EXCLUSIVE: Following a successful pilot at two races last summer, Lucozade Ribena Suntory (LRS) last week confirmed that it will hand out 30,000 drinks in edible seaweed sachets at this year’s London Marathon. But will these events generate lasting changes to consumer behaviour surrounding plastics?
According to the firm’s head of sustainability and external affairs Michelle Norman, the answer is undeniably “yes”.
When LRS first announced that it would trial the sachets, called Oohos, as an alternative to single-use plastic bottles and sachets at the 2018 Richmond Marathon and the West Sussex Tough Mudder, the story made headlines across most of the UK’s major tabloids.
The hype seems to have shown no sign of slowing down since then, with the innovation having also received increased backing from takeaway delivery firm Just Eat and with LRS having last week announced that it will undertake the world’s largest single-day distribution of Oohos to date, handing out 30,000 of them to London Marathon participants on 28 April.
Speaking exclusively to edie ahead of her appearance at edie Live next month (scroll down for details), LRS’s Norman argued that the distribution of Oohos is likely to have changed the way consumers consume and dispose of plastic packaging outside of the event, even though edible packaging is yet to have hit the UK’s mass market.
“The edible packaging has really captured the imagination,” she explained.
“By offering something different in a trial or at an event, you are immediately challenging perceptions of what packaging has to look like and whether it has to be made from virgin plastic. In this way, we can use events as a platform to satisfy curiosity and educate people.”
When asked whether LRS may soon begin offering products in innovative, plastic-free packaging such as Oohos to retailers, Norman argued that they “might not yet be a viable solution for the retail environment”, but that sporting events are “the right time and place” to sow the seeds for behaviour change.
“Whether these innovations become a large-scale commercial is not a priority for us at the moment – the priority is to help get people thinking differently about how we can tackle plastics waste and improve packaging sustainability in general,” she added.
Although they are perhaps to most high-profile of LRS’s sustainable packaging initiatives, the Oohos trials form just one small part of the multinational’s overarching packaging strategy.
As the firm strives to meet its WRAP UK Plastics Pact pledge of making all plastic packaging 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025, it has worked to reduce the weight of its Ribena bottles, source more recycled plastic content and redesign several packaging lines to boost detectability in recycling centres. More recently, it confirmed that it will only distribute bottles made with 100% recycled plastic at all mass sporting events it is involved with.
These actions have been complemented by a string of more consumer-facing initiatives, such as the installation of bottle-shaped recycling bins at leisure centres and the launch of a straw and carton recycling communications campaign by the Ribena brand. The latter initiative is being driven by a mix of on-pack messaging and social media advertising, which Norman said were suitable “touch points” for engaging consumers to change behaviours ahead of the UK Government’s upcoming ban on the sale and distribution of plastic straws.
Norman explained that LRS is likely to always use a “multi-pronged” approach to engaging consumers with the need to create a circular economy for plastic packaging, arguing that traditional advertising alone is no longer enough.
“When you’re a large producer or a large brand, it’s important to recognize that there is no one solution for plastics – people are all different and there’s no one-size-fits-all system which resonates with everyone and can universally influence behaviour,” she said.
In a similar fashion to its engagement with consumers, LRS is also leveraging a variety of systems to call for stakeholders such as policymakers, local authorities and waste management firms to collaboratively create a closed-loop plastics system. The company recently backed a study which called for a zero-waste-to-landfill plastic packaging value chain by 2030, for example, and is using consultations on the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS) to call for unified recycling collections for all UK households.
According to Norman, LRS views this kind of sector-wide and multi-faceted engagement as key in helping the business to play its part in solving the “complicated plastics jigsaw” – a feat which would close the loop on the 32% of plastic packaging produced annually which is believed to be lost to the linear economy at present.
Indeed, the business is one of 150+ to have joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment and therefore, along with dozens of investors, local authorities, NGOs and national governments, pledged to contribute to the creation of a “new normal” for plastics.
“Brands can only do so much to educate, particularly if the policy and infrastructure aren’t there to help them know what to do with their packaging,” Norman concluded.
“If we want to encourage true circularity, I don’t think there is one actor in the plastics conversation that is solely responsible for driving change. A lot of the awareness around plastic pollution has started a chain reaction which has driven huge scale changes in our infrastructure, and it is essential that this continues.”
Lucozade Ribena Suntory at edie Live
Lucozade Ribena Suntory’s head of sustainability and external affairs Michelle Norman will be appearing on the circular economy theatre at edie Live next month (21-22 May 2019), as part of a panel discussion on how customer engagement can help spur circular economy progress. Taking place at 2.15pm on Day One of the event, the debate will see Norman joined by experts from Hubbub, Mothercare and Ball Corporation, who will explore how best to make closed-loop systems accessible and attractive to the general public.
The session is just one of many taking place across four theatres during the two-day show, which is edie’s biggest of the year and a highlight in the calendar for sustainability, energy and environment professionals. Under the theme of “turning ambition into ACTION”, we will be bringing attendees the inspiration and solutions needed to achieve a low-carbon, resource efficient and profitable future for their organisation.