The trouble with packaging

In the wake of a dire new report from the IPCC emphasising the human impact on the planet, CR delves into the complexities of sustainable packaging design

To the casual observer, plastic packaging is no less of a problem now than it was a decade ago – despite years of grim warnings about landfill sites, climate change and ocean pollution. A huge number of our everyday products still come in plastic containers, many of them single use and produced using virgin plastic.

Each year, the Break Free From Plastic movement martials an army of volunteers across the world to collect and document hundreds of thousands of pieces of plastic waste, and create a tally of which brands are contributing the most to the problem. In 2020, the report featured a stable of household names including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, Unilever and Mondelez, to name the leading five.

A 2021 report, from Surfers Against Sewage, identified 12 brands responsible for 48% of all packaging pollution – a list that had barely changed since 2019 and which, once more, featured Coca-Cola as the top most polluting brand.

Despite many of these top polluters joining the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment – which seeks, ultimately, to create a circular economy that ensures no plastic becomes waste – the Break Free From Plastic initiative highlights that the signatories have only reduced their use of virgin plastic by 0.1%.

Top: Corona Extra packaging made from surplus barley straw from the beer-making process, turned into paper board; Above: Evian’s ‘no label’ water bottle, made using recycled and recyclable plastic (except the cap)