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Concerns about plastic waste and marine pollution have skyrocketed especially after China announced its ban on imports of foreign waste from January 2018. This has inspired the EU to launch a new plastic strategy focussed on two key goals, making all packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2030 and achieving higher packaging recycling rates across Europe. This brings huge opportunities and challenges for both plastic manufacturers and the recycling industry.

plastic in the ocean.

Source: Huffington Post

The response to this wake-up call has been swift with big players announcing their commitments to support the new plastic strategy and redesign its packaging in line with the evolving regulatory landscape. Pioneering international companies, retailers and packaging manufacturers have recently announced recycling-related goals to capture the value and reduce the environmental impact of packaging materials by 2025 or earlier.  However, in most cases the strategy to achieve these goals is still unclear. So far there is no perfect technical solution or miraculous material with zero environmental footprint, every alternative comes with pros and cons with respect to its environmental impact. For instance, Iceland supermarket is aiming to remove plastics from the packaging within the next five years, and replace it with paper and cardboard. Although paper and cardboard are highly recyclable materials their environmental footprint is higher compared to plastics.

No doubt we are heading in the right direction and other players will follow suit, however, to make a successful transition towards a sustainable and low-carbon circular economy companies need to carefully assess the supply and demand of these new materials using a set of economic (i.e. commodity prices) and environmental indicators related to inputs (i.e. material, energy, water) and outputs (i.e. emissions, waste) to identify potential risks and impacts within the supply chain. Manufacturers need also to take into account the all potential impacts of the new materials during distribution and storage such as the weight and the barrier performance of the alternative packaging materials which has a direct impact on carbon emissions (transport) and the food waste generation (shelf life of the products).

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