It’s a plastic passion…

Robert Smith tried to warn us in 1979…

Plastic passion is hard to handle

Plastic passion is a sold-out scandal

Despite 40 years of attempting to recycle, only 14% of global plastic packaging is collected, and we continue to lose 95% of plastic packaging’s material value (USD 80-120 billion annually) due to a short single-use cycle. Our reliance on plastic PPE during the pandemic has even led ESCP Business School researchers to warn that the world now risks having more ‘masks than jellyfish in our oceans. With a lifespan of 450 years, these masks will have unprecedented consequences for our planet.

COVID-19 taught us that we can radically transform the way we live and work seemingly overnight, and has encouraged the wider consideration of alternate operating models such as the Doughnut Economic Model and Circular Economy paradigm that encourages us to ‘close the loop’.

Championed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The Circular Economy is a framework that counts brands such as Google, H&M, Renault and Unilever as partners. It proposes that instead of the linear ‘take, make, use, dispose’ model many industries have been following, we should be using existing materials to create a ‘closed-loop[2], simplified as; ‘make, use, reuse, remake/recycle, make’. It also offers a contemporary design approach that suggests strategies for replacing or designing out materials of concern – redefining our supply chains.

diagram of the new plastic economy

Only 2% of global plastic is currently kept in the closed-loop system, and I believe this 98% gap presents an opportunity for the Marketing industry. At Tag, we know that ‘the devil is in the detail’, and if as an industry we are truly serious about protecting our planet, we need to look beyond the obvious and take a microscope to our marketing production cycle and identify opportunities to optimize campaigns, shoots and POS so that any plastic used can be recycled safely and wastage eradicated.

So, how could we turn intention into action? I have detailed some steps below that could kick-start this journey.

Educate: The first step is informing organizations on current plastic usage. Specifically, in regards to campaign materials and POS, it’s key to begin realising how little is known in terms of consumption let alone how much is recycled… Working with a specialist like Tag will help to identify baseline usage positions and importantly, highlight opportunities to rethink and design more sustainable campaigns geared to eradicate problem plastics and make EOL recycling easier.

Brands must look for alternatives to PVC and work with a partner who will ensure the plastic supplied for activations or shoots is fit for recycling – it’s the little things that can make a big difference! We often find that problem plastics and PVC’s are somewhat hidden – cardboard standees for example can often contain a plastic clip to bolster their strength which can contaminate recycling if not removed, and these are the type of things we’re actively designing out of our POS.

Redesign: Once you’re educated about your plastic use, you can begin to redesign POS and campaign materials to be sustainable, reusable and free from single-use plastic if possible. By designing with sustainability and plastic recycling goals in mind, brands can optimise their contributions to the ‘after use economy’ across the entire production cycle – from set to store- preserving plastic’s material value and preventing its escape into our natural world.

To give you some simple examples:

  • On location shooting: Make sure that any plastic used on sets such as cutlery or plates, is washed, ready for reuse and fit for recycling
  • In point of sale marketing: Ensure that when you design for POS you are considering the little details – such as the type of vinyl being selected for a window graphic and laminates on print that include PVC and therefore prevent the printed item from being easily recycled

Optimise: At Tag, we believe in the need for an industry commitment that reflects the scale of this challenge and opportunity. Marketers love measurement – so creating a framework that sets out specific targets to encourage sustainability-focused design and improve the collecting, sorting and reprocessing of plastic across the entire marketing production cycle, will encourage innovation and hold us accountable.

I believe that there is enormous potential for marketing to embrace the circular economy approach; designing out harmful materials when we can, and doing our best to minimise the amount of plastic that is truly single-use and goes to landfills. If we are genuinely serious about tackling plastic pollution, we need to remember that ‘the devil is in the detail’ and look beyond the obvious. It’s my hope that through collaboration and shared vision, the Marketing industry can practice what we preach and redefine our history with disposability.

If you would like to discuss sustainable design or how you can maximise the material value of plastic across your production cycle, don’t hesitate to get in touch.