Update – Signs of disruption are emerging across plastics industries


Watching a trend emerge is an interesting exercise. Pick a subject and drop some Google Alerts onto your desktop and just watch. It’s a great way of validating a thesis and practising your trend-spotting skills.

Doing this also helps to see the world from the perspective of your clients. A picture unfolds over a period of time. Rather than taking a snapshot of an issue based on somebody else’s market report, watching a trend develop informs a depth of understanding.

Last week, we wrote about the growing pressure on plastics producers to recognise the need to cut the constant production of new packaging. Reduce, re-use, recycle isn’t doing enough.

Coca Cola came in for a bit of a beating but it’s so easy. Say what you like about Pepsico, but here’s an instance when it pays to be No.2.

You can read the blog I wrote below. There’s nothing in there that you can’t read in many other places but – we’re watching.

Now, I’m pretty sure that the people at Coke are nice and have most of the same concerns as the rest of us; consumers by another name. So, as a consumer, it makes me wonder why, in a week when whole nations are committing to stop the ceaseless flow of plastic into the seas, Coke won’t.

Take a look. The Atlanta Business Chronicle reported about Coca Cola: “While Greenpeace welcomed Coca-Cola’s plan to increase the recycled content of its single-use plastic bottles from 7 percent to 50 percent globally by 2030, it is less ambitious than the 50 percent targets by Coke UK by 2020 and Coke Europe by 2025… ‘Coke has a long way to go to show it is taking the plastics epidemic seriously,’ Louise Edge, Senior Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace UK.”

What do you reckon the outcome might be? Pepsi comes out and sideswipes Coke’s PR with a new declaration of intent or Coke gets the message? We’ll watch and see for ourselves.


Clayton Christensen is the father of disruptive innovation. He’s so central to the concept that you can listen to a summarised version of his works on your daily commute, thanks to Audible. Truly the modern-day mark of a guru. After way too long, the signs of disruption are emerging across industries focused on exploiting plastics. We wonder what Clayton thinks about that.

In his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen says that successful companies are formed of resources, processes and values. The human resources take material resources and convert them, through processes, to products that meet the company’s business model or cost structure. So long as the values are properly ingrained across the organisation, the processes will be consistently developed to their maximum efficiency – i.e. to continue making the same things as profitably as possible.

If you introduce a disruptively innovative idea to this system, where the profit margin is below the established minimum, the processes are unlikely to be altered to accommodate its development. Regardless of whether there is a clear market demand for ‘new’, and despite the fact that it might be the company’s long-term salvation, the idea won’t fly. Anyone thinking Kodak, Blockbuster..?

Sodastream recently called out Coca-Cola for producing 100 billion single-use plastic bottles every year. Count them – 100 billion. And that’s just one company.

This week we saw a positive and definite reaction to plastic waste – only about 15 years after Bangladesh started to ban plastic bags but these things take time. Ask the cosmetics industry about the difficulty in removing microbeads from its products. It’s hard, right?

Finally a UK supermarket chain (Iceland) has stood up and made a concrete declaration of intent and the UK Government has made one too: to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years. It puts a stick in the sand and the signals this sends out are helpful.

While Theresa May is working on a 25-year timeline, Iceland’s Managing Director, Richard Walker, says, “A truckload [of plastic waste] is entering our oceans every minute, causing untold damage to our marine environment and ultimately humanity, since we all depend on the oceans for our survival. The onus is on retailers, as leading contributors to plastic packaging pollution and waste, to take a stand and deliver meaningful change.” In 25 years, that’s a lot of trucks.

Iceland’s commitment out-positioned another of the UK’s supermarkets who was not prepared to take similar responsibility. Last October, I asked a packaging manager to think differently about how to remove black pigment from packaging. His response: “…But that should be done as a proposition – by showing trays. The way to do that is to work with suppliers and for you to find a way to gain commercial benefit through that route.” A nice sidestep, and diametrically opposed to Iceland’s stance, that we will re-visit with this retailer soon.

Asking the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s consumers if single-use plastic was a good idea would have got you a very different answer from today. Back then, plastic pollution wasn’t omnipresent and the concept of peak oil production was unthinkable. At last, somebody has woken up. Theresa May said: “In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly.”

Today’s consumers are very spatially aware. You can’t go anywhere on the planet without tripping over discarded plastic and the Pacific Gyre is a real thing. But will companies like Coca-Cola change? Probably. How quickly and before every fish on the planet is polluted forever? Who knows.

All the attention on plasic pollution reminds me of something I read just last August (2017). That month’s issue of the UK’s Packaging News featured an article titled Plastic packs need a friend – the retailers. It says, “Anyone with any common sense knows the only problem with plastic waste. It’s the morons who throw it away.” Here’s a mindset that makes innovation difficult for Design Thinkers with emerging alternatives to single-use plastics.

Repeatability drives efficiency. The process drives the value of ‘this is what we do, let’s keep doing it.’

Let’s not. Happily, we’re seeing the signals of different.

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