Vision. https://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/coca-cola-announces-new-investm...
3Life Cycle Analysis study conducted by IVL 2016 for Nordic and Germany
4Tetra Pak Plastic Strategies, presented by Teera Puxsupachat Environment Manager, Tetra Pak, at ProPak Asia 2018