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Packing a punch: why your climate strategy needs to consider your plastic footprint
13 July 2022

Packing a punch: why your climate strategy needs to consider your plastic footprint

5 minute read
Circular Economy
Nicole Schlemmer Managing consultant, circular economy

Virtually every company uses plastic. It might not always be visible – instead hidden inside manufacturing or logistics processes – but it is there, making its inexorable contribution to the global crisis of large-scale plastic pollution.

With the OECD projecting a perilous near tripling of plastic waste by 2060, demands for companies to disclose how much plastic they're using – both to shareholders and to the public – are louder than ever.

It's clear that the plastic crisis won't be solved by individual action: companies have a huge part to play. This is why South Pole's plastic footprint offering allows businesses to measure their true waste impact and take steps to reduce the volume of plastic they're using – understanding and adjusting their different plastic types.

In this blog, we explain why plastic disclosure is becoming increasingly important. We also indicate the kinds of insight your company can gain from measuring its plastic footprint.

What is a plastic footprint?

Many companies have an overview of the amount of plastic they're buying and using, but volume is not the only thing that matters. It's also important to look at that plastic's waste treatment scenario, i.e. how is it disposed of? How much of it is recycled, landfilled, incinerated or even littered in the local environment? A plastic footprint incorporates these questions, taking a localised, regional approach to the plastic waste problem, which is crucial since every country has different collection and recycling infrastructure in place for plastics and other materials.

Both the type of plastics and its residual waste value play a major role in determining the true outcome of the plastic waste – a fact most companies lack insight into when it comes to their plastic packaging portfolio. This is what a plastic footprint focuses on: which types of materials are being used, where and in what quantities, and what does this mean for their true end-of-life scenario?

Why should your company measure its plastic footprint?

  • Measure it to manage it: As the saying goes, you can't manage what you don't measure. Assessing your plastic footprint sets a baseline, which is the starting point for understanding your impact on the environment. Insights from such a baseline serve as the foundation for designing a materials strategy with actionable steps.
  • Reach your targets: The plastic footprint shows the volumes and types of packaging your company is using, as well as the proportion of waste which is being recycled, incinerated, landfilled or leaked into the environment. A footprint enables you to measure your progress and meet targets such as “zero-waste-to-landfill". South Pole's Plastic Action Labels provide transparency for reaching targets related to plastic leakage (“Net Zero Plastic to Nature") or circularity ("Net Zero Plastic Wasted").
  • Engage your suppliers: A plastic/material footprint is a fact-backed basis for engaging your suppliers and getting them to collaborate with you on decreasing your plastic footprint. This can materialise through a variety of actions, for example increasing the recycled content of your materials or co-investing in infrastructure to collect and recycle the plastic waste you generate.
  • Get ahead of regulation: Following the signing of the global treaty to end plastic pollution in early 2022, governments around the world have agreed that action to combat plastic pollution should be made mandatory. Being transparent about your footprint and disclosing it appropriately is thus expected to become compulsory at the same time as public pressure to offer sustainable packaging continues to mount.

Using a future-proof and data-backed methodology is key

South Pole's circular economy team calculates plastic footprints using the industry-leading Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship. These guidelines help to quantify and report companies' plastic footprint credibly, consistently and transparently. For insights into the true end-of-life waste treatment scenarios of used plastics, we use the regional and country-specific Plasteax database.

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A plastic footprint not only incorporates the volumes of plastic waste generated but also at the waste treatment scenario for their end-of-life in the countries where they are disposed of.

What comes after a plastic footprint?

A plastic footprint is the first step towards understanding your true impact in the countries where you operate or sell your products. Our circularity team at South Pole can help you to develop a roadmap that steers you from your plastics or waste baseline to achieving “Net Zero Plastic to Nature" (or any other similar targets that your company may wish to reach).

If you want to take a step further, you can mitigate the proportion of your plastic waste that we've identified as going to landfill or being leaked into the environment. This can be achieved using plastic collection and recycling credits, which are a novel mechanism to support projects on the ground that collect and recycle the types of plastics that your company is using. In this way, you can achieve “Net Zero Plastic to Nature" or “Net Zero Plastic Wasted" status for your company or products.

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Example scenario of a company's plastic stewardship: five steps from plastic footprints to plastic action labels.

Who is leading the way?

Transparency, consistency and accuracy in claims are the foundations of plastic leadership. A number of industry leaders have already paved the way for routine plastic footprint disclosure:

  • Our circular economy expert team helped the AB InBev beer brand Corona to achieve “Net Zero Plastic". We assessed the company's annual plastic footprint, measuring the volumes, types and the end-of-life of the brewer's plastic packaging globally, and then assessed Corona's active engagement in plastic collection and recycling projects across the world.
  • With South Pole's support, Vinventions, the manufacturer of synthetic wine closure solutions, measured its plastic footprint to proactively manage the impact of its products. Through mitigation efforts, Vinventions will achieve “Net Zero Plastic to Nature" for its Blue Line of products for 2022 and 2023.
  • South Pole is also working with Grupo Familia, the Latin American hygiene product group, to evaluate its materials portfolio, identify redesign opportunities for plastic reduction, and measure its plastic footprint to guide future investment in local waste management infrastructure.

If you'd like to lead the change on plastic action and join these industry leaders, get in touch to understand more about your plastic footprint and how to mitigate it. South Pole can kickstart your plastic stewardship journey today.

Want to know more about our plastic solutions and how to measure your plastic footprint?
Want to know more about our plastic solutions and how to measure your plastic footprint?
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