First they came for the carrier bags. Then they came for the straws. Now they are coming for the bottles – The way we consume and drink is being shaken up in a big way.
It shouldn’t have taken David Attenborough to finally make people take notice. His usually dulcet tones were averted to a message of urgency, relaid over heart-breaking images of turtles choking on straws and seagulls strangled by beer-can yokes to remind viewers that the plastic bag tax has not solved the plastic problem.
Suddenly at bars across the country, drinkers shunned plastic straws and they began to disappear from bars and points of service. Now consumers are looking to the drinks manufacturers themselves and asking what they are doing to help. After all, one plastic straw makes little difference in the face of tens of thousands of drinks bottles produced every hour of every day – by just one of the multitude of brands on the market.
Packaging provides a vital canvas for brands to present themselves directly to their users, and increasingly the materials used are as important as the labels. If drinks brands aren’t careful, consumers will be turned off their products completely. Earlier this week, everyone in our office at WeWork Southbank, London (and indeed across the WeWork network) received a ‘friend for life’ in the form of a metal drinking bottle, as part of the company’s own #Zeroplastic efforts.
While the demand for bottled drinks is still growing, brands need to be at the forefront of implementing change and demonstrating how they can be part of the solution. Even in countries such as the UAE where, being situated in the desert, “each resident drinks an average of 250 litres a year, the country is believed to have one of the highest rates of bottled water consumption in the world“, people are looking to switch from bottled water.
Clearly, working to clean up our environment is vital for everyone and so this is at once a huge challenge but also major opportunity for bottled drinks brands who choose to lead the way. Back in 2014, our team worked closely with Agthia to develop a bottle for the UAE’s leading water brand, Al Ain, that used 30% less plastic. At the time that was a huge gain, but in just four years, it has become clear that more action is required.
However brands respond, it will require a great deal of innovation. Whether we will get as far as the fully edible packaging developed by SkippingRocksLab for their Ooho! product remains to be seen. Until then, and with demand for drinks – and therefore the plastic currently in production – still growing, perhaps The Circular Economy model supported by Evian will make the difference. As long as the plastic actually makes it to the recycling, that is!
With increasing pressure showing that urgent action is required, the next few years will demand major changes in approaches and behaviours from both brands and consumers. The future may be scary, but if stakeholders are ready for it – it may also be exciting and, ultimately, rewarding.
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