Every year around 380 million metric tons of plastics is produced – to put this into context, this is about the same weight as all of humanity added together. Around 40 million tons of this waste is produced in the US, but very little of it goes on to be recycled, in 2021 for example, this was only around 5-6%. Therefore, it is clear to see how much of an issue the use of single-use plastics really is.
Different industries are responsible for creating the plastics, but across all businesses over the span of the globe, short-use (6 months or less) packaging is the biggest contributor. In order to combat the use of environmentally unfriendly materials, encourage more recycling, and reduce carbon impacts, many businesses are now re-evaluating how they use plastic in both their products and their packaging, and what they can do differently to develop a more sustainable future.
The Food & Beverage industry sees plastic as one of the most commonly used materials for their packing, due to food safety standards, Health & Safety requirements, and because of its cost. But with consumer consciousness shifting to more environmentally friendly options, and a desire to purchase from companies who share their values, there has been a definite shift in attitudes towards the use of single-use plastics and sourcing viable alternatives.
What Sort of Alternatives are there to Plastic?
The march towards the removal of plastics has been going on for awhile now, and with new technologies and ideas, comes new innovations.
Initially, there was a drive towards the simple removal of plastic goods, such as straws and cutlery, requiring people to provide their own. In the US, it’s estimated that over 500 million straws are used daily, and since 2018 there has been legislative action taking place to make a difference, with Seattle banning plastic straws in 2018, and Washington D.C following suit in 2019.
Mainstream giants such as McDonalds and Starbucks rolled out a phased approach to removing straws from their venues on a global scale, and many smaller businesses have followed suit.
But when it comes to other packing, simply removing it is not always an option – so people have had to get creative.
Research into using waste material such as langoustine shells has seen creation of some packing options, and seaweed has been used to craft water bubbles, in order to provide an alternative to PET bottles.
Compostable cellophane, algae-based bioplastics, a return to recycled papers and plant extracts or fibres, has all pushed the packing industry into bold new directions.