‘No silver bullet’ to solve plastic pollution problem

By Andrew Pentol |

Participants who tuned in to the Wrap it Up: Developments in Sustainable Packaging and Single-Use Plastic alternatives session on day two of Travel Retail Sustainability Week were warned ‘there is no silver bullet’ to reduce plastic in the ocean and plastic pollution in general.

The warning was delivered by Julia Koskella, Associate, Systemiq, who presented the findings of a report entitled Breaking the Plastic Wave. The report was based on a comprehensive assessment of pathways towards stopping ocean plastic pollutions.

Other speakers included Santiago Navarro, CEO, Garçon Wines; Christian Olivares, Principal CCO and Co-Founder, Solubag; Greame Stewart, Director, Enviro-Point; Valerie Thobois, Founder, Lampe Marketing Eclairant; Corrine Fugier-Garrel, Packaging Concept Design Director, L’Occitane en Provence; and Chenji Yan MSc, Marketing Student, HEC Paris Business School.

Opening the discussion, Koskella said: “The [ocean plastic] challenge is going nowhere fast and is a real concern to all our travelling customers.”

The Breaking the Plastic Wave report asked three critical questions. The first was ‘where we are headed in the ocean plastic challenge and with single-use plastic generally?’, the second was ‘what is the way out?’ and the third was ‘where do we start?’

CALL TO ACTION

“Plastic stock in the ocean is set to quadruple in the next 20 years if we don’t act fast. Annual plastic flows to the ocean will triple and plastic waste generation will double,” Koskella emphasised.”

[To view a repeat of the session in full, click below video].

On potential solutions, the fact there is no ‘silver bullet’ was the key takeaway to emerge from the report, which evaluated several potential scenarios which the company believed could solve the plastic pollution problem. “One [potential scenario] we looked at was to keep the plastic packaging we want and recycle everything as much as possible.

“We have now concluded this would not be enough [to solve the problem] and would not decrease today’s annual plastic ocean flows. We have evidence to suggest that doing this would only flatten the curve.”

The report did, however, conclude that a ‘system change’ scenario using latest technology would solve the problem by 2040.

“Rolling out all known technologies will reduce 80% of ocean plastic leakage annually. The remaining 20% we still want to solve, but that will require new innovations.”

Introducing a further research project, Lampe Marketing Eclairant’s Thobois, said the traveller experience must be considered before coming up with the right solution for plastic pollution.

Aer Rianta International, Brown-Forman, Coty, Guerlain, Mondelez International and Nestlé sponsored the Wrap it Up session on day two of Travel Retail Sustainability Week.

“A traveller who has just arrived at the airport may get a drink, get luggage wrapped in single-use plastic and then check-in.

“He/she will then head to security, where additional plastic may be accumulated through the collection of plastic bottles.

“After clearing security, he/she may then head to the duty free area and purchase cosmetics with cellophane wrapped around then.”

Thobois then handed over to Yan, who undertook extensive research with two of her fellow students to create a global database of suppliers. These suppliers have produced sustainable products using alternative plastic materials.

SINGLE-USE PLASTIC ALTERNATIVES

The research was undertaken under the supervision of Michael Barrett, Head of Events and Corporate Social Responsibility, TRBusiness and Thobois, who is also a marketing lecturer for second-year students at the HEC Paris business school.

The purpose of the database is to raise awareness of the alternatives to single-use plastics and facilitate further discussion around sustainability in DF&TR.

“Within 10 weeks, we gathered more than 1,300 entries and built a wide database,” Yan remarked. “We have summarised the possible touch-points with single-use plastics during the airport journey. The product categories [derived from the aforementioned touch-points] are cups, water-bottles, packaging, cutlery, straws, bags, baggage-wraps and cosmetics packaging.”

The purpose of the Plastic Alternatives Suppliers Database Synthesis is to raise awareness of the alternatives to single-use plastic and provoke further discussion around sustainability in DF&TR.

Among the aforementioned product categories, packaging has the most suppliers specialising in alternatives to single-use plastics (273). When it comes to edible and compostable solutions, straw is the clear winner with 15 and 71 solutions respectively.

She added: “The regions with the most suppliers offering alternatives to single-use plastics are China (43%), Europe (33%) and the US (10%).”

Julia Koskella Associate, Systemiq asked three critical questions when presenting the findings of a report entitled Breaking the Plastic Wave.

Next to join the discussion was Enviro Point’s Stewart who outlined the main differences between Oxo-biodegradable and Oxo-degradable packaging. He also emphasised the importance of communicating a product’s function and sustainability credentials to consumers.

Last year, Enviro-Point partnered with AGS Airports to offer its Oxo-Biodegradable bags (100ml) for liquids, aerosols and gels (LAGs) at Aberdeen (ABZ), Glasgow (GLA) and Southampton (SOU) Airports.

“A lot of people confuse Oxo-Biodegradable with Oxo-Degradable, which is the material that essentially leaves microplastics behind in the environment.

“None of us want that as the smaller organisms eat this plastic, meaning the problem is effectively being moved elsewhere, rather than removed altogether. “Oxo-Biodegradable material continues to bio-stimulate that plastic and does so by attacking the molecular weight of the plastic so it can continue to be bio-degraded.

“The problem we have with this [Oxo-Biodegradable] material is that it has been around for so long and takes a lot of explaining.”

More to follow…

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