Driving change: How consumers are catalysing action against plastic pollution

Sarah Swaine, Valpak Sales Coordinator discusses how consumer pressure, environmental legislation and a desire to do the right thing by the planet is driving the food and drink industry to take steps to reduce plastic waste, and outlines how a refill initiative alongside the implementation of deposit return schemes strives to combat this issue.

Plastic reduction is at the forefront of many consumers’ minds, but why? I believe it’s because plastic is something physical. It can be seen, it can be touched, it’s a material that you can hold in your hands.

Its tangible presence increases our awareness of its environmental impact and propels our desire to minimalise it.

The food and drink industry’s contribution to plastic waste

The food and drink industry is in the top tier of sectors that handle the most packaging within their supply chains and therefore produce an extensive amount of plastic waste. On our current trajectory, the volume of global plastic waste is set to triple by 2060. If we hope to change this grim forecast, then drastic change is essential.

IGD’s statistic “41% of consumers already use reusable packaging” makes clear that shoppers are ready for change. Their desire to reduce plastic pollution, and to make greener, more sustainable choices puts them ahead of businesses and makes them the drivers of forward-thinking, eco-friendly innovations produced by organisations.

Due to increasing consumer pressure for businesses to be sustainable alongside existing and emerging legislation, and a desire to do the right thing, the food and drink industry is making strides in combating plastic pollution across all areas. However, it’s not enough to simply remove the outer packaging from fruit and vegetables in a supermarket, or for the consumer to avoid plastic-packaged products. Though an admirable start, improvements to the volume of plastic waste need to be made throughout the supply chain.

The refillable packaging project

Last month, I attended the National Convenience Show and listened to an interesting talk by Catherine Conway (Unpacked Systems Ltd) on ‘The Refill Coalition’. Their refillable packaging project incorporates the entire supply chain across all sectors from end to end and offers an environmental solution that will lessen the usage of single-use plastics.

There are still many kinks to be ironed out, but their reusable vessels and dispensers have the potential to extend the circular economy for packaging, and in the long run, reduce plastic pollution across each sector.

I look forward to hearing the promising results of the current supermarket trial and will watch keenly how it moves forward.

Deposit return schemes for beverage containers

We’ve all seen the notorious sight of a beverage container cast aside, half buried in the sand, chucked under a hedge, or tossed in a ditch. However, it is hoped that the introduction of UK deposit return schemes (DRS) will financially incentivise consumers to recycle their empty drinks containers and will therefore reduce the number of drinks containers littered or ending up in landfill.

A DRS works by adding a small deposit to drinks at point of purchase, which can be redeemed by consumers presenting empty containers at return points. While a DRS is set to be implemented in Scotland later this year, schemes will eventually be rolled out to the rest of the UK.

Reconomy Group company, EcoVend offers drinks retailers a range of reverse vending machines. These will act as return points where consumers can deposit their empty drinks containers and will be available in accessible and convenient locations such as supermarkets.


If projects like The Refill Coalition and deposit return schemes work together within the food and drink industry to introduce more reusable packaging solutions and to increase recycling rates of single-use beverage containers, it could help turn us away from the 2060 plastic waste projection.