Addressing Single Use Plastics During a Pandemic

To mark the end of this whirlwind year, we decided to dedicate our last The Imagine Better Series webinar to a sustainability issue that has been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic: single-use plastic packaging. This Tuesday 15th December, our Group CEO Lucy Shea was joined by two of Futerra’s most innovative partners in this space – Archana Jagannathan, Senior Director of Sustainable Packaging at PepsiCo, and Dave Muenz, Senior Vice President of ESG at Kao Corporation – for the series’ fourth panel session, which explored how we can tackle single-use plastics amidst the global coronavirus pandemic.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a return to single-use plastic packaging in the name of health and safety. But as we have settled into new ways of living, addressing single-use plastic waste is back on the agenda for individuals and businesses. In a recent survey by Futerra and OnePulse, we found that the actions people are most willing to make to be more sustainable is to ‘waste less’ and ‘avoid plastic’. Although many businesses have temporarily halted efforts to make progress against commitments to reduce single-use plastics in their operations and products, others are seeing this as an opportunity to help their consumers to reduce their plastic consumption through new materials, processes, and systems. In this digital event, we invited Kao and PepsiCo to share with us how their different organizations are addressing single-use plastics to ensure health, safety, and sustainability.


Here are some of our key highlights.

The informed consumer is King/Queen

Without a doubt, big business has the power to influence change, but it is the individual consumer that holds the ultimate power to see this change through. Businesses must play a double-pronged role in the effort to tackle single-use plastics, especially now that their use is more prevalent as a result of the pandemic:

  • Behind closed doors, businesses must innovate environmentally-friendly options and alternatives so that the consumer is empowered to make the right choice at shelf. The challenge that businesses face are the trade-offs that they need to make in terms of a product’s sustainability and durability and its acceptability, usability, and desirability in the consumer’s eyes.
  • Businesses must also use their platforms – be they local, national or global – to educate the consumer as to the problem at hand, and how a product should be used and disposed of safely for both people and planet.

Our panellists challenged the common and widespread consumer perception – which existed long before the pandemic hit us in 2020 – that if an item is packaged it is somehow more hygienic. Dave Muenz of Kao believes that we can find other solutions, even a totally new system, that provides a more environmentally friendly way of keeping items hygienic. He encouraged businesses and individuals to resist ‘quick answers’ and to take time when considering the Life Cycle Assessment of alternatives which could in fact be sub-optimum and might not necessarily work well for consumers in their environments.

Form the right coalitions and support communities

Instigating large-scale and effective change is a daunting task. When asked by the audience how we can best scale efforts to reduce the use and circulation of single-use plastics, Dave and Archana agreed that every market has a different way of operating and businesses must work at every level to embed innovations and processes in this space. Once businesses have worked on a granular level with individual markets and portfolios, it is then possible to launch bold commitments across a wider geography. Archana of PepsiCo gave a promising example of this in PepsiCo’s work: the pandemic maintained oil prices keeping virgin materials at cheaper prices and recycled content at a premium. Despite such setbacks, PepsiCo is still committed to launching 100% recycled content for Pepsi in 9 key markets next year.

To find ways of enhancing the recyclability and circularity of materials, businesses must also form the right coalitions, working on a global level with peers, competitors, retailers, manufacturers and governments. On a community level, even really small communities, such collaboration is also vital: there is a lot that business can learn from individuals and smaller groups, e.g. how can big business truly help and support individuals to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle? Big business has the power to escalate and expand those learnings. It is important for businesses to be involved on all levels in order to inform a multi-level effort.

We overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can achieve in a decade

What converts a whole market to making more environmentally-friendly choices and adopting more sustainable practices? Dave shared with listeners Kao’s amazing case study, where years after introducing refill packs to the Japanese market of their personal care and household items, they now make up 80% of all units sold. Patience and endurance are at the heart of such efforts, in terms of the time taken to innovate and introduce solutions to the market, as well as in working to shift consumers to adopt new behaviours. Too much sacrifice will not get the uptake, so business must incentivise consumers’ conversion by offering less effort and more value. Both Dave and Archana were optimistically in agreement that, although their businesses, and the rest of the world, has seen a sharp short-term return to single-use plastics in the name of safety and hygiene amidst the pandemic, in the long-term the upward trajectory of the movements we have put in place against plastic won’t change very much, and might even accelerate.

A huge thank you to Archana Jagannathan, Senior Director of Sustainable Packaging at PepsiCo, and Dave Muenz, Senior Vice President of ESG at Kao Corporation, for their participation and partnership, as well as to our viewers for their probing and inspiring questions.

Inspired and want to know more? Access the full recording of our The Imagine Better Series: Addressing Single Use Plastics During a Pandemic webinar here:

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