Consumers' purchasing choices are now more influenced by the reduced plastic content of a product's packaging. Thirty-five percent of consumers are more likely to purchase products without any plastic at all compared to ones with recycled plastic, according to UK-based data and analysis company GlobalData on August 23, 2019.

"This provides a specific insight for manufacturers as consumers would pursue plastic-free packaging rather than recyclable," said George Henry, consumer analyst at GlobalData.

"Many brands and supermarket chains have either chosen to introduce packaging with reduced or recycled plastic such as Solero ice cream's first wrapper-less multipack or eradicate plastic packaging as with Morrison's roll-out of "buy bagless" fruit and vegetable aisles, and Waitrose's recent "unpacked" refill trial."

Consumers' willingness to change their shopping habits, along with potential margin benefits, should encourage other retailers to launch their refill sections. GlobalData's August 2019 survey highlighted that 71.3 percent of UK consumers across all demographics would be willing to use a similar refill service (whether at Waitrose or another grocer).

Henry added: "Therefore, the (UK) government's announcement to invest GBP 60 million to help cut single-use plastics by creating new forms of biodegradable packaging will have its limitations, as consumers are influenced more by products without any plastic than by biodegradable alternatives."

Organic Essence plastic-free line of toiletries

"Plastic waste is a major problem around the world. The EU has recently taken action on waste prevention, and by introducing new measures to address plastic waste and pollution, through the European Commission's 2018 European strategy for plastics in a circular economy and the recently adopted Single-Use Plastics Directive," according to a European Environment Agency (EEA) assessment in June 3, 2019. This follows a Franco-Dutch push for more sustainable plastic packaging and recycling in April, when both governments penned national pacts that go beyond what EU rules on plastic waste stipulate, kicking off a process they hope will culminate in a European Plastics Summit in 2020. "Under the Dutch plan, the signing parties commit to making sure at least 70 percent of single-use plastic packaging is recycled, and a 20 percent reduction in plastic consumption by 2025. The French pact aims to make all packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by the same year," EURACTIV said.

Despite promising efforts to address the growing problem of plastic waste like banning plastic shopping bags or straws, specific prevention targets for waste of various plastics are not widespread in Europe, the EEA report said. Only nine countries have explicit goals in place for plastic waste prevention, said the Denmark-based EU agency.

"The European strategy notes that plastic recycling capacities have not kept pace with the increasing global production of plastics. Currently, in Europe, only 30 percent of plastic waste is collected for recycling. Besides, most recycling operations take place outside of Europe, where environmental practices and standards may differ."

The EEA report 'Preventing plastic waste in Europe,' mapped and analyzed efforts across EEA Member Countries to address plastic waste generation through prevention measures. The assessment said that prevention of the most environmentally harmful plastic types, such as single-use plastics and non-recyclable plastic products should be a priority. Fees on plastic shopping bags have led to notable results in reducing their use and waste in some countries.  Such measures should also apply to other types of plastic products, such as to plastic packaging waste, the single most massive plastic waste stream in Europe. 

A recent survey among Canadians conducted by Agri-food Analytics Lab made evident that the presence of single-use plastic (SUP) in food is a growing concern. "People are starting to see the planet on their plate," said Dr Sylvain Charlebois, scientific director of the Agri-food Analytics Lab and professor of food policy and distribution at Dalhousie University, Canada. Disturbing images of animals tangled in plastic and the ocean and beaches covered in plastic worked.  "Thanks to social media, consumers now see connections that increase awareness on how their food choices impact their health, the Amazon, and climate change."

At a presentation in September during the CHFA East event for organic products in Toronto, Dr Charlebois said that 87.2% of respondents consider environmental impacts caused by SUP food packaging to be important, and 93.7% of the respondents indicated to be personally motivated to reduce the amount of in food packaging because of its environmental impact.

One in two Canadians is actively looking for no- plastic packaging. 56,4% actively shop for food with no plastic packaging while grocery shopping; 89.8% of respondents believe that regulations to reduce consumption of single-use plastic packaging for food should be strengthened in Canada, and 71.2% of respondents support a ban of all single-use plastics used for food packaging.

But 89.8% of respondents believe plastic packaging should be changed to green alternatives but not for additional costs, although 83.3% of respondents would be willing to pay no more than 2.5% for a food product with green packaging alternatives.

Only 23.2% of respondents would accept paying a fee to a food company for single-use plastic food packaging, while in countries like Germany, Ireland and Switzerland, consumers already pay 5 to 20 cents. In 2002 Ireland became the first country to impose a plastic bag levy, which led to a 90 percent drop in the use of plastic bags.

 PET recycling will not meet brand commitments

The National Association for PET Container Resources in the US (NAPCOR) has concluded that US PET recycling rates are too low to meet brand commitments for recycled content and called for action, including improving the collection, according to an article in Plastics News on August 29, 2019.

The Food Packaging Forum reported that the current US recycling rate for PET is just under 30 percent, with much of this material coming from applications other than bottles. Brands such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have made commitments to increase the use of recycled PET (rPET) in their packaging to meet increasing pressure to address single-use plastic waste.

Ten states in the US are reported to have bottle deposit schemes in place, with consequently much higher recycling rates "between 65 and 95 percent." Recent calls have also been made in the government to upgrade the recycling infrastructure in the US. The US Environmental Protection Agency has set up working groups on the issue and published a recent status report about ongoing efforts.

"We've got a problem and we're not going to be able to meet those commitments easily," said NAPCOR director Alasdair Carmichael. "People don't realize how far away we are currently in being able to achieve the levels that are potentially talked about," he added. "If we stay as we are, these commitments are not going to be achievable. Something has to change on the collection end, not just at the production end."

It is interesting to note that Nestle, Pepsi and Coca Cola are among the most plastic polluting food companies around the world. Maybe they should also become top investors in the improved recycling infrastructure required to clean their plastic waste.