Save Our Seas Act: What It Means for Packaging

The Save Our Seas Act presents a real opportunity for companies to innovate with sustainability in mind, especially in the packaging industry.

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When the American Save Our Seas (SOS)  Act became law in October 2018, the bill — passed by unanimous consent in both houses of Congress — was hailed as proactive recognition that steps need to be taken to preserve the future health of the world’s oceans.

For years the global community has been concerned about the overwhelming amount of litter in the oceans, especially plastic, which doesn’t break down into organic matter and can cause harm to marine environments. In December 2018, a report in National Geographic cited research that estimates that eight million metric tons of plastic ends up in the oceans annually. A metric ton is equal to 1,000 kilograms, or 2204.6 pounds.

Many companies and corporations around the world have begun examining their practices to determine what they can do to reduce the amount of plastics they generate. There is a significant opportunity for companies to innovate with sustainability in mind, especially in the packaging industry.

What You Need to Know about the SOS Act

The SOS bill provides for three primary actions:

  • Reauthorizing and revising the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program through 2022 to coordinate with other agencies, promote global action, determine economic impact and help expand outreach and education.
  • Authorizing the NOAA administrator to declare a “severe marine event” and make funds available to clean up the area. Previous severe marine events were the Japan tsunami in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast in 2012.
  • Encouraging research and international cooperation — especially concerning countries that generate the most marine debris — to help determine the global scale of the problem and possible solutions.

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Plastic and packaging: What are the alternatives?

The biggest source of trash present in the world’s oceans is single-use packaging, according to Nicholas Mallos, a director at the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy

Plastic grocery sacks and plastic straws are two products that have received attention for the waste they create, but there are many others, in multiple industries: water and soda bottles, ecommerce packaging, packaging of houseware products and cosmetics; shrink-wrap and packing pellets; single-serving grocery items, plastic eating utensils, coffee-cup lids, and the six-pack rings that come with soda or beer. 

And while recycling efforts have grown, the United Nations warned in 2018 that only 9% of the world’s plastic waste is recycled annually.

Reducing plastic at point of sale

Many retailers are moving away from plastic packaging as the focus shifts to pay more attention to the environment. In 2019, Inditex, the parent company of fashion giant Zara, announced it intends to eliminate all single-use plastics for customer sales by 2023. Zara is among many efforts in the fashion industry to move away from single-use plastics. 

Paper and FibreForm® paper

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BillerudKorsnäs is a leading provider of packaging materials and alternative, sustainable solutions. As we continue to pursue innovation and sustainability, we found paper is a viable alternative to single-use plastics. 

  • Our Paper Bottle Project helped develop the world’s first 100% biodegradable paper bottle, appropriate for carbonated beverages. 
  • Together with Uppsala University, our Paper Battery Project developed a completely recyclable paper battery that works through electrodes based on fibrous cellulose. 
  • We recreated sealed plastic containers that hold dry food products such as cereal or dry baking ingredients with dust-tight, insect-proof paper containers
  • Our FibreForm® paper is an alternative to plastic packaging; the product’s ability to be formed in almost any three-dimensional shape makes it a viable choice for food trays, cups and stand-up pouches, among other things.

Other companies have also embraced paper as a more sustainable solution for packaging. 

In 2019, food giant Nestle announced it would sell its cocoa powder in a recyclable paper pouch.

Why we care

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Source: UN Environment

Plastic is sold and used at such a scale that it fills our landfills and threatens the health of the earth’s oceans. Estimates on how long it takes plastic to biodegrade range from 450 years to never, according to the National Geographic. In the meantime, at least 700 species, including some that are endangered, have been affected, whether from eating small bits of plastic to becoming tangled in six-pack rings. 

There are floating trash islands in the ocean made up of large masses of plastic, Styrofoam, garbage and seaweed that are swirled together by circulating ocean currents. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, halfway between Hawaii and California, is the world’s largest trash island; in 2018, it was estimated to cover 600,000 square miles. In comparison, the state of California is almost 160,000 square miles; Texas is about 260,000 square miles; and Alaska is about 570,00 square miles.

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We care because we are committed to a sustainable future. We challenge conventional packaging for a sustainable future. It guides our thinking, our initiatives and our communication. 

In addition to creating sustainable packaging solutions, we have partnered with Tara Expeditions, a foundation dedicated to researching the health of the world’s oceans through scientific expeditions on their schooner, Tara.

“Our goals with the results of this research are to inform the public that a change in behavior is crucial,” said Romain Troublé, Tara Expeditions’ secretary general. “We also hope to influence decision-makers to regulate and reduce plastic littering in the oceans as well as to encourage industries to develop innovative alternatives to plastic. Billerudkorsnäs, with its renewable fiber-based product range, proposes an alternative to plastic packaging, and is thus a relevant and suitable partner for us.”

Global plastic waste reduction dfforts

More than 40 countries are in the planning or action stages of banning plastic bags, including France, Belgium and Italy. South Africa and Kenya are two of the strictest nations and may impose fines or even jail time for offenders. Before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, China banned stores from giving out free plastic bags. 

In addition to phasing out plastic bags, Peru has banned visitors from carrying single-use plastic items into its 76 protected cultural and natural areas. 

Many large companies have climbed on board as well. The companies responsible for 20% of global plastic production, 250 organizations in total, have committed to reducing plastic waste. Dubbed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, this initiative is lead by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in partnership with the United Nations, 40 academic institutions, the Consumer Goods Forum, the World Economic Forum and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

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The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment has a diverse group of members, including Apple, Coca-Cola, H&M and the government of the United Kingdom. The initiative’s main goals are to eliminate problematic plastic packaging and ensure 100% of plastic packaging can be recycled, reused, or composted by 2025.

We have solutions for all stages

If we are going to fight the rising tide of plastics in our oceans, it’s time to innovate. We can no longer continue packaging products in plastic as we have for years. Companies across all industries are turning to sustainable alternatives to save the ocean from more waste. BillerudKorsnäs is proud to be among the corporations that are committed to a sustainable future — and to helping other companies make that commitment.

If you are interested in researching alternatives to plastic packaging, explore more sustainable options with Billerudkorsnäs.

If you are evaluating your company’s product packaging and practices and want to learn more, download our ebook, “Designing a Sustainable Packaging Program.”

If you would like to talk about packaging alternatives, we offer world-class solutions. Contact us to find out how we can help you.

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