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 undoubted 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 we have considered the prime requirement of food packaging was to protect the pack contents to ensure they were preserved and presented in pristine conditions and we chose the best and most economical materials to ensure that 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, should these alternative materials be widely adopted, must conclude 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 would 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 has 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.
It includes details of how we can, with judicious use of new film technology, reduce our use of plastic packaging without resorting to packaging which is environmentally inferior to plastic.
Crucially the Academy presentation also highlights the latest developments in plastic recycling particularly converting waste mixed plastics back into oil for reuse, a 100% application of the Circular Economy. All we need now is local authorities to collect the waste plastic.
Published by Barry Twigg at National Flexible