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The plastics problem

Although concern for the environment is nothing new, since the infamous Blue Plant II plastics episode aired last year plastic and packaging have become hot topics in the UK. Not only have we seen a growing number of grass roots campaigns for less plastic, but the government has also been pushed to step in and help us lessen our obsession with single use plastics. Consumers and companies alike are becoming more aware of the trail they leave behind, and now more than ever, there is a need for action.

However, this can often leave brands in a tricky position: while consumers are keen to see change, companies must do the impossible, and balance meeting consumers’ wishes to see a reduction in the use of plastics, with finding viable, affordable packaging for their products. If they aren’t seen to be doing anything, especially if they claim to be eco-conscious, their brand’s credibility will suffer. What is needed to solve the plastic problem is a lot of strategy and a little innovation.

A good example of a brand which is walking this wobbly tight rope is BOL. As they explain on their recent blog post, ‘BOL, why are you still in plastic?’ (May, 2018), while they’re searching for an alternative to their plastic containers, they’re yet to find a viable, market solution. With issues ranging from ‘biodegradable’ plastics which aren’t really biodegradable to un-microwaveable compostables, BOL are struggling to find a non-plastic for their product. Rather than let this damage their eco image, they’ve retained their credibility with a hearty dose of honesty and by trying to reduce their environmental impact in other ways. For example, they plan to launch a returnable scheme by the end of the year, so that they can recycle their used pots, and in the meantime, they encourage their customers to reuse the containers.

For other companies, heightened consumer concern for the environment offers an opportunity to become green trailblazers. Take Iceland for example, the frozen food giant has become the first major retailer to pledge to eliminate plastic packaging from all its own brand products by 2023, as well as being only one of two retailers to sign up to the government’s Deposit Return Scheme for plastic bottles. While other retailers drag their feet, Iceland are making a name for themselves as eco innovators.

The plastic issue, true to its non-biodegradable form, is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Although businesses prefer to err on the side of caution and restraint, they need to view the issue through their brand lens to ensure that their actions feel appropriate and credible. Companies such as BOL prove that by having a clear goal and involving consumers in the progress along the way, it is possible to act on plastics in a realistic way.

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