How companies need to educate consumers to meet the UN's Sustainable Development Goals
Since 1983, when the United Nations first created the World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainability and sustainable development have become absolutely crucial points on the agenda of a variety of organisations. The UN defines sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” and has developed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure a better future for all. When the UN announced this year that progress on the Sustainable Development Goals remains uneven, and is not moving fast enough to meet the ambitious 17 goals on poverty, health, and equality by 2030, many organisations took this as an incentive to tackle this issue with increased vigour.
Of course, the shift in consumer behaviour and opinion has contributed immensely to this. Packaging producers, for example, are switching from plastic to cardboard and paper wherever possible – without realising that this might not always be the best option. When considering life cycle impacts, the seemingly clear view – ‘plastic is bad’ – becomes blurred. Recent changes in global recycling systems, such as China no longer accepting various recyclable, contribute to this complexity. If cardboard is no longer accepted for recycling, the picture changes, especially if recent calls to turn plastic into a valuable resource lead to a change in the industry. Visions of a Circular Economy for plastics are already top of mind for many organisations, including NGOs and big brands.
And already, not all plastic is created equal: consider innovations using post-consumer recycled content (PCR). PCR production uses up to less non-renewable energy, less water consumption, emits less greenhouse gases, and creates less solid waste when compared to virgin material production – depending on the product. With businesses increasing investments in resource and material research, significantly minimizing the amount of virgin plastic used, increasing recycling and education efforts to support a circular economy for plastic and reusing plastic products collected to ensure zero plastic waste, the vision of a more sustainable future could soon become reality.
Shawn Welch, General Manager and Vice President of Hi-Cone Worldwide, comments “The use of post-consumer recycled content is an exciting step for us as we develop more effective ways to reduce and recycle plastic packaging within the beverage industry, as well as innovative ways to keep it in use and out of the environment. We are making significant investments in resources and material research to continue to develop the most sustainable and commercially viable solutions available on the market.”
Contributions along the supply chain are needed to improve progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in time, and innovations across the board are the best way forward.