What to expect from the new plastic-free logo for packaging

Environmental group A Plastic Planet talks about how companies can qualify for the label and its campaign for plastic-free aisles in supermarkets. 

29 May 2018
plasticsustainabilitysupermarketslabellingpackaging

It’s a logo that hasn’t existed in supermarkets before – one that shows a product’s packaging is plastic free.

With a rising wave of consumer concern surrounding environmental pollution, A Plastic Planet has designed and created a logo to identify items that have gone through its strict approval process. Accredited materials qualify for the logo, including carton board, wood pulp, glass, metal and certified-compostable biomaterials. There is also an allowance of up to 1% plastic in the packaging for tiny amounts found in glues, labels and colourings.

Manufacturers can use the logo for a nominal fee, with Iceland planning to put it on products in its private label range, including fresh eggs, cottage pie and vegetable burgers, with soft fruit, mushrooms and potatoes to follow suit this summer.

Food Spark spoke to A Plastic Planet’s head of operations, Henri Allen, about the benefits of the new accreditation and what companies can do to reduce their plastic packaging.

Why did A Plastic Planet decide to launch the plastic-free logo?

There is currently no mark that helps us – the shoppers – to choose packaging that is plastic free.

We’re now acutely aware of the sheer volume of plastic wrapped around every item of food and drink that we buy and bring home and are then responsible for, so we are all now looking for a mark that helps us quickly and easily find products on our supermarket shelves that says: ‘This packaging is plastic free.’

This is what the Plastic Free Mark does. It’s the opposite of all those confusing recycling symbols on the back of packaging. It’s clear, simple and designed to sit on the front of the pack.

How are materials evaluated and how does a company qualify to use the label?

The process for a brand to carry the Plastic Free Mark is rigorous and includes the following steps. One, A Plastic Planet sends the brand manager three documents: the Evaluation Form (a questionnaire on each element of the packaging, including the inks), a Design Form (providing clear recommendations for the placement of the mark, for example the front of pack, dimensions and colours) and a short overview of the full process, including our timelines. We aim to process each application in four weeks, depending on the number of follow-on questions.  

Once we receive the completed Evaluation Criteria, it is sent to our Plastic Panel, who assess the information provided. The panel is a team of experts with specialisms in a range of packaging materials, from metal, glass and paper to bio-materials. The panel may come back with questions and requests for any missing documents.

Once the brand has cleared this process, A Plastic Planet sends through the artwork and a certificate to demonstrate that the product has been assessed to be plastic free. From there, the baton is handed to the brand designers, who create the packaging and include the mark in their next print run, and it goes from there to our supermarket shelves. 

How does this label help manufacturers and retailers?

The key advantage for manufacturers and retailers is that the mark sets their brand apart on the issue of plastic pollution. With customers actively wanting to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,

the Plastic Free Mark positively differentiates brands doing the right thing and is designed to champion them, help consumers and protect the environment.

Which companies will be using the label in the coming year?

Earlier in 2018, A Plastic Planet partnered with [supermarket] Ekoplaza in the Netherlands to open the first plastic-free aisle at the end of February. Ekoplaza now has over 1,000 [products] carrying the mark.

In the UK, Teapigs are the first tea company to carry the mark, and Iceland will be using it extensively by the end of the year. Following the launch of the mark on 16 May in the UK, we’ve been inundated with requests, so watch this space  or better yet, watch your supermarket shelves.

A Plastic Planet has also been campaigning for supermarkets to introduce aisles of plastic-free products. How is the campaign going?

There are times in history when perfect storms accelerate social change and we’re in one of these right now, which is very exciting. Two very different catalysts have been key. First, the government of China’s new policy, which stopped the import of foreign waste in early 2018, was a game changer. The UK previously exported two-thirds of its waste to China and rapidly mounting mountains of plastic rubbish caught the attention of politicians and the public alike. Second was the BBC's breath-taking Blue Planet II.  

So after 70 years of rising plastic addiction, we've collectively opened our eyes to the sheer volume of plastic that we are unconsciously buying and throwing away to landfill or incineration. So the time is truly right and A Plastic Planet’s campaign has tapped into this consciousness and the public’s demand to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

A Plastic Planet has launched two campaigns to date, with another on the near horizon. Our next campaign is to inspire people around the world to pass on plastic on one day on the 5 June – coinciding with World Environment Day. 

Do you see plastic-free product aisles coming to UK supermarkets any time soon?

Yes. By the end of the year, Iceland shoppers will be seeing the Plastic Free Mark on a number of products and we’re encouraging other supermarkets to follow suit.

Recycling cannot keep up with the quantity of plastic packaging we’re producing, currently at 320 million tonnes globally and set to triple over the next 15 years. Plastic is a miraculous but indestructible material which makes it the wrong material to wrap around our perishable foods and drinks.

What do you think companies in the food industry need to do to reduce their use of plastics?

There are a number of steps companies can take immediately. What was exciting about the launch of the Ekoplaza lab was that it unequivocally demonstrated that plastic-free food packaging alternatives are available, commercially viable and scalable now, not in five or 10 or 20 years, but today.

A significant proportion of plastic packaging in supermarkets is redundant. This could be removed immediately. Think of fruits and vegetables that have their own, highly effective protective skins or outer layering already. 

Other plastic packaging could be switched for materials that the environment can handle or materials that are highly recycled. Plastic is only ever down-cycled.

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