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2022 - Meeting the Earth’s and consumers’ quest for greener packaging

The world now produces around 380 million metric tonnes of plastic yearly for various purposes, according to Earth Day, the global environmental movement. As Earth Day puts it, the accumulated amount of plastics every year is roughly the same as the entire weight of humanity.

Plastic packaging protects the beverage and food products along the supply chain from manufacturers to consumers, ensuring the product quality and safety during the delivery. However, multiple factors, such as packaging with plastic of poor recyclability or inappropriate handling of the plastic packaging after using the products, have rendered plastic packaging to bring negative impacts to the Earth.

Images of plastic pollution in the environment such as the rivers and oceans in documentaries and news reports often serve as remote reminders of the severity of the issue. Collective actions are required to tackle the issue. Around the world, plenty of voluntary efforts are being made by non-profit organisations, private companies, and individuals to clean up plastic waste in the environment. Yet, more needs to be done to resolve the problem.

Indeed, not only is the Earth urging for immediate actions to tackle plastic solution, but also the consumers. Savvy consumers around the world are increasingly expecting companies to produce products that are with environmentally friendly and sustainable packaging. While they come into contact with the plastic food packaging almost every day, more and more of them are becoming so conscious that they will simply avoid buying if the producer is found to be irresponsible in the environmental sense. An article in Forbes cited a study as saying that 88 per cent of US and UK consumers want brands to help them be more environmentally friendly in their daily lives.

Such consumer-driven trends have actually generated business opportunities as consumers have been weighing sustainability heavier when they purchase.

As far as food and beverage manufacturers are concerned, many leading companies have adopted the same forward-looking mentality. To sacrifice packaging functionality, product quality and safety is not an option. Rather, companies are exploring safe, reliable, and sustainable packaging solutions. Nestlé is one of them.

Leading the trend of sustainable packaging, Nestlé, among its sustainability ambitions across the value chain, has committed to making 100 per cent of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025 and reducing the use of virgin plastics by one third in the same period of time. This commitment has been reflected in its packaging changes in different markets in recent years. As a cross-market example, its popular Smarties brand is the first global confectionery brand to switch to recyclable paper packaging since early 2021, removing approximately 250 million plastic packs sold globally every year.

Locally in Hong Kong, Nestlé’s product packaging is also evolving along its global commitment. For instance, to enhance the recyclability of its packaging, multiple transformations have been made, including turning its coloured coffee bottles to transparent ones in mid-2021 for easier recycling, and switching its yoghurt cups and bottles from non-recyclable plastic to recyclable ones since early 2022.

Moreover, the company has replaced its composite plastic-laminated ice cream cup and outer box with recyclable paper alternatives since mid-2021 too. This transition with paper also helped to reduce the amount of virgin plastic used in its packaging, shooting two birds with one stone. Such “paperization” is still going on for the packaging of its other ice cream products, while individual paper bag has just freshly been introduced / will soon be introduced to one of its ice cream sticks in Hong Kong in June 2022.

In addition to common packaging materials, Nestlé also explores other innovative possibilities such as beyond conventional petroleum-based plastics. For example, it has already switched from fossil-fuel-based plastic cap and scoop to plant-based plastic ones for its baby formula milk products in Hong Kong.

Further to helping tackling the plastic issue from the source, Nestlé Hong Kong is calling on consumers to join them to recycle packaging materials at the downstream, with appealing messages on their recyclable packaging as reminders.

For our city, not only do companies like Nestlé are devoting efforts for a sustainable future, but also the Hong Kong government. It is escalating the efforts to handle the plastic waste, such as introducing different producer responsibility schemes and public engagement exercises regarding single-use plastics.

To accelerate the transformation pace, the government should engage different industry players including Nestlé to drive science-based, innovative green packaging for our environmentally conscious consumers.