26 mei 2020
Companies that have signed the Plastic Pact have promised to use 20% less plastic by 2025 than they did in 2017. One of the options is to reduce the weight per package. However, there is something odd: the legal obligation to keep packaging material to the minimum has already existed for many years.
Currently, 110 Dutch companies have signed the Plastic Pact launched in January 2019. Since March 2020, there is also a Europese variant. In both agreements, companies applying plastics promise not to use more plastics than necessary, which will result in a 20% reduction in plastic weight by 2025. Avoiding ‘unnecessary plastic’ is a high priority. The 20% percentage is based on targets set by the retail industry.
The companies agreed voluntarily, and they have decided to provide the necessary information. However, at the beginning of this year, only 42% of the companies provided information on the production and use of plastic. As a result, it has not been possible to check whether these companies do, indeed, comply with the agreements. Because of that, the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM canceled monitoring.
However, there are other methods to
determine whether companies are eliminating unnecessary plastic use.
Companies don’t have to make promises because it is already legally mandatory. Since 1994, packaging has had to comply with so-called essential requirements laid down in the European Packaging Directive. One of these requirements is that the weight of the packaging is limited to the minimum required (point 1 of Annex II). The underlying idea is simple: all the avoided packaging material can never end up as waste. Dutch legislation has taken over this requirement. For example, the Packaging Management Decision (2014) makes it mandatory to use ‘as little packaging material as possible.’
Marketing more important than the environment
There are two reasons for companies not complying with the law. If a company fears that a light bottle will sell worse than a heavy one, the environmental importance gives way to the economic interest. The second reason is that the government does not or does not yet enforce the law. After Recycling Network submitted an enforcement request, this seems to be changing. The Environment and Transport Inspectorate must now actively apply the Packaging Decision, given statements made by Parliament on previous enforcement requests from Recycling Network. This is good news because companies can no longer engage in window dressing with agreements such as the Plastic Pact and must indeed reduce the weight of plastic packaging.
Measurement is the key to knowledge
It is easy to determine whether products are offered in too much plastic. Compare a particular product of different brands and weigh their packaging. In short, this is what Recycling Network did last year in three case studies: spirits (glass), shampoo and fabric softeners (plastic). The findings are staggering. For example, 750 ml of fabric softener bottles of Robijn (Unilever) and Silan (Henkel) are 35 to 44% heavier than Jumbo bottles with the same content. Next, make the lightest packaging found the standard, which has been proven technically feasible.
If, for example, the lightest bottle would
be used as the standard for fabric softeners, the feasible saving of materials
on other brands would be as much as 50%. Even if the packaging was allowed to
weigh 10% more than the lightest bottle, tens of percent could be saved. There
is no technical reason for not using the lightest bottle.
The caveat is that when plastic packaging
is made lighter, its composition should not be more of a burden on the
environment. A fully recyclable mono-material should be the starting point.
The lightest packaging as standard
It is, therefore, essential to check which packaging is lightest for all packaging categories. This results in an enforceable reference weight of so many grams per so much product. The alternative is that we have to wait until 2025 to see if some companies have reduced their plastic use by a fifth without sanctions being imposed if they do not succeed.
Saving weight not the full solution
There is considerable potential for reduction by using the lightest packaging. But this is only part of the solution. Far fewer non-reusable plastic packaging must be produced, and much more packaging need to be replaced by reusable packaging or alternative materials to combat plastic pollution effectively.
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