With the population coming to terms with the damaging effects single use plastic can have on our world, it’s the plastic packaging manufacturers that could face the greatest upheaval if we move to a non-plastic nation.
But could this put jobs at risk, or alternatively create more?
Businesses are beginning to back the removal of single use plastics. Glastonbury recently committed to a ban from their festival and leading retailers, like Tesco, are trialling alternative packaging for their fresh fruit and vegetables. Plastic manufacturers may be feeling threatened, but much like the introduction of automation in other sectors – it may well be a misplaced paranoia – as new jobs are born from the ashes of outdated ones.
Humans by nature are adaptable, easy to develop and retrainable. Like the industrial revolutions before us, markets, processes and technology will have to develop to house ongoing demands – from this, new opportunities will arise that workers, new and old, can grasp.
A bottle half full
One of the most common and traditionally used materials for food packaging is plastic. Plastic can be manufactured into any shape or size needed and works as a convenient choice for many purposes. However, alternative materials are emerging as a more sustainable choice. The market therefore must adapt to fit this new style of manufacturing.
The same was said for the dairy industry. The growth in popularity of vegan lifestyles prompted factories and manufacturers to create or add non-diary alternatives to their repertoire. Companies like Freshways now do not exclusively offer dairy products, but they also have soya and butter-milk based products. This is widening their market and keeping their food manufacturing business alive and thriving. The same can happen with plastic. The packaging industry will not be hindered, rather it will be motivated to advance, therefore creating abundant opportunities within the industry.
New sustainable materials are already beginning to surface. Government funding was just provided for a company that is transforming food waste into bags and cups. A new form of production is allowing edible packaging to be made from sugar cane or. This has proved efficient in holding water as a plastic bottle would. Even take-away food packaging is looking to become more sustainable. This is just proof that in the face of short-term uncertainty, sometimes it’s better to focus on long-term goals.
With society becoming more environmentally aware, different lifestyles are emerging and product providers need to mirror this change and respect the rising cultures. Rather than perceiving the decline in single-use plastics as a deathly blow to the plastic industry, it should be utilised as an industry rebrand with potential new avenues to explore. Manufacturers can not only capitalise on the evolving marketplace, but by putting themselves at the forefront of the change, they can embrace the new opportunities, lead the market and place themselves as a considerate and modern employer of choice.
This is a prime opportunity to innovate – blending science and manufacturing together. It’s a chance for the sector to attract creative workers on board, whose ethics match a sustainable future. Companies can reflect this by building on their corporate social responsibility, which is favoured amongst the millennials and Gen Z generation. In fact, this modernisation of the market could be the opportunity that manufacturers have been waiting for the bridge the skills gap and improve levels of diversity.
The decline of plastic use shouldn’t negatively impact the plastic manufacturing industry – after all, the demand for plastic will never cease completely as there are some single use plastics that’s do need to stay that way, plastic utilised for medical and scientific equipment, for instance. Plastic is necessary for these products to avoid cross contamination and for hygiene purposes. However, the development towards a more sustainable society gives companies the chance to revolutionise how they package, whilst widening their recruitment net.
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