How an EU directive – together with the will of consumers – is leading companies to change sourcing and manufacturing strategies
How to live without plastic? The material has been increasingly present in our daily lives for many decades: according to the European Commission, its global production has increased twentyfold since the 1960’s. At the same time, it has become a vital material in our economy as it causes serious impacts in the environment, from its origin to its end of life.
Launched in 2018, the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy is an ambitious document that aims to transform the way businesses and consumers use this resource. The lifecycle of the products that use plastic in their manufacturing is a big concern – from design to disposal, companies should be aware of the impact they cause on the environment. It means that more businesses and consumers are looking for more sustainable options, like recyclable plastic, refillable or reusable options and post-consumption traceability.
The document sets bold targets for Europe by 2030. The 10-single use plastic products that today constitute 70% of marine litter are in the spotlight and should be banned by then. Also, all plastic packaging placed on the EU markets should be either reusable or recyclable in a cost-effective manner.
Following the directive, manufacturers of plastic have joined in a big movement lead by PlasticsEurope, a Pan-European association that aims to change the face of this not very well reputed industry. In this spirit, they designed the ‘Plastics 2030 – Voluntary Commitment’, focusing on increasing the reuse and recycling of plastic, and preventing plastic leakage into the environment, as well as accelerating resource efficiency. It will lead to a 60% rate of reusing and recycling plastic packaging by 2030, and a 100% rate in 2040.
In this scenario, new materials are gaining popularity among consumers – ocean waste plastic, post-consumer recycling and bio-based plastic made from coffee beans, sugar cane and other non-carbon sources, are rising as alternatives to traditional plastic.
Global players like Unilever – that will cut by half their use of virgin plastic by 2025 – and sustainable trendsetters like Lush – that started launching free-packaging stores earlier this year – are committing to the strategy to offer more eco-conscious alternatives to consumers.
Lead by consumers’ demand, governments’ commitments and businesses’ efforts, sustainable innovation is rising as an alternative to the “plastic problem”.