06 | Packaging matters: plastic & circularity in the spotlight

Packaging and specifically recyclability are pivotal to the environmental debate. Recycling is now considered the #1 trait (on 63%) of an environmentally sound person, and 39% of all consumers say they are keen to read and learn more about it. 

Recyclability is also the #1 association with environmentally sound products (on 19%), although it now shares the top spot with biodegradability, which has jumped 5% since 2017. And recyclability is the third most appealing descriptor of a food or drink package overall (on 34%), after natural ingredients and no additives.

Girl and waste bins

However, there are strong issues around recycling today, with lack of availability (24%) and difficulty (21%) cited as barriers. Perhaps more worrying is scepticism about whether recycling really works, with 30% saying that they see mixed waste in sorted bins, for example.

In consumer interviews, a notion prevails that efforts towards improving one’s own health are easier, more effective and more tangible than individually trying to improve the current state of the planet – which is perhaps not surprising.

In the UK and USA, environmentally sound consumers do tend to choose packaging that is recyclable, if options are available. But many now realise that some plastic items cannot be recycled, and some therefore try to find their own ways of reusing them. Others feel they are being forced to resort to throwing things in the trash – and this often makes them feel guilty.​

In developing or recently developed countries, there is a lack of confidence that any individual efforts towards sustainability really count in the bigger scheme of things. This is particularly alarming since there is also a mistrust of big companies that are perceived to be profiting from people’s misfortunes.

Meanwhile, plastic, particularly its impact on the oceans, is currently receiving much negative attention, boosted by images of suffering sealife that have circled the world. Anti-plastic legislation is growing: for example, 127 countries had restrictions on plastic bags by last year, according to the UN, while new EU rules target single-use plastic products (and fishing gear) that make up 70% of marine litter.

Anti-plastic sentiment comes through strongly in our global research study. Avoiding plastic is now the #2 trait of an environmentally sound person on 58%, and a third of all consumers say they plan to buy and use less plastic within the next 12 months. It is the #3 change ambition after regular favourites “exercise more” and “eat more healthily”. Buying products with no/minimum packaging also registers highly as an environmental trait, on 47%. ​

Waldorf Astoria in Bangkok

Case study: Waldorf Astoria (Thailand)

Opened in 2018, the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok is the first Waldorf Astoria hotel in Southeast Asia, occupying the top three floors of a landmark 60-storey building in a high-end shopping district.

As part of its ongoing commitment to minimise single-use plastics on its property, the hotel provides guests in their rooms with water in Waldorf Astoria-branded Tetra Prisma® Aseptic 500ml packages, rather than in the usual plastic bottles, along with straws made from corn husk.

The hotel also educates guests about how such beverage cartons are recycled through the Green Roof Project, which turns used packages into roofing sheets to provide emergency shelter for people in need after natural disasters.​

Jaden Smith JUST Water in Tetra Top carton bottles

Case study: JUST Water (USA)

JUST Goods, Inc. is a packaged goods company putting sustainability at the forefront of its business model. Its core product is JUST Water​: 100% responsibly sourced spring water in a plant-based package. 

In the USA, the water is sourced in Glens Falls, NY from a watershed that totals approximately three billion gallons and is consistently replenished by rain and snow. The community uses only about half the available water and JUST bottles a fraction of the excess. JUST also values the water fairly, paying six times the municipal water rate, thereby contributing to the economic growth of the Glens Falls community and improvements in local water infrastructure.

JJUST Water is packaged in 330ml and 500ml Tetra Top® packages​: 54% of the carton is paperboard made from FSC​-certified trees, and 28% is plastic derived from sugarcane, totalling 82% renewable materials. The packaging materials are shipped in flat rolls, the cartons can be refilled, all factors that lead to a 74% reduction in harmful CO2 emissions compared with similarly sized plastic bottles.​

Read more about water in Tetra Top® carton bottles

Infographic: consider brand