Quality First!

Let’s get packaging design right to help us improve quality, says Simon Ellin, chief executive, of the Recycling Association. Design, the first stage of the supply chain, is crucial in making that happen

It is now almost a year since The Recycling Association launched the Quality First campaign that aims to ensure that the UK is a provider of high quality material to UK and global recyclers.

In that time, we have made huge strides in raising the awareness of quality as an issue and we will continue to make the voice of recyclers heard that quality material really matters.

But it is also vital that the products that we consume are surrounded by packaging that has been designed to be recyclable.

One of our biggest successes has been the media attention that The Recycling Association received when we singled out products such as the tube that surrounds Pringles and the multi-material Lucozade Sport bottle that are both difficult to recycle.

You may have seen me on the BBC Breakfast sofa on TV or heard one of my 26 radio interviews all on the same day about packaging design and recyclability.

Kelloggs, who make Pringles, were on the end of all the criticism as the story went viral. Indeed, on that day, The Recycling Association’s list of difficult to recycle items was the number one story on the BBC website, despite it being during a General Election campaign.

Looking at the feedback we received, it is clear the public were supportive of our campaign, but frustrated how difficult it can be to know whether packaging can be recycled or not.

Surely, it is packaging designers that need to take responsibility for this and ensure recyclability is part of the design?

Keep It Fresh!

Kelloggs said that its Pringles tube is keeping the crisps inside fresh, and wondered whether we were advocating letting the food go off and therefore to landfill. Of course we weren’t! Packaging has to keep food fresh, prevent damage in transit and market the product. But what is stopping that packaging being designed to be 100% recyclable?

Following the furore, I was contacted by a top packaging designer, who voiced his frustrations that the major brands just don’t care about recyclability and sustainability of their products. But maybe with public pressure, and our highlighting of the issues, more designers and brands will think about how they can improve their products so the packaging can be reused or recycled at the end of its life.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t brands that care. Unilever is a great example of a business that is getting it right. A quick scan of its website shows that in 2015 its 12 sustainable living brands grew 30% faster than the rest of the business and that in 2016 they grew 40% faster and delivered nearly half of its growth.

While recently, Coca-Cola announced that it plans to increase the amount of recycled content in its plastic bottles to 50% by 2020 and launch a communications campaign on recycling that will reach 35 million consumers. All of its cans and bottles are already 100% recyclable.

If these brands can get it right, then what is stopping the others?

Design is absolutely vital because it is at the beginning of the supply chain, and then impacts all the way down it, to the point where a product or its packaging can be recycled or not. There are brands out there that already get it. What we need to do now is keep reminding the others to follow the lead of the likes of Unilever and Coca-Cola.


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