Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, hit the headlines last week for his comments at a pre-COP26 event, where he stated that recycling materials doesn’t work or even “begin to address the problem” and instead everyone should be reducing their use of plastic.

Causing a stir amongst officials and the public, he added that to fundamentally address the problem of plastic waste, “we need to stop the first use of plastic”. Does Boris have a point?

While there is no doubt that recycling plays a vital role in addressing the world’s waste, as well as tackling climate change, a ‘plastic free’ future would not only drastically reduce harmful pollutants and their impact on the environment, but also create a cleaner, greener planet. With less than 10% of plastics currently recycled in the UK, the issue of waste is now a major problem and to tackle this, businesses need to make smarter choices when it comes to choosing the ‘right’ packaging material.

Every little helps

Did you know that most plastics can only be recycled once? This means that following its conversion into a new product, and after reaching the end of its lifespan, the second item (the original plastic) ends up in landfill. However, it can be difficult to know where to start in removing it from the supply chain, and even taking the smallest of steps to eliminate, or significantly reduce the use of plastics, can make a huge difference.

Recycling has become a valued part of everyday life and the economy, with its impact helping to save over 18 million tonnes of CO2 every year. Chosen packaging materials, including plastics, should be recyclable wherever possible, even in industries, such as the food and drink sector, where the use of plastics is often unavoidable.

However, recycling is not the only solution, and by reducing harmful plastics, and re-using these wherever possible we can create a ‘closed loop’; where packaging is re-used to the end of its life, upon which it is recycled into a new item. Just some alternative (and innovative) materials currently gaining traction within the packaging sector include plant-based plastics, FSC-Certified paper, water activated tapes, and even compostable packaging peanuts.

Businesses also have a responsibility to educate and consumers as to how to reduce, re-use or recycle packaging materials, from fashioning used packaging into a new household item, to providing simple instructions on how recycle all materials correctly.

Helping us to move away from being a ‘single-use’ society, everyone in the packaging supply chain has the opportunity to champion change, with waste being viewed as a valuable resource rather than an inconvenient by-product of a purchase. While Boris Johnson’s comments have been met with mixed reactions, it has started an important discussion regarding the future of packaging, and the starring role it plays in future-proofing our planet.

REDUCE, RE-USE AND RECYCLE.