Checking in on the industry’s commitment to scrap single-use plastic

Materials World magazine
9 Oct 2019

Academics from the University of Surrey assess how industry-leading companies are responding to demands from the public to move away from single-use plastic and whether their pledges will result in real action in a new report. Idha Valeur finds out more. 

The spotlight is shining bright on environmental challenges at the moment, and one of the pressing issues being tackled by society and government alike is the attitude to single-use plastics and efforts to reduce our consumption of them. With 40% of produced plastic coming from the food and drinks packaging sector, the pressure is on to find alternatives that are more environmentally friendly. 

In a new report, academics from the University of Surrey look at new food packaging pledges from well-known brands to investigate their promises to the public and to ask the most burning question – will it result in real-life action that can be measured in any way, shape or form? 

The report, Recycle, Reuse, Renew: Food packaging pledges and promises in the fight against plastic pollution, published in September 2019 in collaboration with RECOUP and presented at the RECOUP Plastics Recycling and Resources Conference, examines the publicly communicated plastic-related statements from companies including Carlsberg Group, Aldi, Quorn, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Kraft Heinz and Waitrose that was published between January 2018 and September 2019. 

In the report, the Surrey academics were trying to establish to what capacity these industry-leading companies and organisations were ‘responding to legal and societal drivers to change their approach to single-use plastics,’ the group stated.  

‘Deflecting the focus from their role in creating substantial plastic waste in the first place, their optimistic language masks the reality that these companies have only just begun to tackle the huge challenge of reducing food packaging plastic waste – and that their actions are largely driven by new legislation. These food and drink manufacturers have global reach – and global responsibility. Alarmingly none of the sustainability pledges of these companies outlines exactly how their strategies are going to be measured,’ said University of Surrey School Of Law, Professor Rosalind Malcolm. 

'The issue of plastic pollution is firmly part of the zeitgeist, with significant media attention raising public awareness of the effects of plastic in the natural environment. Recent steps taken by countries such as China, Indonesia and Vietnam to restrict the receipt of waste materials including plastic - a significant volume of which has come from the UK - has focused the attention of governments and businesses on the implications of advocating a Circular Economy approach. It is an approach that requires investment, and behaviour-change for governments, industry and communities,' the report concluded. 

The report can be read here: