Who can say when we finally fell out of love with plastic? Or rather, the way we use and dispose of it today? Was it the pictures of birds and whales choked full of the stuff? The discovery of plastic pollution from the Antarctic to the Mariana Trench?
Well, an awakening is happening.
Last week, on World Environment Day, 12 companies operating in NZ committed to using 100% recyclable packaging by 2025. An illustration of how the wind has changed in New Zealand was that the announcement was not made by an environmental NGO, or even us. It was made by Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage.
The New Zealand-based companies that have so far signed are Foodstuffs, Countdown, New Zealand Post and Frucor Suntory. They lined up along with multinationals Amcor, Danone, L’Oreal, Mars, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever and Nestle for the NZ Plastic Packaging Declaration. Ecover, evian, Marks & Spencer, Walmart, and German cleaning products giant Werner & Mertz have also joined those multinationals in an earlier global declaration with the same aim.
Meanwhile, Countdown, Fresh Choice and SuperValue also announced they would phase out plastic straws by October 1. Foodstuffs is asking butchery and seafood customers to bring their own containers to Howick New World. Foodstuffs (owner of New World, FourSquare and Pak’nSave) along with Mitre 10 and The Warehouse are phasing out single-use plastic bags by the end of the year.
All this is great news. But it raises some important questions about how we should be creating a new plastics economy that works and is circular, not linear.
To help companies to meet, and preferably exceed, their commitments we need a comprehensive system for plastics as a whole.
Already NZ businesses are offering new forms of packaging that claim to be, or actually are, recyclable or compostable. But that’s only part of the puzzle. We need effective and efficient systems to get these materials from the consumer into a recycling or composting system at the very least. Preferably they would get back into production cycles or the world’s natural systems. Otherwise the bulk of them will still be destined for landfill or the landscape.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has produced a ground breaking report that found: “Without fundamental redesign and innovation, about 30% of plastic packaging will never be reused or recycled. Small-format plastic packaging (about 10% of the market, by weight, and up to 35%-50% by number of items), such as sachets, tear-offs, lids, straw packages, sweet wrappers and small pots, tend to escape collection or sorting systems and have no economic reuse or recycling pathway.”
Declarations and politicians won’t be enough to fix that. Nor even will individual innovation or invention. We must work together to create the systems we need.
SBN intends to capitalise on the current momentum to deepen and expand this movement. This is much bigger than just single-use plastic bags, straws, packaging, or even plastic. It’s about changing the nature of our whole throwaway society. It’s not just the packaging, it’s the products. And it’s how we buy and use those products. It’s how we organise our world.
Say that by 2025 the single use plastic bags, straws and plastic packaging disappear. It’s not going to change much if we are still pushing trolleys full of cheap disposable tat into the car parks of big box stores.
This is why SBN has developed the Circular Economy Accelerator. It includes an innovation platform where firms can work together to take the journey from commitment to reality. The first focus will be a systematic look at plastic packaging. Importantly, we will be using the systems we develop and innovations we create to drive changes in other sectors in the months and years to come.
James Griffin leads the Circular Economy Accelerator.
He says: “We fully appreciate and applaud the desire to move as fast as possible on issues like single-use plastics. The attention that issue is now getting from businesses and the public is hugely positive. But it’s vital that we think about entire systems, not just individual issues. We have to foster innovation that contributes to fixing the system rather than making it worse.”
“We are committed to making the whole of the circular economy a reality for New Zealand. The first shoots of growth are showing. We must nurture them, and plant more seeds.”
To find out how your business can help create a new plastic economy that works in NZ click here.