Packaging has a key role to play in the circular economy and, in recent months, plastic packaging in particular has come under a great deal of scrutiny.
While manufacturers and retailers have been working behind the scenes to address the impacts of their product packaging, through initiatives such as light weighting, it is clear that they will need to work closely with partners in their supply chains to drive greater changes that will address some of the public concerns. They will also need to consider the impacts of the forthcoming Circular Economy Package, voluntary agreements such as Plastic Pact, and their own individual brand commitments.
Voluntary agreements and legislative requirements will help to drive some of the change. However, setting a baseline for performance can be tricky and deciding where to take action is hard. Accurate data can help to inform strategic decisions, drive change, and implement policies that are effective, efficient and achievable, as well as being made for the right reasons.
No one can help but be shocked by the footage highlighting the problems of plastic escaping into the marine environment. It is also clear that the general public want politicians and business leaders to lead the way in tackling the problem.
What is not so clear, is just how to do this. Not all packaging is bad and this is also true for plastic packaging. What the legislators, brands and retailers must try to do is design packaging and packaging systems which are fit for purpose, use minimum valuable resources, fit to existing recycling systems and which can be processed back into valuable product again with minimum or no losses. These systems should be efficient and effective in design and simple for the public to understand and take part in.
The UK’s voluntary Plastic Pact agreement hopes to achieve part of this. Under the agreement, major retailers and brands
such as Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons, along with Coca Cola, Unilever and others have signed up to meet challenging targets by 2025.
Plastic Pact calls for 100% of plastic to be reusable, recyclable or compostable, and for 70 per cent of plastic waste to be effectively recycled or composted. Those involved aim to collaborate to pioneer a fundamental change in the way we design, produce, use, reuse, dispose of and reprocess plastics.
This will include trying to eliminate problematic packaging and encouraging demand for plastic collected for recycling, by using at least 30 per cent average recycled content in products.
Implementing changes will be challenging, but the data collected for compliance
under legislation such as the Packaging Directive can have, and is having, a wider, positive impact.
Valpak has been managing packaging compliance since the advent of the packaging regulations and recently became the official data partner for Plastic Pact. It is the largest environmental compliance scheme in the UK and the official data partner for the UK’s voluntary Plastic Pact agreement. It works with major names, such as Tesco, M&S and Unilever, and manages compliance for more than 3,000 businesses. In 2017, it celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Valpak services include: Compliance under Packaging, WEEE, and Battery Directives; data management services; international compliance; recycling services (total waste management options and solutions for niche materials); consultancy; accreditation under environmental schemes, such as Zero Waste to Landfill.
In 2016, Valpak launched its Data Management Portal. The portal is a bespoke product which allows customers to scrutinise their supply chains. It can be used to monitor areas such as sustainability in packaging, or to ensure that CSR goals such as the Modern Day Slavery Act are met.
The Portal is currently being used to explore the occurrence of coloured plastics in supply chains, the level of recycled material included in products and recyclability of products.