The missing link

Aluminium water bottles are one of the simplest ways to combat plastic waste, in countries with easy access to clean water. Image: Shutterstock

How many times have you visited a beach and been confronted by plastic waste?

Reading about a new report today, and thinking about National Recycling Day in the US, harkened me back to the time my mother and I did a beach clean at Hastings here in the UK. We registered via the Marine Conservation Society‘s ‘Beachwatch’ programme, and, while we had a few hours on the clean and felt like we were making a difference that day, there was a disheartening feeling when we saw how much of the beach there was still left to cover at the end of our shift. There were only a few of us volunteers – obviously disproportionate to the area.

The world is wise to the harmful effects of packaging waste on marine life, yet the problem persists. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the same amount of waste I picked up on Hastings beach is now back in the same place.

The report that took me down this trail of thought has been released by ocean advocacy group, Oceana. The report, entitled Refill Again, estimates that in 2022, the global population used the equivalent of 1.5 trillion single-use plastic bottles and cups, and that up to 168 billion of these containers will become pollution in aquatic systems. A study published in the journal Nature Sustainability in 2021 found that plastic bottles were the second most common litter item found in surveys across seven aquatic environments globally.

Oceana’s report highlights that just a ​​ten-percentage point increase in reusable beverage packaging by 2030 could eliminate over one trillion single-use plastic bottles and cups and prevent up to 153 billion of these containers from entering our world’s oceans and waterways. That’s quite an impressive stat, and ten per cent doesn’t seem unachievable. However, what’s missing from the report and its supporting informational video, is the mention of metal in the reusable packaging conversation.

At CanTech, we’ve written and will continue to write about refillable innovations in metal packaging, and it’s frustrating that the benefits are repeatedly missed out in various reports about more sustainable packaging solutions.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just blaming plastic for the beach waste problem – I picked up a few discarded cans and foil on the beach clean – but unless the public fully realises the potential of metal, both as an infinitely recyclable material and a reusable solution, the ignorance will unfortunately continue.

However, even if more people actively sought out and participated in beach and public space clean-ups, that feeling of being just one person or just one group of people never really goes away. What we need is for governments and leading corporations (especially where beverages are concerned) to be the ones taking notice and driving action globally. That small group would then quickly become multitudes.

That’s why the metal packaging associations around the world deserve all the thanks from suppliers, as they continually put pressure on these organisations and their decision-makers to strive for a better public face for metal and all its contributing advantages to the circular economy, as well as a more sustainable planet. We’re proud at this magazine to publish their research and highlight the campaigns they carry out in order to educate and ultimately safeguard for future generations.

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