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Sustainable Foods Summit Part 2: A Plastic (Packaging) Revolution

In this second instalment of the Sustainable Foods Summit blog series, we cover arguably one of the hottest topics in sustainability: the plastics debate.

On day one of the conference, Andy Sweetman, EMEA Sales & Marketing Manager at Futamura, (a global leader in renewable and compostable packaging films), took to the stage to give us an update on the developments in bioplastics and just how companies can make the move to truly sustainable packaging.

As we all know, plastic packaging plays an important role in the food industry; it transports the product, protects the product, informs consumers and attracts shoppers.

However, plastic packaging is also a big environmental problem:

  • 32% of plastic packaging ‘leaks into the environment’
  • 8 million tonnes end up in our oceans every year

(Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation – New Plastics Economy study)

plastic packaging polluting

(Image source: Inhabitat)

The thirst for convenience is driving an increase in the volume of packaging i.e. single serve portions, coffee pods and on-the-go food packs. With many countries having a poorly developed waste management structure, these are either going straight to landfill, being incinerated (at best) or ending up as litter in the oceans. This can’t go on.

 

Advances in bioplastics

Over the past 15 years, renewable and biodegradable/compostable ‘bioplastics’ have been developed, which are derived from natural, renewable non-fossil resources.

Conventional flexible laminates – which are used extensively in food packaging – contain different layers to ensure technical functionality, but use finite raw materials, hence recycling is compromised. Biolaminates can now match the technical properties of these conventional structures, but unlike conventional flexible laminates, these can be recycled or composted. And this is where the big wins are made – end of pack life.

With biolaminates now available in multiple packaging formats from ‘green’ PET bottles to capsules (see below for the full range of options), manufacturers can no longer use the argument that there isn’t a sustainable solution for them.

Sustainable Foods Summit - Futamura slide

So what’s the payback for brands swapping conventional plastic for bioplastics? Brands that offer consumers a more sustainable packaging solution will ultimately gain stronger consumer engagement. After all, we all want to do our bit for the planet and hate to see packaging going to landfill, or worse still, ending up in the ocean.

Caring for the environment is also good for the bottom line. An example was cited of an organic tea producer that gained a 64% increase in sales following a sustainable packaging overhaul.

So if it’s good for consumers and good for business, isn’t it time more companies in the food and drink industry consider switching to a more sustainable packaging solution?

 

The world’s first plastic-free aisle

From a retail perspective, one company is certainly leading the way in sustainability. Ecoplaza is a forward-thinking, Dutch organic supermarket chain with sustainability at the heart of the business. And now the company is famous worldwide. Why? Because they were the first retailer in the world to launch a plastic-free aisle.

Teaming up with British environmental campaign group, A Plastic Planet, Ecoplaza’s CEO, Erik Does, wanted to make a stance and take on the plastic-free challenge. So on 28th February 2018, he decided to launch the world’s first plastic-free aisle in the Amsterdam branch of the supermarket chain.

Ecoplaza Plastic-Free aisle

All plastic packaging was substituted with either PLA, which is fully biodegradable and made from renewable resources such as corn starch or sugar cane, or NatureFlex™ as well as other biomaterials. Also, all of the signage in-store is made from recycled paper and uses biodegradable inks. As the company states: “Scaleable, viable and totally convenient…this is a showcase to the world. We don’t want packaging free, we want plastic-free.”

Sustainable Foods Summit Ecoplaza plastic free counter

Taking it a step further, Ecoplaza even have a plastic-free canteen in their Dutch headquarters. What a shining example to other retailers. It will be interesting to see who will follow next.

 

The ‘natural branding’ solution

International fresh fruit and vegetable distributor, Eosta is leading the way by replacing plastic packaging on it’s fruit and vegetables with laser marking. Known as ‘Natural Branding’, Eosta was the first company to introduce this back in December 2016. Natural Branding is completely safe and the laser marking is so superficial that it has no effect on taste, quality or shelf life.

Under European Union law, organic products have to be labelled to clearly differentiate them from non-organic, hence the use of plastic packaging and labels on the produce. To reduce its environmental impact, Eosta switched to Natural Branding to label their avocados, courgettes, ginger, coconuts, cucumbers, mangoes, pumpkins and sweet potatoes.

Eosta natural branding cutting out plastic packaging

And the environmental stats are impressive: Since December 2016 Eosta has saved 6.3 million plastic packaging units, 88 metric tons of plastic, 38,000 square metres of paper and 396 metric tons of CO2-emissions. So impressed with Eosta’s environmental success story  that the company won a Sustainable Foods Awards for this initiative.

Let’s hope that more fruit and vegetable companies consider this as a solution.

So as you can see, there is a great deal of momentum in Europe with companies really taking a stance in the battle to help reduce plastic packaging pollution. In our final blog of the series, we look at the health impacts surrounding sustainability – so stay tuned.

Blog written by Debbie.