Question time

Question time

How much responsibility do food and drink packaging manufacturers have to push the sustainability agenda?


Sustainability is a key word being used in the fight towards improving our environmental impact, and one which seems to be playing an important part in terms of shaping the future of packaging. Government targets have gone a long way in making packaging manufacturers think twice about the materials they are using, the waste they are creating and the technologies they are developing. So far, we have seen considerable advancements in the use of renewable materials, continued improvements in light-weighting and an active push to drive consumer recycling. But as ever, there is always more that can be done and although public consciousness is slowly evolving, energy saving and the environment still needs to be pushed to the forefront of people’s thoughts. With that in mind then, this month our experts are debating just how much responsibility food and drink packaging manufactures have to push the sustainable agenda?

Richard Hands 

Chief Executive of 



The whole value chain has a responsibility to work together to push sustainability, but let’s not forget packaging’s purpose: delivering food and drink safely and hygienically to consumers, protecting the product and reducing waste in distribution and retail. That in itself is a very significant contribution to sustainability and resource efficiency.


However, packaging manufacturers – like all sectors of business – should continually seek to deliver excellent sustainability performance in terms of their operations and the products they supply. 


The beverage carton industry supports a life cycle approach to measuring and managing impacts across all stages of the value chain. 


Life cycle stages of packaging include: production (raw material extraction, production, transport of materials and converting into packaging); filling and secondary packaging; distribution of packaged products to retail outlets; and end of life (collection of waste generated over the lifecycle of the packaging and waste treatment e.g. recycling, incineration, and landfill).


Cartons made by ACE UK’s members – Tetra Pak, Elopak and SIG Combibloc – are made primarily from wood fibre; a natural, renewable resource, and are widely recycled and highly transport-efficient, which means they are  repeatedly shown to have a low carbon footprint in life cycle studies across the world. 


The concept of renewable materials – those that can be replenished at a rate equivalent or greater than the rate of depletion, with minimal environmental damage – is key to our members’ responsible approach.


Beverage cartons, on average, are made from 75% paperboard, a renewable material if made from wood fibre sourced from responsibly managed forests. The majority of wood fibre for European beverage cartons comes from Sweden and Finland. In such forests, for every tree harvested at maturity, new saplings are planted or grow naturally. Using wood fibre from forests with sound management practices has a positive environmental outcome, as net wood volume is actually increasing year on year, thus playing a supporting role in climate change mitigation.


Figures from this year’s independent Proforest* report on the Chain of Custody (CoC) commitment made by ACE UK’s members support this approach, stating that 88% of wood fibre purchased globally by our member companies in 2012 was either FSC certified fibre or originated from FSC controlled wood.


Packaging also needs to demonstrate it can play its part in helping manufacturers and retailers achieve their sustainability goals post-consumer use. 


To this end ACE UK has recently opened the UK’s first purpose-built beverage carton recycling facility with paper and packaging producer Sonoco Alcore.

Located near Halifax, West Yorkshire, the plant is capable of recycling up to 40% (25,000 tonnes) of the cartons manufactured each year for the UK’s food and drink market, and is expected to significantly help boost recycling rates.


The facility will also reduce road and rail miles travelled by used beverage cartons for them to be recycled. Recycling cartons in the UK will lead to an estimated annual reduction of 122 tonnes of transport-related CO2.


The beverage carton industry is focused on making every step of the life of the beverage carton work with and for nature, from the sourcing of the raw materials to the disposal of the used carton.


Mike Jarvis

Portfolio Manager, Tetra Pak UK & Ireland


There is no doubt that packaging plays a significant part in driving the sustainability agenda; enabling products to be transported efficiently and securely whilst limiting waste. We, as manufactures, have a responsibility to use our expertise, resources and role in the footprint of the products we pack to help drive positive environmental action. 


There are a number of dimensions to that responsibility. First, we must produce packaging in a way that has as limited an impact on the environment as possible – from the materials used to it make it, to the energy used during manufacturing, to how easily it can be recycled after use.


We work hard to cut the carbon emissions generated our packaging at every stage of its life. We are committed to using renewable resources wherever possible, which, if managed properly, can be re-grown to supply our demand at a sustainable rate. Our cartons are made primarily from wood from responsibly-managed forests, with 1 billion of those sold in the UK and Ireland in 2012 carrying the FSC logo. We are also committed to making our packs as easy to recycle as possible after use, and, through our industry body, ACE UK, work closely with Local Authorities to increase provision of carton recycling schemes. 


But beyond limiting our current impact, we also have a responsibility to be innovators, to create new and better solutions. 


One of the ways we do this is by helping our customers cut the emissions generated by their products in the supply chain, whilst ensuring functionality. For example, we have developed Tetra Brik® Aseptic Edge with LightCap™.  The new design has a sloped top panel that makes the pack very stackable and space efficient whilst still accommodating the easy to pour and resealable LightCap, so more units can be carried in fewer trucks. 


We also take an innovative approach to the materials we use. For example, in addition to using responsibly-sourced paperboard for our cartons, we have developed a range of bio based alternatives to our most popular caps, made from sugar cane. By 2020, our aim is to offer packs made from 100% renewable materials.


We must also not overlook the fact that the primary function of packaging is to protect the product inside. As food and drink packagers, that brings with it the additional role and opportunity to help tackle food waste – a major issue on the sustainability agenda.


As an industry, our responsibility to drive the sustainability agenda is significant, but so are the opportunities it presents. The pursuit of improved environmental performance is igniting innovation across the sector, and the debate around issues like food waste is bringing the positive role that packaging can play to the fore.  We should be proud of the part that we are already playing, but also excited about the possibilities of the future and the contribution the industry will make.


Jeff Wooster

Global Sustainability Leader for

The Dow Chemical Company


According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 30 percent of the world’s food is wasted annually. A major cause for this? Spoilage. Dow Performance Packaging is working to solve this issue by creating solutions that help food stay fresh, longer. With the population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050 (FAO), it is important that brand owners and packaging manufacturers work together to institute the solutions that will conserve resources for future generations.


Dow considers packaging part of the entire food delivery system. When food is wasted, so is the water, energy, manpower, materials and so forth needed to produce and package the food. To reduce that 30 percent towards zero, Dow creates solutions that protect the food and the resources it consumes. These solutions are part of an innovation pipeline that focuses on reducing waste and increasing efficacy. 


Dow’s solutions are created with the entire product lifecycle in mind. Dow creates a variety of plastic packaging solutions because plastic offers many benefits. Plastic packaging often uses fewer resources. To package 60 pounds of a beverage, for instance, takes 50 pounds of glass. Compare that to a mere 1.5 pounds of flexible plastic (Flexible Packaging Association). This has a waterfall effect of reducing carbon dioxide emissions as truckloads can carry more products to their endpoints. Dow’s plastic packaging solutions also mean a higher product to package ratio. In other words, brand owners and value chain partners can do more with less material – a significant cost-savings. 


One of Dow’s key innovations in 2013 is a stand-pouch made entirely of polyethylene. The stand-up pouch offers up to 88 percent less total material weight and consumes 54 percent less total energy, compared to bag-in-box cake mix (LCA Analysis via CalcuLess™ Environment Impact Analyzer). Through collaboration with the converter, the brand owner and Dow’s team of experts, portfolio of technologies, extensive packaging knowledge-base and a bit of creativity, the team successfully helped design one of the industry’s first 100% Polyethylene (PE) stand-up pouches. Collaborations like these allow Dow to develop the sustainable food packaging solutions customers crave. 

Through innovation, industry collaboration and expertise, we can build solutions that improve the human experience and further sustainability goals.



Lucy Frankel

Communications Director at Vegware


Responsibility. Such a heavy word. It sounds so worthy. Yes Vegware is responsible for driving the green agenda, but it’s not a chore. We enjoy that role. We love being at the cutting edge of business efficiency and innovation. By making the greenest foodservice packaging on the market, Vegware has experienced fifteen-fold UK growth, rapid global expansion across five continents, and won dozens of prestigious business awards. So why on earth wouldn’t manufacturers push the sustainability agenda?


As for whose responsibility it is… whose isn’t it! All businesses, consumers, manufacturers, householders and voters – we are all responsible for our environmental impact.


Green is fashionable and there’s a lot of companies who use it solely as a marketing tool. Here’s how Vegware takes responsibility by minimising the environmental impact of our packaging at every step of its journey. 


Firstly, let’s look at our products before use. We are proud of our sustainable supply chain. Our fully traceable products are made in quality-controlled conditions from renewable sustainably sourced or recycled materials. Our commitment to sustainability extends to our logistics and shipping, and minimising waste and maximising transport efficiency give benefit all round. We are soon to launch an exciting new product made entirely from the waste from another’s manufacture process. 


But after use, our compostable packaging offers exciting new recycling opportunities. You can’t recycle food with plastic in it, and you can’t recycle plastic with food on it. Vegware’s comprehensive range of eco packaging is completely compostable. So unlike most foodservice packaging, Vegware can be simply recycled after use. Once food waste and disposables share one bin, the little that’s left is cleaner and easier to recycle. That’s why in foodservice, compostable packaging is the key to recycling everything.


We invest in third-party compostability certification to prove it can break down in under 12 weeks, and send our products for real-life recycling trials. And to help clients go zero waste, our free service helps any UK business find local food waste recycling. 


Sustainability isn’t a bolt-on or an after-thought. It’s at the core of Vegware’s existence. But we’re not preachy or drab about it – people like Vegware products because they are good value, well made, function perfectly, and open up all sorts of new exciting opportunities for our customers in terms of enhancing their brand and reducing waste. 


As a supplier, you always want to do your best for your customers. You do that by driving innovation, by offering products that make their lives easier and help them stand out in a crowded market. And it just so happens that sustainability provides the framework for all of those business opportunities. 




Richard Hands is the main spokesperson for the industry with Government organisations, stakeholders and the media on environmental issues. Richard has been involved in environmental affairs in the industry for more than 10 years, following 20 years in environmental management.


Mike Jarvis joined Tetra Pak in 2001 as a Technical Coordinator before moving to the marketing team in 2006. For the last five years, Mike has managed Tetra Pak’s portfolio in the UK and Ireland, overseeing product development and design. Prior to joining Tetra Pak, Mike studied Business Management at Glyndwr University.


Jeff Wooster joined Dow in 1988, where he spent five years in Polyolefins Product Research. In 1993 he transferred to Plastics Technical Service & Development.  He is passionate about sustainability and serves as the lead Dow representative on the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division Packaging Team and the Flexible Packaging Association’s Sustainability Task Force. Wooster holds 44 U.S. and foreign patents and has published over 50 technical papers and presentations.


Lucy Frankel is the communications director at Vegware. Vegware is the only completely compostable packaging firm operating globally. This Fast50-ranked SME is enjoying 15-fold growth in five years, now operating in five continents. Winner of a dozen awards in 2013 including FSB Streamline UK Business of the Year and the Queen’s Award for Enterprise.




Stephanie Cornwall
Stephanie Cornwall