PLASTIC pollution continues to move up the global news agenda, with a growing realisation that this situation poses a serious threat to the planet. There is an estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic in oceans today and at current rates we are on track to have more of this waste than fish in our waters by 2050.

We need a global effort to eliminate single-use plastics and significantly reduce the use and improved recovery of the rest. The damage caused by current usage and disposal makes the system unsustainable and we support the global drive for solutions.

Identifying structural themes that will shape the economy of the future and investing in companies capitalising on these changes - which are therefore likely to benefit financially – should be central to a sustainable investment approach.

No single action can provide a complete solution to plastic pollution, but improving food production and packaging, using readily biodegradable packaging, producing plastics from natural sources and improving recycling rates can all play a part.

Ultimately, it is the development of closed-loop circular economy models that will be critical.

One of our key investment themes is increasing waste treatment and recycling. Only 14 per cent of plastic packaging is currently collected for recycling and just 5% retained for subsequent use, highlighting the opportunity for companies working to improve this. The most effective solution is a combination of using less plastic, collecting and recycling it better, and finding biodegradable alternatives.

Recent measures announced by the UK Government are positive steps in this sphere. The proposed deposit return scheme for drink containers mirrors similar enterprises in Norway, Germany and some US states, which boosted recycling rates to above 90%.

Another theme - making food production sustainable – sees us look for companies offering sustainable alternatives to current food production and packaging. Dutch company Corbion, for example, uses natural ingredients to produce lactic acid as a food preservative and is moving a step further in converting this into polylactic acid, a bioplastic.

In contrast to traditional plastics made from non-renewable petroleum reserves, bioplastics come from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane. This means product designers can have an end in mind at outset and options include take-back schemes for material reuse, recycling, or (industrial) composting.

Bioplastics have a role to play in making our system more sustainable but it is critical to understand they are not a solution on their own to marine littering. Even those that are biodegradable typically require industrial conditions, which are very different to those found at the bottom of the ocean.

While we continue to invest in such solutions providers, very few of us can say we are not part of the plastics problem. Plastic is therefore a priority engagement issue for us in 2018 and we are working with companies across our funds to drive change.

Unilever, for example, has cut packaging waste per consumer by 28% since 2010 and has targeted at least 25% recycled plastic content in its packaging by 2025. Sachets are a particular issue for the company and it is investing in technology called CreaSolv, a chemical process that breaks down polymers so this plastic can be reused. This, and other aspects of the company’s Sustainable Living Plan, puts Unilever at the forefront but even this progress is unlikely to drive the fundamental change our oceans need.

As long as business activities remain unsustainable, their future earnings and value are in doubt. We will continue to invest in companies that stand to gain from the move to more sustainable business models and engage with those who have more to do.

There is little point saving for a retirement by the beach, if we have no beaches worth visiting.

Neil Brown is a fund manager at Liontrust Asset Management.