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Reducing non-recyclable packaging in the food and beverage industry

Plastic is a hot topic at the minute, due in part to David Attenborough’s Blue Planet documentary series that highlighted the impact the world’s plastic use is having on the planet. 8 million tonnes of plastic waste are estimated to enter oceans each year.

Reports suggest that the UK uses just over 3 million tonnes of plastic packaging every single year. That works out at around 50kg per person. Not only is that above the EU average, but under half of that packaging was collected for recycling, with the rest going to a landfill.

The television series sparked a wave of concern among consumers about commercial and industrial use of non-recyclable packaging.

So much so that the UK Government recently revealed a 25 Year Environment Plan which includes goals such as ‘zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042’ and ‘significantly reducing and preventing marine plastic pollution.’

Additionally, the last autumn budget placed responsibility on the packaging producer with the introduction of a tax intended to reduce the environmental consequences of plastic.

The tax will apply to importers and producers of plastic packaging and is expected to be introduced in April 2022. The exact details of the tax have not been announced only that plastic packaging that has at least 30% recycled plastic content will be exempt from the tax.

What can food and beverage companies do in light of this?

The food and beverage sector can consult with government and regulatory bodies on new policies relating to packaging. It will also be necessary to review processes and supply chains to address the use of non-recyclable packaging within the sector.

Sustainability was high on the agenda at Packaging Innovations 2018 in Birmingham where over 100 new packaging products were launched. So companies have more options to consider when looking to become more eco-friendly.

Companies should keep in mind that when it comes to sustainable packaging, there is no one size fits all approach. However, a checklist has been made by the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) and the Industry Council for research on Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) to help companies change their packaging systems to improve sustainability. It’s titled: ‘Packaging for people, planet and profit – a sustainability checklist.’

Whilst this may cause some disruption to companies, once they’re over the initial hurdle it will be beneficial in the long term. The big supermarkets, including Iceland and Waitrose, are all committed to reducing non-recyclable packaging with Tesco pledging to ban it completely by the end of 2019 and Morrisons recently announcing the introduction of paper carrier bags. So it’s important for the food and beverage industry to address this.

Adopting a sooner rather than later approach is ideal. Any changes or updates in regulations require swift responses from those in the food and beverage sector. Companies will need to ensure they stay up to date and show regulators their compliance. This could mean changes to strategies, processes and even layouts of manufacturing plants – often with a very quick turnaround.

A recent great example of a company tackling plastic waste is Nestle, who have announced they will be using recyclable paper packaging for their Yes! bars after developing a new process of wrapping quickly with paper.

What do you think about the use of plastics in food and beverage packaging? Join the discussion and let us know over on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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