22nd May 2018

Packaging produced by European converters is being washed up on shores and riverbanks all over the world. Brands are being faced with highly visible evidence that although a pack may be ‘recyclable’ it certainly does not mean it is ‘recycled’. Significant investments and commitments are being made by national and multinational brands as the industry assesses what can be done to redesign packaging to ensure that it really does end up in a recycling stream rather than in our seas.


One traditional approach to design more responsible packaging would be to explore a material swap to use a material that is ‘widely recycled’. While this can have a positive impact at a country or potentially continent basis for some key materials, for a global brand it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. 

A material swap approach does not help tend to the current phobia the public are developing about plastic for example. While I understand some of the reasons behind a ‘plastic free’ supermarket, this material specific campaign does nothing to reduce litter or consumption of single use packaging. ‘Plastic Free’ demonises an incredibly valuable material with the emotion behind it preventing us get to the real point – the use of exhaustible vs renewable resources. Finally, a material swap does not prevent littering.


As it stands, brands, retailers and converters are struggling to come to terms with the idea that we might have to move away from using a high value, finite resource for low value applications. Consequently we’re doing everything we can to keep manufacturing, packing and selling the same products, using the same factories, supply chain and infrastructure. While I praise all the hard work, commitment and initiatives being implemented on by the industry to design for recycling and increase actual recycling rates, I don’t feel we’re thinking outside of the box.

When was that last time that a serious contender for a new format of packaging was launched? Take haircare – we still assume shampoo needs to go in a 200ml single use plastic bottle. We might look at a new shape to get more on a pallet, lightweight it to lower it’s carbon footprint or use smart technology to mould the bottle in a way that uses less plastic or add PCR. Ultimately, it’s still a 200ml single-use plastic bottle that consumers adhere little value to – but being made from a finite material makes it very valuable indeed.

Incremental changes are easier, quicker and cheaper to action than rethinking the way that we get our product to the consumer – we want to still offer the same products to a consumer who’s lifestyle and expectations around the environment are changing.



Source: Root founder, Tracy Sutton

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