The public and the industry need to join up on plastics debate

Managing director, James Piper, spoke at the 14th Global Soft Drinks Congress last week in Prague, as part of programme of talks under the theme of 'Sense and Sustainability'.

During the event, which was attended by industry leaders, suppliers, customers and advisors, James spoke primarily about the current debate on plastic, the key issue for the soft drinks industry at the moment.  

His talk, entitled “Consumer perceptions around packaging”, included a warning to attendees that although innovation in terms of the use of plastics is great, “the industry needs to assess these innovations, look at the results of consumer surveys and the facts and then close the gap between consumer perceptions and those facts to make sure people really understand the issues.”

Consumer sentiments and engagement

Before the event, James undertook a social media experiment on both LinkedIn and Facebook, asking his followers to give him three words to describe how they currently feel about plastic. He thought that as most of his LinkedIn connections are in the industry, they would have particularly strong feelings, and that his Facebook connections wouldn’t have the same sentiment in comparison. 

After gathering words over 24 hours, on LinkedIn 81% of comments received were positive about plastic, stating the opportunities for growth and investment. In comparison, on Facebook only 9% of comments were positive, with “unnecessary” the most commonly used word. James also spoke about how shoppers in the UK had recently been spontaneously unwrapping products in supermarkets, leaving the plastic behind as part of a protest.

James commented “It’s really interesting to see the difference between the public and the industry, and when we have this massive gap between the two, there’s a big question about how we join them up together and how we get everyone a little bit closer.”

The UK plan to introduce a deposit scheme was also explored, with James stating that he is really keen to see the impact that this has as consumers start to get used to being paid for recycling, the extra effort involved, and how this will change consumer perceptions of recycling overall.

Lack of recycling infrastructure

James also touched on the issue of ocean plastics, a problem that he believes is largely caused by lack of infrastructure to recycle. He added: “I feel that everyone is having the wrong conversation at the moment, by talking about how to get consumers more engaged rather than talking about where that waste then goes,” referring to the fact that simply relying on countries like China to take our country’s waste is “ignorance to the problem” and not directly solving it.

Currently, 66% of plastic recycling in the UK is exported, and if collections increase there is not the capacity available in the UK to deal with it in the most effective way. Therefore James believes it’s important to act now to ensure that sufficient infrastructure is in place to combat the problem instead, through increases in funding and getting producers to pay more – “It’s all linked”, he said.

Taste of the future

On the 3 May James will be participating in an environmental panel discussion at the UK Soft Drinks Congress in London. This event brings together senior industry managers, innovators, retailers, suppliers, opinion formers and advisers to provide the fullest possible one day overview of the latest developments, issues and opportunities. Its purpose and benefit is summed up in the theme ‘Taste of the Future’. More information can be found here.

Ben Luger

Marketing projects specialist

Ben joined the team at the beginning of 2015 and helps drive marketing communications and projects for Ecosurety, including project managing the launch of the Ecosurety Exploration Fund and website content development.

Written by Ben Luger Published 25/04/2018 Topics Ecosurety

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