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  • Writer's pictureMeyrick Consulting

Can we invent our way out of this reliance on plastics?

Packaging has come to dominate the headlines, the food industry and consumers. It’s quite possible that in 2019 the tipping point has been reached. It’s time to invent our way out of the potentially catastrophic situation that’s been created.

Plastic feeds our insatiable demand for more

Plastic is an amazing invention and has transformed how we shop, eat, manufacture, store and transport food. Our expectations are high and we want every kind of food available to us whenever we want it. It’s rare for the majority of people to shop seasonally or wait until the next shop to top up an item. Plastic makes that possible; supermarkets have driven demand and consumers have changed their behaviours accordingly.

Consumption is how we roll and that will be a very difficult habit to break.

This is a major point. Up until relatively recently we haven’t thought much about plastic. It’s cheap, easy to use and easy to dump. The thing is that’s only part of the story. What plastic has achieved is the shift towards disposal consumerism. Yes, we have always used things then replaced them but plastic has helped us decrease the length of that cycle. Consumption is how we roll and that will be a very difficult habit to break.

Recycling is not a ‘get out of jail’ card

So when we are faced by the results of this excessive demand and consumption it comes as a shock. Anyone that watched Hugh and Anita’s War on Plastic last week on tv were given a tour of the plastic wastelands being created in Malaysia. Our plastic waste is ending up there. It’s not being recycled, only the lucrative bits, the rest is dumped. It’s a bit like filling up your bin then emptying it in the next-door neighbour’s house.

Do you own a magic box?

One of the problems is we have all embraced recycling but that’s where our sense of responsibility ends. We sort our rubbish, put it out for collection and then forget all about it. It’s a magic box, then is filled then miraculously emptied. All of this has also meant we don’t return things we used to return like glass bottles used for fizzy drinks and milk. Now we find ourselves living in a world that may well see plastic items outnumbering fish in the oceans. So what should we do?

If you go ‘supermarket shopping’ determined to cut plastic you will struggle.

Is this what you see in most supermarkets?

Shopping becomes a time consuming exercise where you look for alternatives and it really does limit consumption. Surely we need to tackle the issue of plastic at source. After all it belongs in the same camp as fossil fuels. Mobil, Monsanto and others help fuel the plastics boom.

Does the solution rest with the food and drink industries?

Therefore isn’t it time the food industry put their collective heads together to tackle the issue at source and transform our relationship with plastic? We’ve seen bamboo, banana leaves and others horticultural, natural packaging solutions used in countries like India for example. But this won’t help when our consumption is about filling fridges and expecting shelf life to be unnaturally long. What is the solution?

In my opinion experienced candidates with packaging expertise have a very fine line to tread balancing packaging innovation and design to suit customers needs. They have to juggle cost control issues, all of the considerations around sustainability, research and development, competitor analysis alongside workforce planning. In addition they usually have to implement new materials and packaging innovations as well as keeping up to date with new packaging innovations and market trends. Therefore from my perspective, value you will gain hiring a true professional against a second rate player will always outweigh the costs involved.

Surely someone can invent an equivalent to plastic? What do you think? Is this the answer? I'd love to know what you think about this pressing issue.

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