Britain has always been a nation of animal lovers. Now, we’re an island of truly pampered furry friends – with animals no longer regarded as pets, but one of the family. Even in turbulent economic times, Brits are continuing to invest in their pets, with the UK pet care market currently on the fast track to be worth £7billion within the next few years. But with all this product there is one thing that is also growing and that is the amount of single-use plastic being used. Plastic that may not fit into our country’s long-term vision for minimising harmful plastic pollution.
Whether its plastic within packaging or high-level use within the accessory and toy market, plastic is everywhere. Now not all of it is harmful but much of it is. The durable, lightweight, cost-effective and versatile nature of plastic makes it an attractive proposition, especially within the pet food market, and its presence is only set to rise by 2025, according to latest reports. But how do we minimise this reliance on plastic, especially when it feels at every turn there are problems and barriers to overcome? I remember Prince Charles once declaring “just don’t buy it” and whilst that simple statement has always resonated with me, I know it’s not always that simple.
Changing our way of thinking
The first step to minimising single-use plastic reliance is simple, it’s about changing your mindset and making more conscious decisions. These decisions are made simply to improve not just our lives but also the lives of our beloved pets. What’s more, these decisions are shaping consumer spending habits so as an industry we must respond accordingly.
There is no doubt that for retailers, buyers and manufacturers, much of this choice will be shaped by cost. This is the only way a business will not just survive but also thrive. Costs of goods, resource, delivery, warehousing and so on, all impact on the bottom line, and often it’s little wonder that there is any room left for profit. But it is so important that we take ownership of the decisions we make – and their consequences. Ingredients and containers are such a huge part of plastic waste, but what are the alternatives? Unfortunately, at the moment there are very few. How do you transport liquids other than in plastic containers? “At the moment” is key here – plastic has been embedded into our lives for too long.
Why do we allow our suppliers to not provide a plastic-free alternative, or not provide a price break for buying in bulk and reducing the amount of packaging? I am happy to pay a little more for oils, butters and shampoo bases that are transported in reusable tins, or glass or reinforced cardboard. In fact, it adds to the joy of receiving the goods and therefore the making of the products, too. I find I can justify the ‘why’ and ‘what for’ of the business when we inwardly receipt these high-quality ingredients – in fact, it’s almost cathartic. Of course, there are always a few emergency small purchases and it pains me to see these lesser quantities come into the warehouse in plastic containers. I put a lot of pressure on my suppliers to negate the use of plastics, and I’m seeing this pressure make a difference. For instance, they now even detail the packaging on quotes when ordering new supplies. I shout loud and am being heard more and more; if we collectively shout then surely, we can make a difference?
Make products that champion making a difference
If the old adage of ‘if you build it, they will come’ is true then manufacturers and suppliers have a significant opportunity to reduce single-use plastic usage. A simple shift of focus, where we channel our efforts into producing products that don’t require plastic packaging, means that single-use plastic will be pushed out completely, leaving consumers with no option but to make the environmentally friendly choice. If we look back over the evolution of packaging, even within the last few years it becomes obvious that changes have been made, and a lot more care and attention has been given to product packaging and consumer spend. Sadly, however, environmentally friendly packaging only currently accounts for 5 – 7% of all cat and dog new product launches in the last five years according to Mintel GNPD, and the concept of reusable packaging is almost non-existent. Instead, consumers are more focused on functionality such as ‘recloseability’, and packaging which minimising smells and mess.
Let’s continue to champion artisan, craft and bespoke and give product value again. Let’s love the bottles and jars that look so interesting in our homes and can be re-purposed as candle holders, flower jars or drinking glasses. Cost will once again impact the viability of this for many, but consumers are telling us that ethically sourced and responsible brands are driving consumer loyalty, especially where their so-called furbabies are involved. Simple substitutes – bars of shampoo instead of tubes (scarily in 2019 the UK threw out over 520 million shampoo bottles!), reusable aluminium bottles of sprays rather than plastics, cardboard tubs of treats rather than plastic bags – are the quickest wins for us, our pets and the planet.
Make ‘no plastic’ a way of life
Choosing non-plastic alternatives is just the first step in a very long journey, and I don’t believe the pet care industry can ‘fix’ the issue overnight, especially as we have barely even scratched the surface of the plastic use which shapes much of the pet accessory and toy sector. But there are some great brands out there, already fighting the good fight. Butchers, Nestlé Purina, Bec, Forthglade, Lily’s Kitchen and Mars Petcare are just a few companies spearheading change, from both a local and international stage. These brands are placing a real focus on consciously setting an example and making informed decisions; decisions that are driven by using zero or fewer plastics.
If just saying no to single-use plastic is not an option for you and your business yet, don’t close it off as a possibility. Make it a target for your business, introduce small changes and remain focused on driving this change. I can almost guarantee that more often than not, you will choose the alternative over plastic.