Publication highlights upstream solution to minimize plastic packaging waste
Image courtesy of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Publication highlights upstream solution to minimize plastic packaging waste

Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s guide features case studies in the areas of elimination, reuse and material circulation.

November 20, 2020

The U.K.-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation has released its newest publication, “Upstream Innovation: A guide to packaging solutions,” which it describes as “a practical guide to eliminating plastic pollution through circular economy solutions.”

The organization’s New Plastics Economy innovation team also has created assets to accompany the publication that include a case study database, a workshop toolkit, videos and more to help those involved in packaging creation to develop upstream solutions that prevent plastic waste and pollution.

The guide’s release comes just weeks after the foundation, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme, published its second New Plastics Economy “Global Commitment Progress Report,” which notes that businesses must increase their elimination and reuse efforts to meet their 2025 targets to address plastic pollution.

The organization adds that by focusing more efforts on upstream innovation and not solely downstream activities such as waste management businesses can prevent waste.

“We cannot recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis, we need to move upstream and look at what is put on the market in the first place, so we can eliminate waste, not simply manage it better,” says Sara Wingstrand, innovation programme manager at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “The circular economy allows us to redesign the entire plastics system to not only overcome the global challenge of plastic pollution but to do so in a way that allows us to build better growth and create solutions at speed and scale. Designers and businesses are at the heart of this transition and we hope this guide will help them on that journey.”

“Upstream Innovation” provides more than 110 examples, including from Tesco, Lush, Walmart and Abel & Cole, that demonstrate how businesses are using circular economy solutions across a range of sectors, the foundation says.  

Case studies are offered in the areas of elimination, reuse and material circulation, including:

Elimination – Lush has created concentrated solid formulations of its liquid personal care products, eliminating the need for packaging. Currently, roughly 65 percent of Lush's product range is “naked.” Since 2005, the company has sold nearly 50 million naked shampoo bars globally, eliminating more than 150 million plastic shampoo bottles. Additionally, the Lush Labs app product recognition feature Lush Lens can be used in-store to access content, such as ingredients or directions for use, removing the need for labeling and packaging.

Reuse – Unilever and Walmart de México y Centroamérica have introduced refill stations at 10 Walmart stores in Mexico to help customers dispense shampoo into reusable aluminum bottles. Following a successful three-month trial, Walmart says it aims to scale this initiative during 2021.

Material circulation – Sprite has begun to transition away from its iconic green bottle to a clear bottle in many markets to improve its value during recycling. In Southeast Asia, for example, clear polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles sell for an average of 84 cents per metric ton more than colored bottles, a 35 percent increase. Some Sprite bottles are now also being made from 100-percent-recycled PET.