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Immediate, collaborative action required to achieve a zero plastic packaging waste future

3 October 2018 – Following the successful launch of the "Towards Sustainable Packaging" report, author Beverley Cornaby contemplates the scale of what has been achieved so far in the fight to eliminate plastic waste, and what must be implemented in order to continue to drive change.

Fifteen years ago, when I worked for a local authority, I spent a significant portion of my time talking to members of the public about how and what they could recycle. Two of the most common questions were “what can I do with plastic packaging?” and “why can’t I recycle this type of plastic?”

At that time, plastic recycling collections were in their infancy – very few local authorities collected plastics and those that did generally only collected plastic bottles. Over the years, recycling collections have expanded significantly, and Recoup report that nearly 80% now collect plastic pots, trays and tubs, and by the end of next year, every local authority will collect plastic bottles.

While the provision of recycling collection services has increased, some of the challenges in recycling plastics that were present at that time – collection rates, consistent infrastructure, making rPET commercially viable, material choice, consumer engagement – still exist now.

If we are to ensure these challenges don’t still exist in another 15 years’ time, the way the UK looks at waste, recycling and resources needs a step change improvement. Rather than being seen primarily as an ‘end of life’ waste disposal system, waste management must be recast as a resource management system – an opportunity for the UK to steward resources through the economy, ensuring maximum value and productivity from those resources.

Over the coming years, there is a real opportunity for business and government to demonstrate strong leadership and a commitment to creating a transformational shift towards eliminating plastic packaging waste.

Within our report, Towards sustainable packaging: a plan to eliminate plastic packaging waste from UK bottled water and soft drinks, we set out a series of recommendations for how government and business can act immediately to address the challenge of plastic packaging waste in one sector, by working towards and achieving the following four outcomes by 2030:

  1. An efficient and circular resource management system for bottled water and soft drinks packaging
  2. Standardise lowest impact material used for all bottled water and soft drinks packaging
  3. Significant shift in consumer behaviour and societal norms
  4. Alternative bottled water and soft drinks delivery models explored and implemented

While the report aims to achieve a significant change on this global issue in one prominent sector in the UK, we hope others may learn from and apply the recommendations within their sectors and in other countries to create broader systemic change towards eliminating plastic packaging waste.

We are now working with members of the Future of Plastic Packaging Working Group and other interested stakeholders within the bottled water and soft drinks value chain to take forward the recommendations within the report.

We urge more stakeholders in this industry and those involved in tackling plastic packaging more generally, to  join us and co-create the next step of this work to implement the recommendations both in this value chain and in others.

Download the report Towards sustainable packaging: a plan to eliminate plastic packaging waste from UK bottled water and soft drinks and learn more about the Future of Plastic Packaging Working Group.

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About the author

Bev Cornaby

Beverley Cornaby is a Senior Programme Manager in the Policy Team at CISL. She supports the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group and leads CISL’s programme of work with clients who are looking at the issue of packaging sustainability and resource efficiency.

Before joining CISL, Beverley spent ten years working in the public sector, in local, regional and then national government, most recently working for the Sustainable Development Commission with a particular focus on education and health policy. She holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business from the University of Cambridge and a BSc (hons) in Ecology and Conservation from University of Sussex. Beverley is the author of a number of government publications on sustainable schools and young people policy.

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Articles on the blog written by employees of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.