Plastic is increasingly under the spotlight as the world wakes up to the pollution problem it presents, and both brands and media owners have a role to play in driving change – but they need to be realistic about what they can achieve, a report from Nielsen advises.

The Plastic Problem notes that advertisers in the UK have started to place plastic firmly in their marketing plans, with references to plastic and plastic waste up four-fold in TV and print communication year-on-year.

At the same time, a new language is emerging around plastic. ‘Single use’, for example, was named ‘word of the year’ by Collins Dictionary.

Referring to plastics designed to be used once and then thrown away, products such as straws and water bottles have been targeted as culprits in the pollution epidemic and the hospitality sector has started to cut back on their use of these.

‘Compostable’ is another term finding wider use as packaging alternatives are sought out by supermarkets. Fruit and vegetable bags made from corn starch, for example, are another small step in protecting the environment.

And the idea of the ‘circular economy’ has been picked up by major businesses like Unilever, which has pledged that 100% of its plastic packaging will be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Procter & Gamble has made a similar commitment, but its timescale is set at 2030 – a “brave” decision, the report suggested: “It’s better to be realistic and genuine in meeting deadlines than to follow the pack.”

Media owners, too, are finding ways to contribute. Sky set up the Ocean Rescue campaign back in 2017, working with a range of partners to find innovative solutions to ocean plastic levels, while Ocean Outdoor uses its poster network to inspire change among agencies, partners and clients.

Educating consumers is key to changing consumption habits as many may not fully realise how much plastic they use on a daily basis, so adspend around this issue – which increased dramatically in 2018, admittedly from a very low base – is expected to continue in 2019.

Read more on sustainability and marketing in the April issue of Admap.

Sourced from Nielsen; additional content by WARC staff