Stories and features05 June 2023
Solutions to plastic pollution – the BAT perspective
While plastic is a useful material - being lightweight, cost-effective and versatile - there are significant environmental challenges in using it.
On World Environment Day , which this year has the theme of Solutions to Plastic Pollution, we sat down with BAT’s Sustainability Capability Manager Nisaar Ebrahim, to understand more about this complex topic and what BAT is doing to tackle it.
What is BAT’s approach to the circular economy?
BAT’s aim is to use fewer resources, produce less waste and enable the principles of reuse, recycling and circularity in our products by being smarter in how they are designed, made, packaged, transported and managed at their end-of-life.
Alongside reducing the health impact of our business, and tackling our impact on the climate, BAT has included the circular economy as one of our most important priorities. In 2022 we conducted a Double Materiality Assessment (DMA) to identify and get greater insight into which sustainability and ESG matters should be the highest priority. These identify not only the potential sustainability-linked risks and opportunities which could have an impact on BAT as a company, but also provide insights about BAT’s impact on society and the environment. BAT is fostering circularity principles throughout its value chain to minimise resource consumption.
BAT Circular Economy Goals by
- 100% of our packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostablei by 2025
- -25% reduction in waste generatedii by 2025
- 90% recycling rate of waste generated by 2025
- <1% waste going to landfill by 2025
- 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging by 2025
- 100 % of Vuse and glo markets with device take-back schemes in placeiii
What are some of the biggest challenges related to plastic today?
Plastic presents significant environmental challenges, but it also offers advantages, making its use a complex subject. One of the biggest challenges is the environmental impact of improper disposal. Plastic waste can be a significant contributor to pollution, especially in oceans and landfills.
Many countries lack effective systems to collect, sort, and recycle plastic waste which causes it to end up in the natural environment, such as in rivers and oceans. In addition, investment is needed to find new, more sustainable materials, technologies and packaging designs that maintain the necessary levels of product safety, quality and shelf life. It’s critical to find more sustainable alternatives and reduce the use of single-use plastics.
What examples can you give of changes that could help address these challenges?
The main examples are firstly, to significantly increase the amount of plastic waste recycled. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundationiv, as of 2022, the global recycling rate is about 12%. Whereas the average global recycling rate committed to by several industries is about 25%v.
Also, different plastic types should be properly segregated for recycling, to avoid contamination from mixing them – and therefore improve the quality and value of collected plastic waste. Finally, standardised recycling methods and technologies would simplify the recycling process.
Addressing challenges requires collaboration among stakeholders, including governments, industry players, consumers, and environmental organisations – at BAT, we are committed to playing our part.
Are there benefits to plastic packaging, and what are they?
Plastic packaging poses significant environmental challenges, but also offers considerable advantages which have led to it being so widely used. By protecting and preserving perishable items, it can extend the shelf life of food products significantly, reducing their waste. This is especially important for fresh produce, dairy and meat products. This has a direct impact on resource use and climate change emissions - more food waste increases resource use and increases the emissions which cause climate change.
It’s also versatile and lightweight and helps maintain the hygiene and safety of products. It can be produced with fewer resources compared to some alternative materials.
Despite this, it’s crucial to find a balance between the benefits of plastic packaging and its environmental impact. Measures such as exploring sustainable alternatives, improving recycling and waste management systems, and adopting a circular economy approach can help mitigate the negative consequences associated with plastic packaging.
What is BAT doing to help address this important issue?
In line with our goals to reduce plastic and waste from our products and operations, we are incorporating environmental and circular principles into business decisions. We have adjusted our systems to better measure the amount of packaging and product materials which fall into different types (plastic, wood/board/pulp and metal), to measure the waste footprint of our different product categories against our net turnover, and better calculate packaging intensity.
We understand the link between waste and carbon footprints and understand the relevance of designing out waste - especially packaging - from early product development stages. We are also examining several opportunities to migrate materials in our products and packaging to others with lower carbon, water, and ecosystems impact footprint. We are partnering with start-up innovation companies that are looking into breakthrough technology for plastics using non-fossil fuel based, renewable materials such as seaweed and potato starches. Other start-ups we partner with include innovative manufacturing systems that will help us to obtain feedstock for recycled plastic content.
Our goals for 2025 include further eliminating plastic in our packaging and increasing the recycled content of the plastic packaging that we do use. This sits alongside our efforts to minimise packaging
overall, and our aim for all of our packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. We are implementing this across our product categories.
Read more about BAT’s circular economy commitments and actions to tackle challenges around plastics, including our vaping device Take Back schemes in our Combined Annual & ESG Report.
- In 2022, we expanded our target to include all types of packaging, rather than just plastic packaging.
- Vs. 2017 baseline. In 2022 we increased this target to a 25% reduction by 2025, having surpassed our initial 15% reduction target already. The scope of this KPI relates to BAT's direct operations.
- This target is year-on-year
- Plastics recycling - How to square supply and demand (RECYCLING magazine)
- The New Plastics Economy: Catalysing action (ellenmacarthurfoundation.org)