Content Coms viewpoint: Brands, plastics and the politics of inaction
Here at Content Coms, whilst we don’t mention it often, one environmental element we’ve long deplored is the global impact of plastics.
Giles Crosse, our Environment Editor thinks brands could and should be doing a lot more. But it’s complex.
Plastics and brands
A recent investigation by Ethical Corporation finds that only 14% of global plastic packaging is currently recycled, while 32% of all plastic packaging leaks into ecosystems, where it may remain for hundreds of years.
Annually, between 8m and 20m tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans. So Ethical Corporation says it is becoming clear, across the globe, that the current economics of waste management do not adequately incentivise plastic recycling.
The point is glaringly obvious; plastic recycling is ineffective. So the approach for brands has to be to cut the use of plastics at source.
It’s an identical mindset to energy efficiency; if you don’t use energy, you don’t need to think about whether it was produced sustainably. Equally, if you don’t use plastic, you needn’t concern yourself over how, or indeed whether it’s recycled.
Getting to zero plastics
Ethical Corporation explains that Danone, Veolia, Nestlé and Tetra Pak have come together to establish the newly launched 3R Initiative (that stands for reduce, recover and recycle).
It provides a set of tools for companies to engage in the process of reducing their plastics footprints through a combination of internal and external measures.
The initiative has some laudable goals, explained more fully in this video.
However, as Content Coms’ environmental writer, I’ve seen countless initiatives like these over the years.
Perhaps the more powerful question remains. Can (or indeed why can’t) brands just stop using plastic. Pure and simple. Today.
The advantages of using less plastic
Another recent plastics investigation has been carried out by Greenbiz.com – the journal finds 58% of Americans say when a brand uses no plastic or limited amounts of plastic in its packaging, it positively affects their opinion of the brand.
The journal also notes that damning images of plastics harming marine life are images of branded products. ‘Obviously, companies don’t want their billion-dollar brands seen in this way, and consumers don’t want to be associated with brands in this way. But it’s hard to escape the reality that all of us as consumers are complicit, the images we see are of products we buy.’
For us at Content Coms, the equation is complex. Brands are responsible for their use of plastics, yet we as consumers are responsible for buying their stuff. And when that stuff is essential, what realistic alternative do we have?
Greenbiz thinks Americans will put more of the onus on brands, and that the sleeping giant is waking up.
‘Before that giant turns its wrath on brands, and before brands become the villains in the narrative, companies can make bold moves and actually gain new consumers, new brand love and new product sales.’
All this could be achieved by brands quitting plastics. So why not do it 100%?
The complexities for brands.
Marketing Week’s plastics investigation has this to say, quoting Coco Di Mama’s (a grab and go Italian food chain) head of marketing Sara McCraight.
“Being eco-friendly costs more, and it can be hard to get things approved and signed off. So to offset those costs we have to create savings in other areas. But we want to create a business people are proud of.”
Lush told Marketing Week that other issues with going plastic free include finding a more environmentally friendly way to transport products to stores, and developing an answer to strict labelling laws, which mean going completely naked [no plastic packaging] is currently not an option in certain countries.
Transit damage to non-plastic packaged products, theft and higher wastage are yet more challenges.
The final word
“Brands have a moral obligation to lead on cutting plastics,” comments Joanna Watchman, Founder and CEO, Content Coms.
But she also notes Marketing Week’s telling assessment: “If making a sustainable choice is going to cost more or be less convenient, brands will struggle to encourage people to take the eco-friendly option.”
How many of you reading this piece would truly be willing to take a reusable plastic container time and again to a shop and potentially pay more for the privilege? Let’s hope there are a few of you who will!
Herein lies the complexity of the plastics issue. It’s one that perhaps only brands and consumers together can solve.