2020, 2025, 2030 – and you’re out? Plastics Report 2018, Part 3
2020, 2025, 2030 – and you’re out? Plastics Report 2018, Part 3
2020, 2025, 2030. A lot will change at those intervals, in all areas. Saying this isn’t meant as a value judgment, at least not initially. In the third and final instalment of our Plastics Report we’re interested in what to expect when it comes to plastics as an industrial material and packaging in general.
Lego, Ikea, Coca-Cola – three global brands with nothing in common except for their name recognition. And the throngs of consumers – billions – that flock to them. They generate a whole bunch of stuff over the course of a year: resource depletion, carbon footprint, waste.
The zeitgeist and an increased awareness of the planet’s challenges doesn’t just concern the mentioned brands, but let’s stick to those three nevertheless. Because there’s one more characteristic that unites them: their 2030 strategies.
Major brands and their 2030 strategies
Founded in 2015, the dedicated Lego Sustainable Materials Centre was endowed with €130 million and staffed with 100 people. Its mission and goal: producing Lego blocks exclusively from eco-friendly plastic substitutes from 2030.
As early as this year, the first plant-based plastic elements are supposed to make their way into the product range. What’s more, Lego aspires to eliminate all waste by 2030.
“We strive to have a positive impact on our planet”, says Kjeld Kristiansen, the chairman of the Board and majority shareholder of the family-owned company Kirkbi, which holds the trademark rights to Lego, among others.
“The world has a packaging problem”
Early in 2018, Coca-Cola announced its 2030 packaging strategy with the slogan “World Without Waste”. The defined goal: making all packaging 100% recyclable. As James Quincey, president and CEO of Coca-Cola, emphasises, "The world has a packaging problem, and, like all companies, we have a responsibility to help solve it.”
Ikea, meanwhile, aims to reduce its carbon footprint (CO2 emissions) by 80 per cent from 2016 to 2030 as part of its sustainability strategy. By that time, all of the furniture retailer’s products are supposed to come from renewable or recycled raw materials.
Linking sustainability strategies with viable business strategies for the future
Ikea’s entire supply chain is included in the company’s global strategy. The goal is to remove all products made from single-use plastics from the assortment by as early as 2020.
It would definitely require a hefty dose of entrepreneurial naivety and audacity to imagine that such a development could still be reversed, or at least that some areas might still be exempted.
Also becoming clear at this point is how closely linked environmental-policy reversals and sustainability strategies really are, and how policymakers create pertinent legislation in order to successively make voluntary sustainability efforts mandatory.
Take, for example, Germany’s new packaging law, which will go into effect at the beginning of 2019: it’s targeted at sharply increasing the recycling rate from the currently required 36 per cent to 63 per cent by 2022.
Subsidising recyclable products?
German environment minister Svenja Schulze has come out against a general plastics ban, emphasising that plastics are indispensable in areas such as medicine. When it comes to packaging, however, she’s declared war on plastics. In general, she says, plastic materials should no longer be offered for sale if they’re not recyclable.
She wants to tackle the problem at the source, i.e. the producers of plastic products, with a variety of possible measures. One idea would be to subsidise recyclable products: the easier it is to recycle a product, the lower the licensing fee for recycling systems like the Green Dot.
That’s precisely where huge opportunities arise for the plastics-processing promotional products industry: boost the share of recyclate processed in house, on the one hand, and design products that are as easy to recycle as possible, on the other.
Spotlight on recyclability and utility
Single-use plastic products, by contrast, will die a rapid death at the hands of lawmakers. Similarly, lousy product quality should soon become the equivalent of a KO criterion, since it represents a waste of resources.
Besides easy recyclability, the focus is shifting more than ever before to the utility of a product and to products and packaging with secondary uses. Apart from that, the promotional products industry must follow the same mantra: use only as much packaging as absolutely necessary. And if you are going to use packaging, make sure it’s 100% recyclable.
Plastics will remain valuable and indispensable as an industrial material well into the future. That’s why they must be kept inside the materials cycle. They’re too valuable to become waste – and too dangerous.
Away from giveaways – towards direct-contact items
Since language shapes consciousness, we should be significantly more mindful when it comes to our language habits. It doesn’t matter that tax law, at least in Germany, still refers to promotional products as “giveaways”: we need new terminology.
We’ve got to get away from terms like giveaway, schwag and freebie, because such language conjures associations of resource-wasting superfluities, and therefore waste. We need to move towards meaningful terms like direct-contact items and hapticals, which are also much better suited to vividly illustrating the meaning and purpose of promotional products.
The quality and innovative power of the promotional products industry is what makes it ready for the change in the plastics sector. The current discussion over plastics reminds many industry pros of smoking bans.
EU-wide restrictions set in motion back in the day caused sales of smoking accessories to plummet, and not just in the promotional products industry. From reliable sales drivers to a niche existence – that’s how fast it goes. Surely it won’t come to that with plastics.
Products are always subject to the zeitgeist and the trends it generates. And as the saying goes: nothing’s as constant as change.
Consume more consciously, produce more consciously, recycle more consciously
One thing, though, shouldn’t change again: the era of limitless freedom and thus also of limitless consumption is gone forever. Advertising may still indulge in unlimited individuality – but really, it’s over. Life is finite, i.e. limited.
In our life’s journey, we’ll necessarily have to adapt to a new consensus with our limited planet and the community of life it supports. Less shopper, more citizen. More shared responsibility. Farewell to shallow selfiedom.
All of us – consumers and entrepreneurs alike – must face up to this responsibility. Consume more consciously, reduce more consciously, produce more consciously, recycle more consciously.
If we do that, everything will be more fun again, too.