Plastics, Packaging in Spotlight with New Initiatives
UN Photo/Martine Perret
story highlights

The New Plastics Economy initiative launched a US$2 million prize for innovation in packaging to keep plastics out of the ocean and as valuable materials in the economy.

The rise in e-commerce is a megatrend that calls for a lifecycle approach to both products and packaging, according to Michael Zabaneh.

The Circular Fibres Initiative, launched on 11 May with Nike and H&M as core corporate partners, will address the drawbacks of the predominant “take-make-dispose” model in the fashion industry.

18 May 2017: The New Plastics Economy initiative launched a US$2 million prize for innovation in packaging to keep plastics out of the ocean. Packaging and circular or lifecycle approaches were also the focus of other recent initiatives and activities.

The New Plastics Economy is a three-year initiative supported by the Oak Foundation and The Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fund for Strategic Innovation, among other funders. Its Core Partners include Amcor, The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, MARS, Novamont, Unilever, Veolia, and most recently PepsiCo, which joined on 17 May. The UK Prince of Wales and former US Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the launch of the innovation prize on 18 May.

A US$2 million prize seeks innovations to make all plastic packaging recyclable.

The initiative notes that the demand for plastics products is expected to double in the next 20 years, “but the plastics system is broken.” With only 14% of plastic packaging recycled globally after 40 years of effort, it notes, a remaining US$80-120 billion worth is lost as waste. The prize aims to “keep plastics as valuable materials in the economy, and out of the ocean.” One challenge of the Innovation Prize focuses on circular design, to provide small format and other products without generating plastic waste. A second challenge calls for innovations to make all plastic packaging recyclable.

With e-commerce becoming a growing share of the retail sector, homes are taking on more packaging waste, writes Michael Zabaneh of Reclay StewardEdge, and municipalities and waste management services will need to account for greater residential tonnage. To address this “megatrend,” the author calls on companies to apply a lifecycle approach for both products and packaging. The author highlights Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, for its efforts to optimize packaging size and design, which has reduced damages and costs. Dell also reduced box sizes, developed bamboo cushioning to replace foam, and began making packaging with wheat straw, which is produced from agricultural waste and mushrooms. The bamboo and wheat straw eliminated 20 million pounds of packaging and saved around US$18 in reduced energy, water, transportation and production costs, while also reducing the company’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by an estimated 8%. By 2020, Dell plans to scale these efforts up to 100% sustainable packaging, Zadaneh reports.

Circular economy is also the theme of a new initiative for textiles. The Circular Fibres Initiative was launched on 11 May in Copenhagen, Denmark, during the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. Nike and H&M are the core corporate partners in the initiative. The initiative will address the drawbacks of the predominant “take-make-dispose” model, according to a press release. As a first step, the Initiative will map how textiles flow around the global economy and resulting externalities. The launching partners note that “consumers, particularly younger ones, are increasingly concerned about how the environment is impacted by the manufacture of the products they buy.” [New Plastics Economy Press Release on Innovation Prize] [New Plastics Economy Press Release on PepsiCo] [Reclay StewardEdge Article] [Circular Fibres Initiative Press Release]

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