Plastic packaging is back...now what do we do?
I don't mean to dwell on food and beverage packaging, but it's hard not to these days. The same day as the 50th anniversary celebration (or lamentation) of Earth Day this week an opinion piece was published in a food trade magazine about the critical role plastic packaging is playing during the COVID-19 pandemic. I've seen similar observations elsewhere in the past couple of weeks. Today I read a blog post highlighting a notable increase in the number of people using meal kits during the first two weeks of April. I nod my head as I read along. There's no question that single use plastic packaging makes it safer to distribute food to the end consumer when the threat of infection looms and lurks.
I nod my head, and I shake my head at the same time. More plastic bottles, jars, clamshells, and containers of every size and shape, most of which will not find their way into reconstituted packaging, will be strewn across an already saturated environment. I watched a video (actually a trailer for a movie aired on Discovery) posted on Earth Day called The Story of Plastic which reminded me how dire the situation is. I shake my head.
I'm now scratching my head, looking for a way forward. Jon Moeller, CFO at P&G, recently predicted "this will likely become a forever altered health, hygiene and cleaning focus." I agree. Hygiene and health safety will feature even more prominently in the design of consumer products and the processes to make and deliver them. But I hope we don't settle for plastic packaging in its current incarnations.
The opinion piece in Food Dive suggests that the pandemic should be a wake-up call to overhaul the recycling system, and for consumers to take more responsibility. I don't disagree, but I think it's even more important to use this jagged point in time as a springboard for audacious goals to create and scale up truly sustainable packaging solutions that also make food and beverages safe wherever they are bought and consumed. The players in the packaged food ecosystem should accelerate their efforts, not retreat to a more comfortable world where plastic rules.