Recent news from the Telegraph has highlighted that just a third of 89 brands analysed could be fully recycled at home, casting a shadow of doubt on the veracity of the sustainability credentials of some of the top brands in the UK. While this highlights that manufacturers still have a long way to go in ensuring that their packaging can be recycled, the debate around sustainable packaging must account for the realities in the complexity of making packaging 100% recyclable.
In recent years, there have been calls from consumers and NGOs alike for manufacturers to start creating biodegradable packaging, driven largely by an increasingly eco-conscious generation of consumers. In response, many of the top manufacturers around the world have set sustainability pledges for their packaging. In 2018, food and beverage titan Mondelez International announced a pledge that by 2025, their products would use sustainable packaging. A similar target has been set by other industry heavyweights, including Unilever, Grupo Bimbo and Nestlé. For all intents and purposes, the manufacturers are on track to reach that target.
Nevertheless, furore has arisen from some disgruntled consumer groups, with claims that brands are wilfully choosing not to adopt 100% sustainable packaging. However, the debate around the complexity of producing completely sustainable packaging is well documented. For examples, Pringles features a notoriously hard to recycle tube as it uses a multiplicity of materials, keeping the content of the tube fresher for longer. Developing a recyclable tube that can at once be durable enough to pass through the supply chain unscathed, whilst also providing optimal freshness is no easy feat.
Lest we forget the similar catastrophic environmental impact of food waste. If manufacturers are forced to develop sustainable packaging in haste and without the proper R&D, the recyclable packaging will most likely not be able to store the contents within for as long as the original, undoubtedly leading to a rise in food waste. Consumers and consumer groups must keep the pressure on global manufacturers to reach their sustainability targets, whilst simultaneously being mindful of the challenges and time required to reach these goals. For if not, the cure may be worse than the disease.