The Environmental Implications of Plastics
From fizzy drinks to juices and bottled water, once discarded many plastic materials take centuries to decompose. This poses a severe threat to human health and marine ecosystems.
Statistics suggest that an astonishing 5 to 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and all this can be easily ingested by fish and sea life. And it’s only going to get worse, with plastic bottle consumption showing no signs of slowing down.
In fact, it’s estimated that a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, and by 2021 this number is expected to rise by 20%. What’s more, new figures reveal that by the end of the decade approximately half a million plastic bottles will be sold annually.
Plastic Bottles End Up in Landfill or the Ocean
A large percentage of soft drinks are now made of highly recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) material, with the remaining 30 percent comprising glass, metal cans and cartons.
Despite this, in 2016 less than 50 per cent of plastic bottles were collected for recycling, and a mere 7 per cent of those went to make new PET bottles. Instead, most plastic bottles produced ended up in landfill or in the ocean.
So, why is this recycling figure so low when a large proportion of plastic containers can be recycled?
The problem is that collection and recycling systems around the world are failing to keep up with the ever-increasing volume of plastic bottles being sold. It’s estimated that by 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic (by weight) than fish unless drastic measures are put in place globally to stop rubbish leaking into the ocean.
What are Companies Doing About Plastic Waste
More and more companies are already making great strides to better manage their use of plastics, which is a promising start.
The world’s largest maker of fizzy drinks, Coca-Cola, has committed to tackling the worldwide problem of plastic packaging waste, with a global goal to recycle 100 per cent of its packaging by 2030.
The beverage company, whose well-known brands also include Fanta, Sprite, Oasis, and Schweppes, as well as its iconic Coke brand, also vowed to double the percentage of recycled plastic in its bottles by 2025.
World Without Waste
The ambitious targets, announced in January 2018, are part of Coca Cola’s new packaging vision for a “World Without Waste”.
The initiative recognises that food and drink companies are one of the primary contributors to the rise in plastic litter on streets, beaches and in the oceans worldwide. And according to Coca-Cola, these companies have a duty to help solve the global “packaging problem”.
Despite this, Coca-Cola has faced large scrutiny for their efforts, with Greenpeace suggesting that despite the targets the soft drinks firm is still producing over 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles each year.
Companies Commitment to Reducing Plastic Waste
Other companies committed to reducing plastic packaging waste include cosmetics giant L’Oréal, who announced that all of its plastic packaging will be rechargeable, refillable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
L’Oréal is already leading the way in cosmetic sustainability, having incorporated sustainable consumption across all life cycle stages of its products. The company’s sustainability commitment for 2020 “Sharing Beauty With All” sets out ambitious targets and focuses on improving the environmental and social impact of 100% of its new products by 2020.
Unilever’s Recycling Goals
Unilever is another leading company that is working towards ensuring that all of their plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. The company, whose brands include Dove, Magnum and Surf, estimate that around 70% of its plastic packaging is currently recyclable.
Alongside L’Oréal and other leading brands, the consumer goods giant has also pledged to increase its use of recycled plastic content in its packaging by 2020 to help “create plastics protocol for the industry”, and helping combat the industry-wide waste problem.
Time Will Tell
Combatting the plastic waste issue is going to take a lot of work, and the fact that companies are already taking big steps is a positive start.
At the same time, consumers also have a critical role to play in recycling efforts, with many people at present failing to dispose of their used bottles correctly.
In a recent report, it was cited that lack of consumer awareness was one of the major barriers to increased plastic bottle recycling. What’s more, according to the report, many individuals still don’t understand the seriousness of the plastic waste issue and the importance of recycling. While it is easy to criticise companies that produce large amounts of plastic waste, at the same time, many should be applauded for their efforts in addressing the issue.
But, it’s clear that an industry-wide shift is needed if we are ever going to resolve the plastic-waste issue.
HPS specialises in helping companies that pump liquids through pipelines during processing reduce waste, increase yields and improve their environmental sustainability. This is through liquid transfer and product recovery (pigging) technology. If you have a liquid transfer project you would like to have a chat about, then please contact HPS!