Manufacturers and retailers need to help fight against litter, as we all want to live in a clean, safe environment. It’s also a very bad advertisement for a brand to literally have its name in the gutter.
The trend for people to do more eating and drinking on-the-go means that food packaging appears more often in litter streams. Public disgust about litter is growing and policymakers are calling for new measures to combat it.
For the first time, litter is mentioned in an environmental proposal from the European Commission. It said: “Littering has direct detrimental impacts on the environment and the wellbeing of citizens, and high clean-up costs are an unnecessary economic burden for society. Member states shall take the necessary measures to prohibit the abandonment, dumping or uncontrolled management of waste, including littering.”
Hard evidence about litter is limited because it is not easy to measure. However, a recent litter survey done by Keep Britain Tidy for INCPEN shows that cigarette ends accounted for 30%, chewing gum 24%, food packaging 15%, drinks containers 7%, tissues 1.4%, check-out receipts 0.8%, other bags 0.5% and supermarket shopping bags 0.2%.
Thus, while packaging is not the biggest item in the litter stream, it is often the most eye-catching. Ironically, the features that make it stand out on a shop shelf also make it stand out in the gutter. For example, while shopping bags are a very small contribution, “preventing litter” is often quoted by policymakers as the reason for imposing bag charges and bans.
Some companies respond to criticism by saying that litter is not their problem because their packaging is recyclable. However, using recyclable products or installing more recycling systems doesn’t tackle litter: someone who recycles knows to look for the right bin or at least uses a bin. In contrast, someone who litters can’t be bothered to find any bin. Litterers and recyclers are at exactly opposite ends of a behavioural spectrum.
So what can businesses do?
Responsible businesses need to act to reduce litter now – otherwise they may face hefty taxes, costly regulation, and customer rebellion in the future.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019
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