Anti-plastic paranoia is sparking alarming behaviour that could prove even more damaging to our planet, writes Barry Twigg
The pace of change in the food packaging industry is truly remarkable. Whilst we may have our own views on the content of Blue Planet II and its tenuous relevance to the UK, it has undoubtedly driven a change in thinking on a truly awesome scale.
This change was particularly evident at the recent Packaging Innovations exhibition at the NEC. The scale and versatility of our industry was there for all to see. However, a myriad of exhibitors promoted their products on environmental criteria. Buzz words were ecological, sustainable, recyclable, biodegradable, compostable, life cycle assessments, CO2 emissions, Circular Economy, whilst Closed Loop, recycling and carbon footprints were freely discussed with virtually everyone wanting to make their contribution to ‘saving the environment’.
This made me wonder, what has happened to our sense of perspective? In the past, the prime requirement of food packaging was to protect the pack contents to ensure they were preserved and presented in pristine conditions. In keeping with that, we chose the best and most economical materials to ensure this happened. Now we have examples of Asda using glass for bottles, Morrisons bringing back paper bags, Waitrose using compostables for bananas and the Co-op using similar materials to replace plastic bags.
These are all highly reputable companies responding to the current public preoccupation with the current anti-plastic paranoia. However, anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the adverse effect of the environment must conclude that, should these alternative materials be widely adopted, this is simply the wrong way to go. In effect, we are moving back to heavyweight materials for packaging which drain the environment of precious natural resources and add to Global Warming.
For example, universal adoption of these alternative materials would mean that we’d need tens of thousands of acres to grow the base materials for compostable and biodegradable films. In addition we would use millions of gallons of extra water to facilitate their growth and the additional CO2 emissions generated in their manufacture, transport and disposal would simply add to global warming.
The Institute of Chemical Sciences has recently produced a paper which concluded that replacing current plastic packaging applications with the current alternative materials available would result in a doubling of energy consumption allied to a tripling of greenhouse gas emissions.
It is for these reasons the National Flexible stand at the NEC focused solely on ‘the Future of Flexible Packaging’ courtesy of the ‘Academy’. This is a 2-2½ hour presentation of the facts regarding plastic packaging and how best to respond to the current demand for change.
We are moving back to heavyweight materials for packaging which drain the environment of precious natural resources
The presentation considers, in detail, the options currently available to reduce the use of plastic in food packaging and those materials currently in the process of development which will further alleviate the problems not only of mixed polymers and recycling, but also the ‘Closed Loop’ recovery process that should satisfy the current critics of plastic in packaging.
This presentation has been delivered to over 40 of the UKs leading food manufacturers with over 400 delegates taking part. It will undoubtedly be of interest to any major food manufacturer or retailer who wishes to develop a medium to long term food packaging strategy which is environmentally and economically viable.
The ‘Academy’ is presented at the participating company’s site – and you do not need to be a customer to participate. This is not a National Flexible sales pitch, our aim is simply to build a consensus for a way forward which is practically environmentally equitable.
As ever we would welcome your views on any of the items raised and why not join me on LinkedIn for regular updates.