Jacqui Vear

Posted on 6th May 2024
by Jacqui Vear

Plastic and brand promotions

According to the British charity WRAP, 45% of global emissions can only be tackled by changing the way we make and consume products and food. (1)

Plastic is a durable, flexible material that will surround you, whenever and wherever you are. Yet with the backdrop of our climate emergency, the word ‘plastic’ is evocative, so is it a label that you want at arm’s length to your brand marketing resources?

Sadly, the European Environment Agency confirm that, most plastics continue to be made from fossil fuels, in a process that contributes to increased greenhouse gas emissions along their value chain. Indeed, plastics pollute throughout their life cycle from production, to use and finally through their disposal. (2)

Innovation offers some hope. The UK Plastics Pact is coordinating a response to the footprint that plastic waste leaves on our planet. Their aim is to create a circular economy for plastics, capturing their value by keeping them in the economy and out of the natural environment.

We’re seeing these developments within the promotional products industry. Here’s a recap on key terminology:

Bio-derived plastic

Unlike conventional plastic, it is made from plant material such as starch, cellulose and lignin, rather than oil. Note that the ‘bio’ reference refers to the material, not the potential of the material to biodegrade.

Biodegradable plastic

This will be broken down by biological organisms, to a variable extent, over a varying period. There will be no lasting footprint as the material becomes water, carbon dioxide, mineral salts and new biomass. Don’t worry, biodegradable plastic items will not degrade in front of you, they require conditions that include the presence of microorganisms, nutrients, oxygen and moisture. The temperature of the associated environment is also key, for example oceans are too cold to process biodegradable plastic in waterways. It is important to remember that biodegradable plastic should not be freely released into the environment, this innovation is not a ‘licence to litter’.

Compostable plastic

This will break down in industrial composting environments, a characteristic that should be associated with a recognised standard, such as EN13432. Home composting may be possible, depending upon the temperature of that environment. Note that compostable plastics do not have any nutrient value to compost.

At end of life, plastics within these different categories must be sent to an appropriate waste stream, as contamination can affect the associated processes. Yet it’s recognised that the different terms and labels are not easy to understand. Thankfully there are policy actions across the UK and Europe to harmonise definitions, rules, and labelling, whilst engage consumers in the outcomes.

For your branded promotions…

With lots of reliance and variables within downstream waste processing, let alone access to them, the useability of plastic items remains key. A circular economy is supported by recycled plastic products, yet in our opinion you should only associate your brand with them if items are wanted by recipients, whilst being practical and made to last.

The recycled plastic items that you’ll find within our curated range of Sustainable Corporate Gifts include badges, keyrings, sports bottles and rPET in the form of bags, clothing and even the casing for technology.


On the back of innovation, plastic promotional items, particularly the products we advocate, have an engaging story to tell, as part of a circular economy. The ‘reduce and reuse’ strategy should be a leading consideration. We’re here to help you identify items that are aligned to your campaign, and we’ll seek reassurance on the environmental claims of the products we recommend. Whatever approach you take, ask questions and seek proof, because your contacts will demand that of you too. Your strategy, choices and answers are all integral to your brand credibility.

Circular Cup sustainable and branded


1 Waste & Resources Action Programme, WRAP

2 European Environment Agency, Briefing 27/08/20

Lead image, colourful plastic polymer granules.

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