The afternoon session began with a talk by Arturo Castillo Castillo, research fellow at Imperial College London, U.K., who presented on the links between food packaging, health and the environment. To start, he asked the question: “How did we get here?” and addressed population growth, socio-economic trends, growing plastic production, and the current waste management system as drivers for global plastic pollution. Castillo described a person’s usual mindset as “nothing happens… until something happens” but showed that ocean plastic has been recognized as a problem requiring more action than has been taken so far. The optimization for speed and volume within the current economic system was identified as one of the reasons for the situation regarding plastic pollution. In the last decades, plastics have been used for dozens of functions and services, but there are also dozens of products per function resulting in 1000s of products on the market with often unknown formulations, Castillo explained. In addition, he described the waste management system as a “forced retro-fit” applying the principle of “take, make (hard to reduce), use superficially, dispose.” Solutions that are discussed, such as continuation, substitution or reduction of plastic use, could lead to a messy situation, but work on the drivers of plastic pollution would be a way forward. Progress in this area could be achieved through proactive action (e.g. implementation of product service systems, simplification in the supply chain, and reduction of chemical complexity), Castillo concluded.
Later in the afternoon, speakers from academia, non-profit organizations, start-ups and industry shared their experiences and ideas related to innovation for improving the safety of food contact articles through short presentations. They then joined a podium discussion moderated by Jane Muncke from the Food Packaging Forum to further expand on their perspectives.
Laurette Dubé, professor and scientific director at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, focused her talk on convergent innovation and presented modular platforms for scaling up what packaging can contribute to business competitiveness and healthy diets from sustainable food systems. After addressing convergent innovation in the agri-food sector, translational science foundations, and showing a use case, she concluded that “meaningful increases in sustainable packaging and decreases in wood waste and endocrine disruption are attainable by reconsidering the value chain processes that define how food goes from farm to fork.”
Peter Schelstraete, co-founder and CEO of ubuntoo, U.S., described how “sustainability hacking” could lead to higher investments in sustainability. He introduced how the “golden triangle” of large companies, large governments, and large NGOs used to work on change by basing their work on philanthropy without investing in the supply chain. In contrast, the efforts of corporations & investors, governments, and NGOs could lead to “real action.” In addition, Schelstraete explained that entrepreneurs & innovators, experts & influencers, and academics are the main drivers of the fourth industrial revolution, but they often lack connections leading to successful investments. Ubuntoo was therefore developed as an “AirBnB” for sustainable innovations related to plastic pollution.
Michael Belliveau, president of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, U.S., identified food industry market leaders, third party standard setting bodies, and state and local public policy makers as actors closing the gap in U.S. federal leadership on food contact chemicals. After giving a short overview of the U.S. food contact chemical safety system, Belliveau illustrated the “badly broken system” by giving examples (e.g. PFAS, phthalates). In the second part of his talk, he highlighted several successful cases on how chemical safety of food packaging can be improved by the action of different stakeholders, such as retailers, fast food chains, standard stetting bodies and U.S. states.
Marcel Bosma, representating PlasticsEurope, introduced a repository to support risk assessments of non-listed substances (NLS) and non-intentionally added substances (NIAS) in plastics. He first explained the current legal requirements, summarized available guidance documents for risk assessment, and pointed out challenges (e.g. enforcement, communication within the supply chain). To overcome some of these problems, Bosma explained the concept of a repository to make human exposure assessments more visible, avoid duplication of assessment work in the supply chain, allow data sharing, and create recognition.
Jan Leyssens, co-founder of switchrs, explained how strategic innovation could be achieved through new business models. As a basic assumption, he stated that we should start looking beyond the products and services themselves and instead focus on the whole context. “Designing the box is much harder than thinking out of it” Leyssens proposed before showing several examples of alternative ways to treat, avoid, or reuse packaging.