Five things business needs to know about plastic packaging

By Kate Haselhoff

It’s unavoidable, there’s an endless flow of news articles about plastic ending up in our environment and growing attention focused on reducing plastic pollution.

Companies can no longer afford to be oblivious about their role in this. Consumers are pushing back and looking for products with more sustainable packaging. It’s becoming clear that businesses’ responsibility for the products they make doesn’t end at the factory gates. Brands need to be responsible for their products right through to the end of their life.

It’s a rapidly changing situation and it affects everything from the kind of cups a café might choose, to where to place recycling centres. At the moment it’s confusing for brands, which can result in costly mistakes or misleading claims about being sustainable.

Many businesses want to do the right thing, but aren’t sure where to start. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. We need more data!
    The first thing businesses need to do is analyse and record what plastic they produce and use. New Zealand needs to improve its knowledge about the plastics in our economy.
  2. We’re at the beginning of a reuse and refill revolution.
    We’re going to see many more examples of this. Think refillable milk bottles, or ‘bring your own containers’ to fill at the deli counter in New World.
  3. Get rid of what you don’t need.
    Excess packaging is bad design. Businesses need better design, or they’ll suffer against regulation and the competition.
  4. Not all plastic is equal and not all plastic is recyclable.
    Plastics 1 (PET), 2 (HDPE) and 5 (PP) are currently recycled kerbside in New Zealand. The others are generally landfilled. Businesses need to avoid plastics 3 and 6. Otherwise they’re not just passing on packaging, they’re passing on problems.
  5. Compostable packaging can’t mainstream, yet.
    Compostable packaging is not quite there as a suitable national solution. The guidance from the Food and Grocery Council is that compostable packaging is ‘not for now’. This is because the required systems to do this at aren’t ready. But progress being made, so watch this space!

The Sustainable Business Network has been working on solutions to plastic packaging together with more than 100 organisations. They include government agencies, recyclers, designers, innovators, packaging producers, distributors. Our goal is to make it as simple as possible for everyone to see and meet these challenges. Find out more in new ‘best practice’ guidelines on packaging for business.

The Sustainable Business Network’s work in packaging is made possible with the support of our partners Foodstuffs NZ, New Zealand King Salmon and thinkstep.

This article first appeared in Stuff.