While the packaging sector has taken a hit recently following the backlash from programmes such as ‘Blue Planet II’ and news and current affairs programmes, the IOM3 Packaging Society Board has collected information from its members and taken a stance in which it is urging UK Government, retailers, consumers and the packaging industry to better understand, and address, five top issues highlighted.
In a recently-produced statement, it lists the issues for action, with the first being the management of plastic waste.
“There is a significant lack of alignment throughout the UK in the processes for plastics waste collection, separation and recycling which undermines consumer recycling culture and detrimentally affects consumer recycling educational opportunities,” it says in the statement. “There is a need to align recycling specifications and processes throughout the UK to provide improved clarity to consumers and help drive a cultural shift towards the importance and value of recycling items correctly. Defined recycling processes and protocols in the UK would support the opportunity for training and education for consumers which should include education provision within UK regions, schools, councils and other educational institutes, as well as packaging design businesses.
“It is recommended that while defining and aligning recycling processes and protocols, there would be a significant benefit from the study of best practice techniques within Europe including, for example, the bottle deposit schemes operating widely for many years.”
The second issue concerns plastic material options. It states that while plastic-based packaging has been, and will remain “a valuable part of packaging materials used worldwide”, there is an opportunity to consider the reduction of unnecessary plastic packaging and to look at either the elimination of plastics that cannot easily be recycled. Examples given are black meat trays, or technologies that can facilitate their recycling.
“Bioplastics and biodegradable/compostable plastics are being commercialised today and development of these solutions continues and should be strongly supported,” says the statement. “Bioplastics and biodegradable/compostable plastics may provide an alternative environmental solution but it is recommended that a defined, certificated assessment method is agreed to ensure any bioplastic solutions that are proposed are certified as to having no detrimental environmental or marine impact after degradation or decomposition.”
The statement goes on to say that there are a number of natural, cellulose-based, packaging material options based on paper, paperboard and cellulose-based films which are generally derived from certified, renewable forestry resources and are naturally recyclable and biodegradable/compostable. Cellulose-based materials generally lack the barrier functionality of plastic films but new developments in barrier coatings that are still recyclable and biodegradable/compostable are being introduced and are commercially available today, and the society says these developments should be strongly supported. “As such, there are opportunities for the substitution of plastic materials with cellulose_based materials ranging from wraps, cups, pots, boxes, pouches, sachets, meal trays, lidding, flow wrap and many more.”
Its fourth highlighted issue is market alignment. “The major suppliers of packaged products are the supermarket chains,” it states. “There is an opportunity for these to come together and develop an aligned plan for sustainable packaging. Currently supermarkets are perceived as a major contributor to packaging waste problems. A co-ordinated programme could be a benefit to the supermarkets and the Packaging Society would be ready to support this.”
Finally, it deals with economics, pointing out that both the bioplastic and barrier-coated cellulose based packaging solutions are today more expensive than existing plastic based solutions. Scale will reduce this challenge but meanwhile cost is often a deterrent to the adoption of environmental packaging solutions.
“A consideration can be made to look at how taxes could be involved for UK and overseas-produced, hard to recycle, packaging materials to discourage their use and provide funding for research into developing a new generation of sustainable and recyclable packaging materials, perhaps also directly motivating the adoption of those new sustainable materials through some form of tax incentives for the supermarkets. “