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FI Insights

What’s Fueling the Momentum for the Anti-Plastics Movement?

July 07, 2021
Author: Nancy Hasson

Consumer awareness about excessive plastic pollution and its hazardous effects to the environment has intensified in recent years. As many governments respond by implementing new taxes and bans on plastic, brand owners are substituting renewable materials for many types of plastic packaging.

Because only 9% of the plastic produced since the 1950s has been recycled, it’s projected that by 2050 there will be around 12 billion tons of plastic litter in landfills and the environment. Plastics don’t biodegrade, they only break down slowly into smaller fragments called microplastics, which end up making their way into our food chain and subsequently into our bodies. The health risks of microplastics are not fully understood, but anti-plastic sentiment is already fueling sustainability trends in packaging.

As consumer preference for renewable and environment-friendly materials grows, pulp and paper industry participants are evaluating how the anti-plastics movement will affect fiber-based packaging.

Let’s take a deeper look at those three leading market drivers:

Legislation

To address the environmental crisis, government regulation has increased in many countries to help drive change and reduce the impact of plastics.

Certain single-use plastics (e.g., drinking straws, coffee stirrers, plastic bottles, plates, cups, utensils, shopping bags) have been identified as leading contributors to plastic pollution and are the target of most legislation. While bans on polyethylene shopping bags have been in place in many parts of the world, the EU and UK are leading the way in implementing wider bans on single-use plastics:

  • The United Kingdom has banned the sale of single-use plastic to end-users.
  • The European Union has implemented a €.80/kg tax on non-recycled plastic packaging waste.
  • 23 states in the US have some form of plastic bag legislation enacted, and several cities have banned plastic drinking straws.
  • China banned certain single-use plastic products in 2020 with a phased implementation.

Consumer

Public awareness of plastic waste in the environment has risen to an all-time high. Several well-known consumer goods companies have committed to reducing plastic content in their packaging:

  • 77% of consumers think more highly of companies that package their products in paper-based packaging
  • 84% of consumers express concerns about the environment
  • 33% of consumers avoid plastic product packaging if they can

Consumer research firm Mintel predicts sustainability is among the top five trends that will impact the packaging industry over the coming year: “Brands will be called to keep marine conservation at the forefront of packaging development.”

Brand Owners and Retailers

Packaging trend-watchers say the sustainable packaging trend is here to stay, and brands are making serious commitments to act upon the anti-plastics outcry.

Several well-known consumer goods companies have committed to reducing plastic content in their packaging:

  • Nestlé released its plan to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025.
  • Apple has a comprehensive paper and packaging strategy, which explains how it reduced plastic content of its iPhone 7 package by 84% versus the iPhone 6s, with a switch from plastic trays to fiber-based packaging.
  • Samsung announced plans to replace plastic packaging with paper and other renewable materials, even if the alternate materials are higher cost.

Another indicator of the importance of replacing plastic is the number of innovations in renewable, eco-friendly packaging, which are being announced at a fast clip, for example:

  • Ahlstrom-Munksjӧ has released its new PurposeFil™ packaging papers, which uses fiber from responsible and legal sources to meet multiple sustainability goals.
  • Anheuser-Busch InBev, a Belgium-based beverage company, has launched a new sustainable packaging design for its Corona beer brand that uses leftover barley straw from farmers’ harvest to create a paper board for packaging.
  • Absolut recently rolled out its paper bottle prototype, which is made of a mix of paper and recycled plastic.
  • Graphic Packaging introduced its new PaperSeal MAP tray, a fiber-based alternative to plastic trays for meat, produce, etc.
  • Beverage companies are adopting paperboard multi-packs for cans to replace shrink wrap and plastic rings, such as Molson Coors and WestRock’s CanCollar®.

Large retailers, especially in Europe, are also joining the movement to reduce plastic packaging.

For example, UK retailers Iceland and Lidl have announced goals to remove plastic from certain product lines. In France, retailer Carrefour signed a French national pact to phase out plastic packaging by 2025, along with other companies including L’Oréal, Nestlé, Danone and Unilever.

To learn how sustainability trends could affect the pulp and paper industry, click below to read Fisher International’s complete study “Plastic Replacements Driving Sustainability Trends in Pulp & Paper Industry.”

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