Plastic Confusion- Trying to make an effort? But confused

The past few years have seen a growth in interest around the issues relating to plastic. The ‘Blue Planet’ effect has seen a growing awareness of the implications of using plastic, particularly single-use plastics. In the merchandise industry, this has manifest itself in clients asking questions about the sustainability of many products and their packaging as they seek to minimise their use of plastic and increase recycling.

With questions being asked about plastic and the environment, merchandise companies are on the spot regarding how sustainable the products they sell are. The answers aren’t always straightforward.


There are a variety of recycling symbols to be aware of. Flexible packaging has a range of symbols or descriptions explaining how recyclable materials are, how to prepare it (for example, by rinsing), and when to check locally about recycling. Not all packaging will have a recycling label but this doesn’t mean you can’t recycle it. Other symbols exist which provide different, and very specific information. For example, the Mobius Loop (shows an object can be recycled, but not that it has been or will be), and the Green Dot (the producer has made a financial contribution towards recycling, but does not necessarily mean that the product it is on is recyclable). Compostability is also covered by various labels, and note that industrial compostability is very different from being able to throw something into your scraps bin at home. Plastic resin codes are the triangular symbols found on many products, indicating the type of plastic they are made from. They range from 1 to 7, with each representing a different level of recyclability.


In terms of recycling levels, Germany has the highest levels in Europe with around 62% of plastics being dealt with. The UK sits at about 39%, which is better than many countries but shows the room for improvement. The government has focused on plastic bags in recent years, but single-use plastics are in its sights. However, as yet there is no definition of what this might cover. While European nations are working hard to cut plastic waste, it is interesting to note that the country contributing the most to plastic pollution in the oceans is China, which is of course where many merchandise items are made. So, what about alternatives? Although plastic has been demonised, all materials come at a cost. Even natural products like bamboo leave an environmental footprint – it has to be processed, produces waste of its own, and requires land to grow on. Looked at in the round, plastic can sometimes be the more environmental choice. For example, we recycle glass, but it is heavier and therefore costs more to transport.


There are many variables when it comes to deciding what materials to use in a merchandising campaign. Plastic gets a tough time at the minute, but it is also an incredibly useful material that is used for many different purposes. It is sterile, strong, flexible, and it can be recycled in many cases. Deciding on whether it is the right choice for a campaign will come down to the individual business. The good news is that there is more information available now than ever, allowing businesses to make an informed decision.

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