Exploring alternatives to mitigate the impact of the new plastic packaging tax


Introduction and background

Businesses across all sectors of the economy make use of plastic packaging at some stage in the journey of their products to market. From April 2022, largescale users of packaging that does not contain at least 30 percent recycled content by weight will attract a taxation penalty of £200 per tonne. The new law will encompass the ‘containment, protection, handling and delivery’ of goods to the end user and is also extended to waste products.

In the latest in our series of blogs, we look at some of the applications for plastic packaging and explore alternatives that will:

  • Reduce the levy burden and achieve cost savings
  • Maximise efficiency and productivity
  • Maintain a positive customer experience
  • Protect brand perceptions
  • Improve environmental credentials and boost CSR.

Below we examine some of the issues in context.

Food and beverage packaging

Items that are produced for human consumption are subject to stringent restrictions set out by the Food Standards Agency in the UK. Packaging materials must preserve food hygiene and not contaminate foodstuffs. Plastic is used in many types of food and drink packaging including:

  • Soft drink, milk and water bottles and lids
  • Trays including microwaveable options
  • Pots, tubs, and containers
  • Wrappers and bags
  • Film including stretch film.
Packaging used in food can be made from plastics such a polyethylene terephthalate (or PET, the most common type) which is clear, strong, and lightweight. It is also completely recyclable, but this process is demanding so most recycled PET does not re-appear in food packaging applications but is used to make polyester items such as clothing and bags. However, it is possible to specify PET or HDPE alternatives that contain 30 per cent or more recycled content and manufacturers are working hard to boost production levels to meet increased demand. Other alternatives include bioplastics made from agricultural products such as sugar cane although these often also contain fossil-based elements, making them non-biodegradable and they can be weaker meaning that greater volumes are needed to create the necessary strength.



Non-food packaging

Without the same limits of shelf-life and food safety, manufacturers of non-food products have more scope to work creatively as they adapt their packaging design. Take a lead from the super producers who have already shown the way. Lakeland is already introducing bottles into its cleaning products range that used 100 per cent recycled plastic. Reckitt Benckiser has increased the amount of recycled content in its Airwick refills from 50 per cent to at least 70 per cent. Unilever brand Comfort Intense is available in bottles that are 100 per cent recycled.

Industry predictions suggest that by 2022, PET and HDPE used for non-food packing and drinks bottles will contain only around 20 per cent recycled content, but with pressure from the new levy, WRAP expects this to increase to 40 per cent by 2025. As set out in the UK Plastics Pact, switching from coloured PET to clear PET enables it to be recycled more easily.

It is likely in future that product design will address packaging challenges at the concept stage to ensure that less packaging is required. Producers are already working to avoid over-packaging with the aim of shipping goods in smaller packages.

In cases where producers cannot yet source alternative plastics that maintain the same levels of protection and durability, they will benefit from decreasing the weight of the plastic used in packaging. This can be achieved by using recycled foam or air pillow film, or more flexible bottles and pouches.

Fulfilment and mailing

As a result of the pandemic, e-commerce increased by 46 per cent in 2020 generating rising demand for efficient fulfilment of orders. As the number of home deliveries increases, packaging constitutes a greater proportion of household waste putting pressure on recycling services.

Packaging considerations include how well items will be protected as part of the final mile as well how it can be adapted for returns. The box-opening experience can affect brand perceptions, so it is important that the packaging reflects your values post-purchase. But nothing will drive customers away like unnecessary over-use of packaging especially if this is perceived to have a damaging effect on the environment.

Cardboard fittings are becoming more and more sophisticated like these hexagon-shaped cardboard containers based on the shapes found in sushi that can deliver crease-free clothing items. If you opt to use cardboard alternatives, always check that sources can supply the appropriate environmental accreditations.. Alternative packing materials include wood wool or vermiculite, a naturally occurring mineral that is lightweight, non-toxic, and sterile.

Mailing packs are available in many different variations and need to be chosen carefully to select the right gauge that will provide protection for the goods inside. Made from low density polyethylene (LDPE) or high density polyethylene (HDPE), the amount of recycled content varies and can be improved using co-extruded materials that add strength through multiple layers.

Don’t forget to review how your packages are sealed as any tape used will also be covered by the plastic tax. Gummed paper also known as water-activated tape contains no plastic, is 100% recyclable and doesn’t need to be removed from the box before recycling.

Logistics and transportation

Estimates suggest that the UK uses around 2.5 million tonnes of packaging every year and consumers are increasingly concerned about its impact on the environment. Increasingly plastic packaging materials used in logistics and distribution are being produced that contain at least 30 per cent recycled content if you can find the right supplier. From bio-based films to LDPE, it is now possible to source stretch film, air cushion or bubble wrap, collation shrink film, pallet covers and top sheets, wrapping and hooding materials that all contain appropriate levels recycled content.

Avoiding plastic completely may have a great impact on brand perceptions and CSR objectives providing it’s affordable for your business.

Brands are increasingly turning to more environmentally conscious alternatives such as bamboo, which is now being used by Dell to protect its electronics products in transit. Other examples of alternative packaging solutions make use of sheep’s fleece in the design of pouches, envelopes and thermal bags which enables temperature-controlled pharma and food products to be distributed without the need for refrigerated vehicles. Taking it one step further it is no becoming more common place to procure pallets, crates and boxes made from fibre based products developed using unique structures that maintain strength properties and offer a light in weight alternative to traditional products.

Every element of the packing process requires attention, from the tape that seals consignments to the strapping around pallets. It is possible to purchase strapping that is 100 per cent recycled from many sources.

Seek expert advice

We understand that addressing the plastic packaging tax for your business is challenging as you take account of multiple, sometimes conflicting, considerations. At PDS we work closely with our packaging specialists and can help you to access products that preserve supply chain efficiency, protect your brand, and prevent costs from spiralling out of control. We will conduct a full audit of current packaging practices across all your marketing and printed materials and make recommendations that will help you to meet your objectives.

PDS also has proven credentials in design and print management, helping business to source and select merchandise, create impactful design and digital solutions, and provide fulfilment for their projects. 

Book a free packaging consultation

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