Problems posed by plastic

Emotive and high on the corporate agenda, plastic reduction is a complex issue. Plastics play a critical role throughout the food and beverage supply chain and whilst technical plastic reduction solutions exist, the fragmented regulatory, policy, infrastructure and consumer landscapes can make finding a viable alternative seem like an impossible task.

The food and beverage industry is a major contributor to the global plastic waste problem and for good reason. Plastic has become a staple packaging material due to its proven safety, cost and transport efficiency, which in turn has led to its use not only as finished product packaging but throughout the supply chain as well. However, with an ever-growing public focus on plastic reduction, a fragmented and sometimes contradictory regulatory landscape, huge variability in recycling infrastructure at both the national and global level, and the need to manage consumer expectations for price and convenience, there is a pressing need for viable solutions.

Types of plastic you need to know about

The most commonly recycled plastics are Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) and High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) used to produce soft drink bottles and milk containers, although every type of plastic can technically be recycled. The cost of processing and the lack of available infrastructure are the two main limiting factors which prevent more plastic from being recycled.

Fragmented global infrastructure for recycling

Although by no means a comprehensive solution, recycling schemes have been initiated around the world as an immediate response to the plastics issue and uptake is increasing year on year. Countries such as Czechia, Germany and The Netherlands lead the way in Europe with over 40%1 of their plastic packaging being recycled through co-ordinated, well-planned and supported schemes.

This is in stark contrast to USA consumers, who recycled only 9% of their plastic in 2016 according to the British Plastics Federation (BPF)1. Furthermore, this figure could drop further due to the trade sanctions with China – a market leveraged by the USA to outsource recycling in the face of increasing plastic waste and the lack of a national solution.