Fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands are promoting and sustaining our modern throwaway lifestyles that are driving the plastic pollution crisis. In most developed countries we have become reliant on the plastic infused convenience products and it has become nearly impossible not to create plastic waste. Every year we are throwing away kilo after kilo of plastic waste – from the packaging covering our food and hygiene products, to our single-usage toiletries and household products. Our overconsumption of these products is encouraging the mass production of single-use plastics that are polluting our ecosystems and harming biodiversity.

What are Fast-Moving Consumer Goods?

Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), also called Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) are non-durable, low-cost products that are constantly in high demand. These products are purchased on a regular basis, are consumed rapidly and are sold in high volumes with small profit margins. Examples include products such as food, beverages, cleaning products, cosmetics and toiletries. Such products have a short shelf life either due to their high demand or because they quickly deteriorate. To most, especially in developed countries, FMCG have become necessities that are used on a daily basis and they account for more than half of consumers’ spending.

FMCG are usually sold in bulk with relatively low prices. 📷 by Hanson Lu / Unsplash

Fast-Moving Consumer Goods and Single-Use Plastics

Most FMCG brands rely on plastic packaging for their products. The benefits for FMCG brands of using plastic packaging are undeniable. Plastic is a hygienic, lightweight and resistant material which is easy and cheap to produce. Plastic packaging is therefore dominating the FMCG industry, with the largest portion of packaging being single-use plastics. Single-use plastics, or disposable plastics, are plastics that are intended to only be used once before being thrown away or recycled. Examples include plastic bags, plastic bottles, straws, sachets, take-out containers and most food packaging. Unfortunately, much of the single-use plastics are destined to become waste by design. Much of these plastics are simply not designed for being recycled and most recyclable plastics are downcycled into lower value products that are non-recyclable.

Environmental Impact of Single-Use Plastic

Over the past decades there has been a shift in consumer patterns where more and more people are living a “throwaway” lifestyle, which is characterised by over-consumption and reliance on non-sustainable, mass-production products. FMCG brands are responsible for the majority of disposable products, which sustain our modern throwaway lifestyles and are therefore considered as predominant players driving the global plastic pollution crisis. The shifts in consumption patterns combined with growing populations and increased urbanisation have led to an increased demand for single-use plastic and have subsequently resulted in a massive increase in plastic waste. Out of the 300 million tons of plastic waste generated globally each year, these single-purpose plastics accounts for nearly half of it. For comparison, that is nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. With plastic packaging waste being one of the highest contributors to the plastic waste generated globally, the FMCG sector’s contribution to the plastic waste stream is undeniable. Due to irresponsible individual behaviour and inefficient waste management systems, these plastics often end up littering the environment causing ocean-, land- and air-pollution and threatening biodiversity.

Pollution from single-use plastics are getting increasingly visible. 📷 by H. Hach / Pixabay 

Ocean Plastic Pollution

An alarming amount of single-use plastics end up in the world’s oceans every year, littering our beaches and endangering wildlife. It is estimated that around 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans every year, on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons that is assumed circulating our oceans. That is the equivalent of dumping one truckload of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day. The plastic that enters these waters does not decompose and will remain in the oceans in some form for up to hundreds of years unless removed. The plastic debris affects at least 800 species and over 1 million marine animals are killed by it every year. Sea birds, sea turtles, fish and marine mammals often get entangled in or ingest plastic debris, causing suffocation, starvation, and drowning. Humans are also not immune to the threat of plastic debris as the plastic consumed by marine animals ultimately end up in the seafood we eat.

Land Plastic Pollution

Land pollution from FMCG is getting more and more visible as single-use plastic products and plastic packaging surrounding products often escape into the environment, littering our surroundings. When ending up in nature, plastics often enter rivers and lakes and end up leaking into the sea or end up clogging drains and sewage systems causing floods and breeding grounds for pests and diseases. Animals are especially at risk of harm from the leaked plastic as plastics tend to invade their natural habitats, frequently causing entanglement or ingestion. Out of the plastic waste in waste management systems, most of the plastic waste gets buried in landfills. Here the waste is doomed to lie for up to hundreds of years, leaching microplastics with potentially toxic substances into soil and groundwater – endangering our ecosystems and drinking water, hurting the health of plants, animals and humans.

Air Plastic Pollution

Single-use plastics do not only pollute the ocean, land and their ecosystems but also the air we breathe. Plastic is in fact considered being a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Single-use plastics are behind enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions throughout all its lifecycle stages – from the extraction and transportation of fossil fuels, to the manufacturing and production, to the waste disposal through landfilling, recycling and incineration. Red flags are being raised about plastic’s rapidly increasing carbon footprint and research suggests that across their lifecycle, plastics account for 3.8 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. With the current growth of plastic production, greenhouse gas emissions from the making and disposal of plastics is estimated to account for around 14 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget by 2050.

Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic Products

With the increased plastic production, we are simply unable to cope with the amount of plastic waste we generate. It is therefore crucial that we rethink how we produce, use and manage plastics. As individuals it is essential that we change our consumption habits and that we strive towards more sustainable lifestyles. To achieve this, we must reduce our dependence on single-use plastics and look for sustainable alternatives. Follow these tips to unwastify your life towards a zero-waste lifestyle:

Number 1 Choose Plastic Free Products

Stop buying single-use plastic products that are destined for the bin, such as straws, plastic bags and cotton buds. There are many great products available that are made from sustainable materials such as bamboo, cork, hemp and straw.

Number 2 Choose Products with Recyclable or Reusable Packaging

Avoid buying products that are wrapped in plastic packaging. More and more companies are offering products in more sustainable packaging that are designed for recycling and reuse, such as glass, metal, paper and cardboard.

Number 3 Choose Biodegradable Packaging

Seek out products with plant-based packaging that naturally decompose. Out of the many alternatives to plastic packaging, biodegradable packaging is the most sustainable alternative.

Number 4 Choose Refillable Products

Getting increasingly popular, there are companies and brands that offer refillable solutions. These allow you to refill your favourite products, such as hygiene products, food or household supplied without producing additional waste.

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