On November 13 and 14, 2019 stakeholders with different perspectives met at the Sustainability in Packaging Europe conference in Barcelona, Spain. Food packaging was featured prominently with several different food brand owners participating in panel discussions and giving presentations. The perspective of the European Commission (EC) was provided by Maja Desgrees du Lou, Directorate General Environment. She stated that, despite efforts to reduce resource use for packaging, the existing measures have not been effective at reducing household waste. The EC is therefore going to focus more on avoiding waste and using unavoidable waste as a resource. Accordingly, reuse, high-quality recycling and new business models should be the focus of future packaging solutions developed by industry. Importantly, reuse of packaging will be included in the calculation of the materials recycling targets. The new EU Farm to Fork strategy laying out the EU’s new food policy will also address packaging.

Annette Lendal, Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMAF), spoke about the circular economy as being restorative and regenerative by design. She presented the 2019 EMAF report on reuse (FPF reported) and highlighted how different reuse business models can be developed.

Romain Badie, Carrefour, presented the French retailer’s collaboration with TerraCycle and others, including on the Loop project (FPF reported). Starting in 2020, customers in France can order products online that are delivered to their homes in a returnable deposit bag, with all product packaging designed for return and reuse. One of the challenges that Badie addressed was the need for decentralized cleaning facilities for preparing the packaging for reuse. Paul Earnshaw, Tesco, detailed the UK retailer’s ambitious “4R” packaging strategy to remove, reduce, reuse, recycle packaging. For its in-house brands, the retailer has defined red materials it intends to phase out by end of 2019, and this ban will be extended to all other brands, too (FPF reported). Red materials include black plastics, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene (PS), oxo-degradable plastics, polylactic acid (PLA), plastics that are industrially compostable, polycarbonate, and acrylic (FPF reported).

Danish food brand Arla, represented by Jan Dalsgaard Johannesen, has been working with consultancy Quantis on the plastics leak project (FPF reported). According to the results that were presented at the conference, around 4% of Arla’s plastic packaging leaks into the environment, providing the company’s decision makers with metrics to benchmark future action for a more targeted effort in reducing plastic packaging leakage.

Francesca Priora, Tetra Pak, presented findings from the company’s recently published report on consumer attitudes concerning health and the environment, showing that consumers think that a product’s recyclability is the most important environmental aspect. However, Hans van Bochove, Coca-Cola and EUROPEN, cautioned that plastic packaging made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastics “is green marketing, it is currently not available”. The issue of consumer perception vs scientific facts was mentioned several times by several food brands, highlighting the need for more consumer education. At the same time, the issue of chemical safety was barely touched upon during the entire conference, with only one presentation by the Food Packaging Forum on “Food packaging in the circular economy: focus on chemical safety” (FPF reported). The need to increase collaboration between sustainable packaging experts and food contact experts is urgent so that both goals of reducing resource consumption and of increasing chemical safety can be achieved and are not sacrificed at one or the other’s expense (FPF reported).

Read more

Tetra Pak (October 9, 2019). “The convergence of health & environment. Tetra Pak Index Nr. 12.”

Anne Marie Mohan (November 14, 2019). “Ellen MacArthur: Reuse as an area of business opportunity.Greener Package