Blog: Carbon Footprint – the views of the food and drink packaging industry following Packaging Innovations 2020

Here is a quick overview of what I gleaned from the speaker messages from the second day of seminars at Packaging Innovations 2020. 

I have coupled this with a few views that I have found elsewhere too.

(Please note: the following content will not reflect CoVid19. Such is the fast changing nature of the world we currently find ourselves in).

Greenwashing. Outright deceit or something else?

When it comes to better environmental practices, we have likely all thought of companies appearing to talk the talk but not actually walk the walk. Whilst some are doing this knowingly, others are more innocent. With a nameless airline saying it is plastic free, this is not the elephant in the room. And some retailers have their own elephants: by following very poor ‘climate change’ policies and practices, to say that they are using 100% plastic free packaging is simply a convenient diversion. And the Government is at it too: labelling a bag as a single use plastic (SUP) bag and comparing to other bag materials is considered green washing since most consumers use SUP bags more than once.

We desperately need to stop point scoring, to stop throwing stones in glass houses, and get on with collaborating. We are all in this predicament together.

We need to think

  • More recyclable and more recycled content
  • Supply circle, not supply chain
  • How a single piece of primary packaging interacts with other pieces of secondary packaging (from another supplier). We need to devise a total strategy to reduce the total environmental impact associated with all products

Thankfully the conversation has moved one or two steps on, including carbon footprint considerations

Plastic in our oceans is the problem, not plastic, per se. Dead whale pictures understandably make good newspaper pictures. Some people rue the day plastic was invented.

However, the current and immediate issue is that it is carbon emissions that are killing the planet. Not packaging. As many speaker messages were to reiterate, plastic has never done anything wrong; it is our mismanagement of it that is the problem. As Kevin Vyse, of Rapid Action Packaging, was reported to have said on Day 1 at the Packaging Innovations show

“In finding different solutions to replace plastic, we are actually releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than ever before. The reason we are in such a mess is that we are reacting to opinion which is leading us down the wrong paths. We have to keep looking for new ways of thinking and challenging the ways we do things currently to make sure they are right.” British plastics

And this view is not just said by those with vested interest.  Vyse’s statement agrees with a report from Green Alliance  Green Alliance

Big brands, as reported in the press recently, are acutely aware that their brand credibility is on the line. Coca-Cola, is not going to shy away from using plastic bottles BBC News

Lifecycle analysis (LCA) was mentioned as being the science to adopt. It seems to be part of the solution, for sure. Whilst we need to undertake these pieces of work, the decisions to do so are largely commercial decisions. Companies with vested interest are not going to invest and then release news of any negative outcomes of their work. And how do we vouch for consistency in one LCA approach versus another?

A strongly articulated view of many speakers was that we are all too critical of anyone advancing their opinion. By driving people underground, or in saying nothing, does not advance our collective understanding. Again and again the arguments came back to collaboration, education, and to not fight each other.

Understandably few are agreed on what the right solution is.

We must live with differences of opinion.  That is what advances understanding.  But our science, our bias and our basis of opinion must be openly shared.

The Man from Garcon Wines (parodying Del Monte for a moment) has produced a flat PET bottle for wine. Besides using a recyclable material, the bottle shape lends itself to space-saving bulk packing.Good eco credentials surely?

packing bottles 25320

The Man from Garcon also reeled off some interesting facts to use at your next dinner party, such as

1. Currently, at 412 parts per million (ppm), our atmosphere contains the highest amount of carbon dioxide for 3 million years. At 450 ppm societies are reckoned to go into civil war.

2. We are less than 12 years from not being able to undo our climate change mistakes.

3. BlackRock, the investment company, has declared environment risk as an investment risk.

4. A recent YouGov poll shows that the environment is the public’s greatest concern.

5. In Sweden

a. they flight shame

b. there are calls for civil disobedience

c. the climate is now such that wine-making is a viable industry

6. French companies are buying land for wine production in southern England.

7. The glass bottle in wine production is the biggest contribution to carbon footprint (29%).

We also heard from Britvic, the soft drinks people. The Man from Britvic states that glass is perceived by consumers as being the greenest material. And plastic the least so.

The Man from Britvic also recognised that moving from plastic to glass can increase the carbon footprint. The Britvic corporate mission, when it comes to packaging, is ‘packaging never becomes waste’. Their strategies include

  1. Using drink concentrates to reduce size of packaging needed
  2. Moving from single use to endless use
  3. Using lightweighting, recycled content & plant content.

Plastics are a tough act to follow…

…but it can be done, according to Simon Balderson, from the Sirane Group, a company strong in materials science. He reminded the audience that plastics create shelf life: surely an environmental plus. As example, it takes fifteen days for fresh produce to travel from Turkey to Russia. The food would rot if not for plastic. And New Zealand transports food (e.g. lamb) to Japan. In return Japan ships cars back. Plastic makes trade happen.

As for all packaging materials, plastics have their strengths and their limitations. The proliferation in different plastics create complexities for recycling schemes. We learnt that at the molecular level plastic and paper are very similar. Using this feature, Sirane creates materials out of biocoating (using seaweed and other biomaterials) cellulose biofibres (essentially plant fibres). The resultant products are sealable, have plastic-like barrier properties, are compostable (within 4-8 weeks) and can be recycled.

Within the food & drink sector these materials are currently available as films, pouches and sandwich wedges. View the Sirane website for details and future innovations.

A motion debated: if we ban plastic packaging, we will fail to meet net-zero carbon targets.

This topic was hotly debated between 2 expert panels, acting for and against the motion.

The arguments for the motion included

1. If we want to ban plastic we need to do away with medicines and less food choice. We would need to offshore our emissions.

2. We are currently using littering to drive our decision making, when the real problem is that we have mismanaged our plastic.

3. The answer is to use metal packaging where metal is best; plastic where plastic is best; paper where paper is best. And so on.

4. More plastic, by weight, is now used in replacing ‘single use plastic bags’ with ‘bags for life’. This is one unintended consequence many of us have feared.

5. Such are the public’s thoughtless actions, we are now seeing metal water drinking bottles being thrown out in greater numbers than ever before. The bottles are not being used for their designed lifespan.

6. Plastic allows us to enjoy fresh food. Canned food does not.

7. It is an education issue. And it is happening in schools and through school children: compare what Greta is achieving versus Trump.

8. We would have suffered a 3 or 4 degrees rise in global temperature already if it were not for plastic.

9. We need to make informed, honest, brave choices as consumers. We need to reduce consumption of ‘stuff’ shipped from around the globe.

10. Let’s protect all the planet’s precious resources.

11. We can re-grow trees; we can't re-grow sand. Or metals.

12. We achieve 8.6% circularity of all materials across globe. This needs to be improved.

The arguments against the motion include

1. We can't recycle our way out of the problem.

2. Consumption is the big issue.

3. It takes 8 litres of water to make a 1 litre plastic bottle of water.

4. Reuse is the way of tackling the fact that a recycled product uses more energy.

5. We need to justify every use of every item.

6. To get to net zero, are products actually recycled in practice? Are they designed for recycling?

7. 80% of all metal produced is still in use.

8. Fridges or refrigerated trucks are not needed for canned foods. Heating food from chilled, rather than from ambient, costs the planet 15% more energy.

9. Plastic has been around for decades. Through focussed necessity, new technologies are bringing results in just a few years that will replace plastic.

10. Nurture the environment. Ban branding. Ban marketing. Reduce consumerism. We don't need a new bottle, in a ‘bag for life’, in a SUV!

11. Ocean health is critical: oceans absorb 40% of the entire world’s carbon. 

12. We need to de-fossilise and abandon ‘Pollution for Profit’.

I will leave you, the Reader, to decide who won the debate, who made the most persuasive argument, or which way you would have voted!

What is Aegg doing about all this?

We aim to continue to actively engage in widespread discussions, including with the UK government, which we started in early 2019. We are very active in R&D in new plastic materials and technologies for food and drink applications.

We continue to partner with our food and drink customers, finding the optimal glass and plastic packaging solutions to meet their specific take on what they consider to be best for all stakeholders concerned. In a world of imperfect information and much vested interest these decisions are not easy, and we strive to act with pragmatism and integrity.

At the time of writing we supply ranges of rigid plastic pots and bowls in PET, 30%rPET, PP and PS. We also supply ranges of jars, bottles and pots in glass. If you can’t find what you are looking for, please contact us