Global Brand Challenges In Reducing Plastic

Interview with Christophe Jordan

Christophe Jordan speaks from his breadth of experience gathered while working across food and beverage, hospitality and luxury packaging. He understands first-hand the unique challenges, and opportunities that global brands and industries are facing in reducing plastic.

Recently, I had reason to re-visit the much-lauded Breaking The Plastic Wave reportA Comprehensive Assessment of Pathways Towards Stopping Ocean Plastic Pollution, published in partnership by The Pew Charitable Trusts and System IQ) , which remains a go-to reference of importance when thinking about the complex issues of plastic pollution and possible pathways to address them.

Despite the world feeling like it’s flipped since 2020, when this report was first published, it’s findings remain painfully relevant and the pressing urgency of the impact of plastic stands as true today as it was back then.

But we can’t be disheartened.

As someone who holds a position of influence in a sustainability-centric business and the industry, the report reminds me that we have a choice – that when we come together and make small, incremental changes, we can make meaningful changes.

So why re-visit the report now? Well, for a number of important reasons, starting with, of course, we’re in the business of packaging and the brand behind a new sustainable packaging material, Sylvicta, the natural translucent barrier paper designed to help reduce plastic in packaging.

Secondly, we’re at a milestone juncture following our recent acquisition by Fedrigoni. We’re in the midst of developing our 3-year strategy and developing industry-wide awareness and adoption of Sylvicta, knowing the significant role it can play in helping reduce and replace plastics in packaging.

Reducing the demand for plastics with sustainable alternatives is one of the prime recommendations of the Breaking the Plastic Wave report, as it details positive pathways for businesses and brands to adopt.

Let’s be upfront; the nuance to any strategy like ours is nothing without addressing the commercial and operational realities of replacing plastic. It’s fair to say it’s a complex issue with no one-size-fits-all solution. So, perhaps, by being transparent about some of the challenges our partners face, these might resonate with other brands, packaging designers and the converters tasked with delivering solutions, and together we might forge a way forwards.

The Big Challenge

The facts in the report don’t lie; by 2040, without considerable action to address the use of plastics, per metre of global shoreline in the world, we’ll have 50 kg of plastic enter the ocean.

When faced with such hard truths, why is it still proving a challenge for the industry to remove or at least replace single-use plastic?

Plastic is cheap. Easy to source and transport, and versatile to manufacture anywhere in the world, its production is rising as petrochemical companies shift fossil feed stocks from fuel to the plastic industry. (So it’s not just the volume of plastic pollution to think about, it’s also the toxic chemicals that many plastics contain, absorb or distribute). A wide range of alternatives are banging the drum for replacing or reducing plastic but the economic implications across the supply chain from sourcing raw product and storage through to line feeds and transportation, all prevent a faster transition.

Sylvicta answers many of these challenges in that it’s already seen as one of the most accessible and versatile alternatives to plastic in the packaging industry.

But the timing for change is lousy. The global economy is faltering and there’s a resulting profit strain, with many brands worldwide currently investment-shy and protecting margins in any way they can.

Also, plastic is brilliant. There’s no denying it’s a wonder product that the large proportion of the world currently exploits and relies on to create, store, package and preserve. Despite the likes of Sylvicta having impressive functional barrier properties, there is currently no single material which has the same spectrum of functionality and barrier properties that plastic has.

With the above in mind, if we’re going to beat plastic at its own game, we need to come together, so that the function and properties of any alternative material matches that of plastic.

Overcoming These Challenges

We know that we need leadership from progressive, future-focussed governments that look further than their own tenure and push global business leaders to move beyond pledges and towards results.

And then there is a mindset change; The Breaking the Plastic Wave report promotes wider pragmatic strategies other than simply having to replace plastics in packaging in one fell swoop. It’s this realisation and acknowledgement that starting small by reducing really does help, so those incremental transitions across ranges and products do make a difference.

Finally, there are the technical considerations. From Sylvicta’s perspective, we have a viable, scalable alternative to plastic packaging materials, yet a proportion of converters require the more modern packaging machinery models to integrate in their lines. With capex implications, this requires foresight, commitment and investment from those at the top in supporting their converters to do the right thing.

Why We Need To Join Forces

The central reason that replacing plastic isn’t top of the agenda is cost. To make the impact we need will require a co-ordinated and collaborative approach. Particularly in the FMCG industry, the race to lead innovation tells us that the right people are making the right decisions. But the buck stops with consumers, as they ultimately pay for the added investment and increased unit price.

Perhaps this is where brand owners need to work more closely with marketing teams to weave these benefits into the core USP’s of the products from the outset? We worked with a major European tea brand to make the transition and they are reaping the rewards – the compelling recycling and composting qualities of their teabag sachets now forms the basis of their product proposition.

Ultimately, I don’t think the focus should be about being an industry-leader anymore. It should be about being a team player, where we each do our part to reduce and replace plastic in packaging.