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Procurement Sector Tackles Plastic Pollution

Date: 02 April 2019

In recent years, the issue of sustainability has become an urgent global topic, with plastic pollution identified as one of the most dire threats to the planet’s survival. Many feel the time is now for corporations and conglomerates that have relied on plastics in the past to find solutions to reduce and recycle throughout their supply chain.

One Word: Plastics

Plastics have been in use since the 1950s and are now present in nearly every product bought and sold. One of the biggest uses - or misuses – of plastic is in packaging, which accounts for 40% of plastics produced. Plastic packing is then almost immediately thrown away – only 14% of it is recycled. When plastics break down, they turn into microplastics which can cause even further harm. Plastic pollution has been labelled as a problem as urgent as climate change.

“These plastics fill our landfills, wash up on our beaches, and are ingested by wildlife as well as humans. The move from single-use plastics to recyclable materials should be one of the top priorities of the conglomerates of this world,” said Grant Robertson, team leader at DSJ Global Procurement and Supply Chain Search.

Sustainability vs Profits

While most large corporations have paid lip service to recycling/reduction in the past, their true allegiance is to their bottom line; these initiatives have often been considered too costly to fully implement. However, in 2017 the BBC’s Blue Planet II highlighted the problems of microplastics, thrusting the issue into the public spotlight and helping to change attitudes towards packaging and waste.

Some businesses have been quick to embrace plastic reduction, betting that consumers will reward them for the change. Adidas has vowed to only use recycled plastics by 2024; Danone intends to make all of its packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. Carlsberg beer is phasing out plastic rings used in multipacks and replacing them with glue.

“The companies that take these initiatives will be the overall winners in the constantly evolving opinion of the consumer,” believes Robertson.

New Partnerships, Trade Forming

Since sourcing and procurement professionals are the ones overseeing the supply chain, they are poised to make these ideas reality. As Antónia Prata wrote in Plastic Waste Reduction By Adapting Procurement Policy Or Project Management Process, this can be done by substituting reusable packaging or seeking alternative biodegradable products. The development of an international waste plastic trading system to replace virgin plastic is another future possibility. 

Already, Robertson has noticed companies teaming up directly with waste management firms. Nestle has formed a partnership with waste management company Veolia, helping them with sorting and recycling of plastic waste in 11 countries. “This reduces Nestle’s global waste and creates further revenue for Veolia, the perfect recycling symbiotic relationship!” he exclaimed. 

The Role of Procurement Professionals in Plastic Crisis

Because reducing or changing packaging can have a radical effect on the look and feel of the product, there can sometimes be resistance, particularly if it’s an older company. “The procurement professional needs to be able to effectively transmit these ideas to their superiors, such as the CFO or board, and get their commitment to changes,” said Robertson.

Although consequences are dire, Robertson is hopeful about the future. “Plastic waste is a huge problem, but fortunately there are possible solutions on the horizon. This is a chance for sourcing and procurement to take the lead.”

If you would like to learn more about finding qualified sourcing professionals to help you develop sustainable packaging, contact us today.