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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

September 2018 – The significant challenges presented by plastic packaging waste can only be solved through collaborative actions from business, government and society. This industry-led report lays out practically how stakeholders across the bottled water and soft drinks value chain can work together, and more widely with others, to achieve zero plastic packaging waste from UK bottled water and soft drinks by 2030.

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Towards sustainable packagingThis report is the result of an industry-led working group on the future of plastic packaging in the bottled water and soft drinks value chain, convened and facilitated by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). The companies involved have sought to set out an ambitious vision and roadmap towards eliminating plastic packaging waste from the UK bottled water and soft drinks value chain.

The plastic packaging waste challenge

Society is in the midst of a global plastics pollution challenge and there is more public and political awareness and concern surrounding plastic waste than ever before. Multiple intersections with public health, the climate change agenda, resource scarcity, and human impacts on biodiversity create a perfect storm of forces, meaning that industry has an unprecedented opportunity to take a leadership role on the issue of plastic packaging waste.

There remains, however, a great deal of unknowns. These range from whether bio-based materials can be used for bottled water and soft drinks at scale, to how biodegradable materials would fit into existing recycling streams, to whether it is feasible for bottled water and soft drinks to be delivered in any way other than in packaging that is used once before disposal by the consumer. We do not know if it will even ever be achievable to totally eliminate plastic packaging waste. However, there is a need to act now, before all of these unknowns can be addressed, and to set a high level of ambition, even if it seems hard to achieve in the current context.

While the urge to search for quick fixes may be strong, this report recognises the complexities of the plastics challenge and the need to avoid unintended consequences. It also recognises that while government and business are already starting to address the issue, there is still a need to set ambitious goals to push the sector and create a transformational shift to eliminate plastic packaging waste

Opportunities for strong leadership

This report is relevant for anyone in the bottled water and soft drinks value chain seeking to work towards the common goal of eliminating plastic packaging waste. It is intended to encourage business leaders to work collaboratively on sustainable solutions and for government to consider how policy may accelerate business action. It aims to achieve significant change on this global issue in one prominent sector in the UK that others may learn from and apply within their sectors and in other countries by creating their own systemic roadmaps and visions towards eliminating plastic packaging waste.

Citing this report

Please refer to this business briefing as: University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2018). Towards sustainable packaging: A plan to eliminate plastic packaging waste from UK bottled water and soft drinks. Cambridge, UK: the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Author and acknowledgements

This report was written by Beverley Cornaby and Jennifer Ekelund, with input from Eliot Whittington, James Cole and Thomas Vergunst. Additional research was carried out by Hannah Van Den Bergh and Bianca Voicu. The report is published by CISL on behalf of the Future of Plastic Packaging Group, whose members are: Brecon Mineral Waters, Danone Waters (UK and Ireland), Harrogate Water Brands, Highland Spring Group, Lucozade Ribena Suntory, Montgomery Waters, Natural Hydration Council, Nestlé Waters UK, Shepley Spring and Wenlock Spring. The report was also reviewed by a panel of independent experts, whom the authors would like to thank for their advice and feedback. 


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of their companies, CISL, the wider University of Cambridge or clients.


Published: September 2018