By Andrew McCaffery, Chief Strategy Officer
There’s a proverb that states: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
When it comes to tackling the 92 million tonnes of packaging waste in Europe every year, we have very far to go indeed. As a result, making this journey will require truly continuous collaboration and learning.
Consider the top reasons people give for not making sustainable lifestyle changes:
"not enough information"
"not good quality"
Brands offering sustainable alternatives need to consider these barriers and their environmental credentials to achieve their true potential for impact. Adoption of sustainable lifestyles is on the rise, but according to Deloitte’s How consumers are embracing sustainability report, consumers need more help.
Now, how many of the above can be addressed through design? Answer: all of them.
As an established data specialist supplying leading brands, retailers and supply chains with a range of compliance and sustainability data, tools, and expertise, we assist businesses in efficiently minimising their environmental impact and maximising the effectiveness of their packaging.
We fundamentally understand the role of packaging in protecting, preserving, and presenting goods and how to optimise it for today and tomorrow.
Are we there yet?
The failure to achieve a UK-wide reform of waste and recycling services is a case study of back-sliding, incompetence, and political amnesia.
Back in 2018, then Defra Secretary Michael Gove shepherded a well-thought-through Resources and Waste Strategy to reform waste collection and recycling services in England.
Firstly, the consistent collection would mean that all councils recycle the same materials in the same way – glass, paper and card, metal, green waste and food waste.
Secondly, under EPR, the packaging producers we generally throw away with little thought would pay for its collection and treatment by councils rather than council taxes and government grants – a sum estimated to be £2.7 billion.
Lower fees are payable for packaging that uses materials economically and is easy to recycle. Thus, EPR incentivises brand holders to wrap up their often extravagantly packaged goodies with fewer materials and more recycled content.
The third main element is a deposit return scheme. It will mean that consumers will be paid back a deposit, estimated at 20p, for each glass or plastic bottle or drink can that they return. Revenue raised helps to pay for further collection and recycling infrastructure.
The Resources and Waste Strategy slipped with each in the four years that have elapsed since we had four Defra secretaries. Factor in Covid, the fallout from Brexit, the war in Ukraine, the Liz Truss fiasco, the energy crunch and the cost-of-living crisis, and you'd be forgiven for not knowing exactly where we are.
Essential consultations have been missed, and deadlines have slipped. Last year a national scheme administrator was supposed to be in place. It didn't happen. Long-delayed EPR will begin nationally in 2024 and DRS the following year for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Inevitably, there are suspicions the full strategy might never happen and there may be some good reason part of the strategy needs to be reconsidered in particular DRS, however we must realise the main aims of the strategy to improve the nation’s sustainability.
Data: a problem-solving pre-requisite
The waste and resources sector is evolving fast, and the pace of change can sometimes seem daunting. The industry is going through considerable change, fuelled by a desire to move towards a more circular economy and better manage resources.
The types of waste we need to process are shifting, as is the technology available to us with which to do it. We already have legislation in form of landfill tax and new legislation is here, the plastic packaging tax and bans on disposable plastic, and more is on the way in the form of DRS and EPR.
Data collection and reporting are complex and intensive, and companies often become overwhelmed. Without help, they will not respond appropriately.
For example, imagine a customer faced with paying £2 for washing-up liquid, who then spots shower gel on sale for half that price. They may question why they shouldn’t buy the cheaper product, as surely they can both be used for cleaning?
The way businesses currently gather packaging data is similarly confused. Some take a product off the shelf, empty the contents, and record the weight of each piece to make a guess at the material.
The same could be said for their way of reporting. The majority still rely heavily on reams of information in multiple databases and platforms, fragmented across the company.
While the above scenario represents shower gel, parallels could be drawn between the washing up liquid and a granular data standard, and providing users with an accurate and holistic picture of their packaging. It enables businesses to target problematic materials and more easily understand the carbon footprint or environmental impact of their packaging.
Our tools, particularly when deployed in tandem with our sustainability consulting services, can give more accurate advice about tweaks that can make products more recyclable. We can help understand the end-of-life implications of design choices. Washing-up liquid is the best product for cleaning dishes, and working with Ecoveritas ensures that better decisions can be made right throughout the process.
It's important to spend time, with input from stakeholders, defining exactly what change we want to see – ensuring we understand all the potential connections and links involved. This helps ensure we're monitoring the right things, so we won't attribute changes to the wrong actions or miss something.
We must do better because consumers demand it. Today's savvy consumers are demanding more than promises. This is particularly pertinent given the need to tool up ahead of the enhanced 'greenwashing' vigilance with a new Green Claims Directive proposal across Europe.
With all of this in mind, remember; what we hope to do with ease; we must learn first to do with diligence.