On January 15, 2019 the Swiss Packaging Institute (Schweizerisches Verpackungsinstitut, SVI) held its annual conference in Glattbrugg, Switzerland. The event’s topic was “Requirements for the food packaging of the future” [Anforderungen an die Lebensmittelverpackung der Zukunft]. Participants and speakers from the food industry and its suppliers, retail, research and policy discussed political and societal developments in the context of plastic food packaging.

Media coverage on marine plastic pollution during the last year has led to increased consumer concern and rapidly increasing awareness for single-use plastic food packaging’s role in this global challenge. This has forced food producers to act and introduce, for example, paper-based packaging, said Magdi Batato, Executive Vice President and Head of Operations at Nestlé. A very strong focus is also being placed on plastics recycling. Nestlé’s vision is that “none of our packaging, including plastics, ends up in landfill or as litter”. By 2025, Nestlé’s ambition is to have 100% packaging that is recyclable or reuseable. To achieve this, the food company is taking a three-pronged approach by focusing on novel materials and designs, by investing in local infrastructures for collection, sorting, and recycling, and by addressing consumer beliefs and behavior, for example by encouraging recycling through campaigns (FPF reported).

Hugo Schally, Head of Unit Sustainable production, products and consumption at the European Commission (EC), gave an update on the European strategy for plastics in the circular economy that was published in January 2018 (FPF reported). In December 2018, a new directive was published which will enter into force mid-2019, banning and/or restricting selected single-use plastics (FPF reported). For example, by 2025, bottle caps need to remain connected to plastic bottles after opening. Schally also mentioned a voluntary pledge by industry with the aim to use a total of 10 million tons recycled plastics in new products by 2025 (FPF reported). REACH restriction dossiers on oxo-degradable plastics and on microplastics (FPF reported) are expected for June 2019 and January 2019, respectively. Currently the EC is defining criteria for the uses of compostable and biodegradable plastic products; it is expected that only very few applications will be covered.

Prof. Rudy Koopmans, Director of the Plastics Innovations Competence Center (PICC), shared his vision towards a renewable and circular plastics industry. The first step, according to Koopmans, is to simplify plastics to enable recycling, i.e. moving towards packaging made of only one type of plastic and to invest in waste management infrastructure. Second, he highlighted biopolymers which have inherent biodegradability properties and that novel materials can be based on them. And third, Koopmans showed the example of vitrimers, a novel type of polymers with self-healing properties.

Other speakers at the conference included Michel Monteil, Head of Division Management of waste and resources at the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment, who spoke about the Swiss approach to waste management during the last 30 years that has eliminated the need for landfills. Currently, about 10% of plastic household waste is recycled while 7% is used in cement manufacture (as feedstock), and 83% is incinerated. Both Patrik Geisselhardt, Managing Director at Swiss Recycling, and Jasmin Buchs, Project Manager Environment at MIGROS, pointed out that clear definitions for recyclability are missing. The Allianz Design for Recycling Plastics was mentioned as a new industry alliance that aims at increasing the material recycling of plastics. The challenges of chemicals safety, especially related to increased post-consumer recycled plastics content, were not addressed during the conference.

Read more

SVI (January 15, 2019). “SVI Tagung.” (in German)

SVI (January 24, 2019). “Veranstaltungsbericht zur SVI/JIG Tagung ‘Anforderungen an die Lebensmittelverpackung der Zukunft’ erschienen.” (in German)