Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - 10

opinion
continued from page 9
but about engineering better
systems that allow sustainable
behaviours to be seamlessly adopted
into our day-to-day lives.
Visualising a harmonious
future with plastic
Plastic continues to be demonised,
but its outright elimination
is not the answer. Rather, urgent
steps must be taken to ensure
the material is designed with
sustainability and circularity
in mind: to reduce, reuse and
recycle. This also means reappraising
our attitudes to and
perceptions of plastic - perhaps
even categorising it as a
'luxury' product rather than a
cheap, disposable one to foster
more innovative sustainable approaches
to its application.
Of course, such considerations
have profound implications
on form and design to create
positive change that sticks.
Many tensions must be reconciled
to strike the right balance
- from durability and longevity
to reparability and aesthetics.
The latter is more important
than you think because it
wields such an influence over
consumer behaviour. Current
design guidance on sustainable
plastics in product and packaging
design must learn from
previous iterations that haven't
hit the mark. As evidenced by
McDonald's efforts in France to
replace its packaging and utensils
with reusable plates and
cutlery that looked so distinctive
that some consumers even
took and tried to re-sell them,
it's clear that solutions to plastic
must not look so desirable
that they fail to be reused - nor
should they look so disposable
that consumers simply throw
them away.
Around 80% of the environmental
impact of product and
packaging is influenced by
the choices made at the design
stage (Ellen MacArthur
Foundation), so there's a huge
opportunity to spearhead sustainable
solutions for plastic
and design-out waste right
from a product's inception.
Lightweighting, alternatives
to plastic and biodegradability
come into play here. Likewise,
stakeholders could become
10
much more embedded at the
design stage to better understand
production processes
and pre-empt sustainability
challenges faced later on in the
supply chain and address these
accordingly. With this in mind,
what does a viable future with
plastic look like?
Design to reduce
Bio-based materials, from algae
to seaweed plastic, seem
like a sensible alternative to
single-use plastics, but the
challenge has always been to
replicate the functionality, capabilities
and economic cost of
production of plastic to make
these truly scalable.
At PA Consulting's Global
Innovation and Technology
Centre in Cambridge, we have
been working with PulPac to
develop a low-cost approach
to producing sustainable packaging.
Dry Molded Fiber (DMF)
technology, invented by PulPac,
converts renewable plant fibres
into sustainable packaging and
products. Offering an alternative
to single-use plastics, it has
the capability to reduce carbon
and water footprint, along with
offering a sustainable end-oflife
to be recaptured and recycled
at scale.
However, designing to reduce
plastic waste requires
more than technological processes
and material innovation.
Consumers must equally be engaged
- through communication
on product packs about the
materials used and how to dispose
of them responsibly - and
the wider stakeholder mindset
must also be addressed to
ensure that regulation, supply
chains and recycling infrastructures
work symbiotically to
achieve sustainability goals.
Design to reuse
When designing for reusability,
durability is key, but the success
of reusability only works if the
consumer is educated, engaged
and incentivised to comply. One
study showed that a reusable
coffee cup or food container
needed to be used at least 40
times to offset its environmental
impact. Sandwich chain Pret
A Manger compels their consumers
to bring their own cups
January/February 2024
by giving them a 50p discount,
nudging them to act more sustainably
through financial incentives.
Both physical product and
graphic design can be important
vessels for information that help
consumers make more conscious
choices and act in a way
that makes reusing habitual and
thus a success.
Shifting beyond a packaging
focus, brands are actively
exploring strategies to create
scalable and cost-effective circular
solutions, including subscription
and take-back programmes,
to reclaim unwanted
products. The goal is to offer a
viable pathway for the product
to move into another use-cycle
or in some instances be recycled.
While some industries
like fashion have been more
accustomed to exploring such
solutions, others, including
toys, consumer electronics and
home furniture, are now starting
to delve into similar initiatives.
Design for recyclability
The collective global success
of recycling is questionable
because the governance and
efficacy of recycling systems
across territories is disparate
- whether this be from country
to country or state to state. This
makes it logistically hard for international
brands to develop
packaging that universally complies
with regulations. However,
programmes such as deposit
return schemes are increasingly
being integrated in different
countries to reduce littering,
increase the recycling of single-use
drink containers to 90%
and provide a secure supply of
feedstock to meet recycled content
targets.
Designing for recyclability
entails the inclusion of features
that nudge and empower
consumers to recycle responsibly.
That means product and
packaging should be easy to
dismantle and separate, with
the packaging itself used to educate
and engage consumers
about the correct way in which
to recycle and dispose of the
pack and product concerned.
Whilst much focus has been
directed on the necessity for
recycling, not enough attention
has been paid to designing with
end-of-life in mind. This must
change. Careful consideration
must be paid to features like
material composition, sizing,
purity and colour - all integral
factors to sortation and recycling.
For example, Coca-Cola
recently switched its Sprite bottles
from green to clear plastic -
a design decision which aimed
to improve recyclability - whilst
Unilever started using new detectable
black pigment for some
TRESemme and Lynx bottles,
so that they could be detected
by waste managers and sorted
effectively for recycling.
Emerging technology that
seeks to address hard-to-recycle
plastics which comprise
multi-layer components, as well
as improved material-scanning
technology, are all being trialled,
promising a scalable shift
to more effective waste management
and recycling practices
globally in the near future.
For example, CRDC Global
has been working to address
these systemic challenges we
face today, including recycling
the most problematic plastics.
CRDC's circular business model
is focused on recovering landfill
and ocean-bound plastic waste
and converting it into a low-carbon
concrete additive for the
construction industry, as a substitute
for traditional concrete
aggregates which have a high
carbon footprint.
What now?
Designing for a future with
plastics means thinking about
sustainability from a product's
inception through to the end of
its life. It means designing out
waste, reappraising infrastructure,
influencing wider stakeholders'
mindsets and innovating
empathetically to promote
sustainable consumer habits
that affect the bigger picture.
Plastic has long been viewed as
the environmental problem, but
perhaps we need to start seeing
it as a symptom, not the cause,
of a much bigger problem that
can be positively addressed
with ingenuity and human-centric
design.
Ross Lakhdari is a circular
economy expert, and Iris Alting
is a business transformation
and sustainability expert
at PA Consulting.

Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024

Contents
Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - Cover1
Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - Cover2
Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - Contents
Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - 4
Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - 5
Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - 6
Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - 7
Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - 8
Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - 9
Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - 10
Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - 11
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Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - Cover3
Sustainable Plastics - January/February 2024 - Cover4
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