Packaging Waste Recovery Notes, or PRNs, are issued by accredited waste processors and can be purchased by producers through compliance schemes in the UK, of which there are around 50. The price of PRNs is driven by the trading market and only companies with a £2 million turnover generating more than 50 tonnes of packaging annually are mandated to comply.
Due to shrinking volumes of waste exports to China and increasingly stringent domestic regulation, PRN prices for plastic have recently skyrocketed. They peaked at £450 in July, and presently stand at £311, up from £75 a year ago. These prices could mean a potential crisis on the horizon, when there won’t be enough PRNs for compliance schemes and producers to meet their obligations.
The flaws of the system have already been extensively discussed by industry experts. Some say it doesn’t truly engage producers and turns compliance into a low-cost box-ticking exercise without incentivising businesses to develop eco-designs and use recyclable products. Others point out the paradox that lies at the heart of the PERN (Packaging Export Recovery Notes) system, namely, that they are issued once the waste is sent abroad, which does not cover what happens to the waste once it arrives at its destination, resulting in overstated national recycling rates. You can read more here.
The UK government’s draft Environment Bill, announced in the October Queen’s Speech, has yet to become law – partly because that government was dissolved to hold a general election soon after. Even so, the proposal has come in for some criticism, as prime minister Boris Johnson’s proposed Brexit withdrawal agreement contains no mention of environmental protections. Any such measures have been moved to the accompanying political declaration, which is not legally binding.
Although one of the main areas the bill deals with is waste reduction, many environmental experts feel it doesn’t go far enough. With the bill only creating powers for the government to introduce measures rather than mandating them, and the government giving itself until 2037 to meet any reduction targets, experts feel it lacks the sense of urgency the climate crisis calls for. The bill makes provisions for the new environmental watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), to enforce targets. But its lack of independence and accountability has raised concerns. “At the moment we have the European Commission judging whether we meet environmental targets, and they are clearly independent and can use a judicial route,” Environmental Audit Committee chair and Labour MP Mary Creagh told New Scientist. “We are very concerned the OEP will be funded by government and with a chair appointed by government.”
Many other questions remain too. When the bill mentions drink bottles, does that refer to bottles of all shapes and sizes? When it gives the government powers to make producers pay for cleaning up their waste, does it imply covering the full cost of it? The suspension of parliament before the elections and the uncertainties about the environmental commitment of any newly elected government further call into question the reinforcement of what many would call too little too late anyway.
With e-commerce generating sometimes as high as 50 per cent return rates, the growing popularity of returnable containers has recently pushed reverse logistics – the return and reuse of products and materials – to the forefront of retailers’ minds.
The all-important customer experience now extends beyond delivery and appealing branded packaging – today’s customers also factor in the ease of return into their purchasing decisions. The first, most obvious step towards enhancing return experiences is using reusable corrugated paper boxes, which open without damaging the packaging itself and have double-sided tape to enable resealing. Leading British corrugated packaging manufacturer GWP, however, upped its game when it launched its new returnable packaging system made of extruded twinwall corrugated polypropylene sheets called Correx. GWP claims its Correx boxes can provide up to 75 per cent cost savings when compared with single-use card boxes, and are easy to transport and clean. Read more here.
Meanwhile, US company Happy returns! is trying to liberate retailers from managing product returns altogether by offering them an online return-and-exchange service. Customers of retailers using Happy returns! can choose to return in-person via Happy Returns’ nationwide network of 300 Return Bar locations, through the retailer’s own stores, or by carrier. Happy returns! also launched a cardboard-free returns programme this summer, which reduces the amount of cardboard that would be required for return shipments by nearly 73 per cent in weight and 92 per cent in area. See here for more details.
The Packaging Federation is the trade association for the UK packaging manufacturing industry. It aims to provide a balanced picture of the role of packaging in society and lobby for a balanced debate on its environmental impact. In pursuing this, it has regular and vigorous dialogue with government, politicians, the media, supply chain partners and the wider public. Membership of the Packaging Federation is open to manufacturers from all sectors of the UK packaging manufacturing industry, packaging design companies, sector trade associations, recycling organisations, compliance schemes and other bodies associated with packaging. On the federation’s website you can find a list of packaging companies, as well as one including major trading associations in the packaging space. See here for more details on how to become a member.
by Zita Goldman, Business Reporter
Ditching the plastic straw isn’t going to save the planet. But has the change of consumer mindset finally set us on the right path?
Undoubtedly the war on plastic is one of the hottest topics today, and for a good reason. Sir David Attenborough has almost single-handedly brought awareness to the careless use of disposable plastics. This has led to a change in attitudes among consumers, spawning a movement of seeing plastic as the “enemy”, but is this a result of greenwashing propaganda?
Humans produced an estimated 320 million tonnes of plastic in 2017, according to Surfers Against Sewage, and the WWF says eight million tonnes of it is dumped into oceans every year. But is this just a fashionable issue, and are we making changes for the right reasons? We need more education on the alternatives, and to understand what their environmental impact is in comparison. So instead, is this our chance to stop plastic becoming waste in the first place? The packaging supply chain does recognise the problem and is working very hard to solve it, but how can they work together to focus on delivering solutions for the right reasons.
While single-use plastics such as straws are clearly an issue, almost 50 per cent of all plastic found in the oceans comes from discarded fishing nets. That’s not to say that switching to a paper straw isn’t helpful, but it’s essential to understand what the biggest driver of the plastic problem is.
Deposit return schemes and improving the consistency of recycling for households and businesses do show that change is coming. Waitrose recently extended its bring-your-own-container trial. The feedback from shoppers was overwhelmingly positive and sales had overtaken those of equivalent packaged products. Giving people the choice has given them back the power to make their own conscious decisions, ones not necessarily based on price.
Plastic packaging made from recycled plastic waste is a brilliant sustainable resource which is net positive for the environment, which is why at Staeger we only make packaging from waste that already exists.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet, said: “It is no longer acceptable to blame the public for plastic pollution. Brands and retailers simply need to offer their customers a better choice, a new way of shopping that is guilt-free.”
Combating packaging waste through a circular economy of reusing and recycling plastic must be a top priority for government and industry insiders. We’ve seen plastic use is top of the agenda at the moment and is currently a bigger consideration that carbon footprint, but is this a mistake, fueled by public demand?
It’s very encouraging that new laws are being passed to fight plastic litter. Unfortunately, while these laws may reduce the most visible form of plastic pollution, it could be at the expense of other environmental impacts. That’s because, somewhat ironically, disposable plastic bags require fewer resources (land, water, CO2 emissions, etc.) to produce than paper, cotton or reusable plastic bags—by a wide margin.
Brendan Cowey, Director of Staeger Clear Packaging, said: “Plastic is vastly more carbon efficient to produce than any alternatives. It is of paramount importance that we reduce waste of ALL packaging types and of the packaged products themselves. Plastic packaging made from recycled plastic waste is a brilliant sustainable resource which is net positive for the environment, which is why at Staeger we only make packaging from waste that already exists.”
At the last edition of our Packaging Innovations show in Birmingham 20% of visitors said they were looking for sustainable design but 32% said they were looking for bio-degradable plastics. Plastic can still be the material of choice, it’s about where it’s come from and what happens to it after use.
It’s an intricate and challenging problem that will require the whole supply chain, both for packaging and the products inside, to work together and focus on delivering solutions for the right reasons. As it’s become much more apparent that we are fighting a war on waste, not on plastic…
by Alessandra Leonard, Marketing Project Manager, Packaging Innovations, Easyfairs
To find out more and register to attend Packaging Innovations 2020 visit: packagingbirmingham.com.
Originally, plastic was the solution, not the problem. Alexander Parkes saved the lives of many generations of hawksbill turtles by inventing the world’s first plastic in 1866. Thanks to his man-made substitute for tortoiseshell, buttons, buckles and picture frames didn’t need to come at the cost of animal lives any more.
Fast forward to 2019, and you will see the shocking images of the same turtle species grazing on plastic that blocks the turtle’s digestive system and eventually kill it. But would we need these eye-opening images if we had done our maths properly along the way, or kept track of the 20 million plastic bags that had been produced by 1960 in the UK alone and the 350,000 tonnes of plastic packaging that we created annually by the 1970s?
Although a high number of today’s solutions such as deposit return schemes (DRSs) and packaging-free fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) shops feel like blasts from the pre-single-use-plastic past, cutting-edge technology will also have a role to play in managing the crisis.
Sustainability and producer responsibility have recently been pushed so forcefully to the forefront of public consciousness that no manufacturer can be oblivious any more to the end-of-life waste their products create.
Connective packaging has already proven its worth in a number of business contexts before. Its so-called “active strain” has been extensively used by the pharmaceutical industry to monitor and adjust temperature and moisture inside the packaging, with a view to avoiding any compromise to quality. RFID technology, a more sophisticated version of QR codes, originally developed for tracking and stock management, has improved inventory accuracy from 60 to almost 90 per cent. Advanced QR codes and RFID tags have helped squeeze fake items out of the market in the case of widely counterfeited products such as Maotai, China’s national drink, and olive oil.
But according to experts, the connective or smart packaging revolution is yet to come. The industry is estimated to be worth £37 billion by 2024. New use-cases in the area of customer engagement abound. Complemented with AR applications, connective packaging can enable drink bottles to interact with the customer both before and after being opened. More importantly, it can provide customers with product-related provenance, manufacturing and sustainability information, which they increasingly demand as they become more aware of social and environmental issues.
Last year Carrefour Spain launched a smart recycling programme in partnership with data management platform EVRYTHING, Recycl3R, a digital PR service promoting green branding, as well as major CPG brands. By scanning the barcode on their receipts, their customers can import the products they bought into the Recycl3R app, which, in turn, assigns them to the appropriate virtual recycling bins. The app will also tell the customer where to recycle different parts of each packaging based on local waste selection schemes.
Today EVRYTHING has created and manages more than 500 million digital product identities, and its aim is to manage all product identities worldwide. Its solution enables both QR codes and NFC tags. As QR codes are printed on packaging, they don’t impact recyclability, whereas NFC tags consist of a chip and an antenna. Unlike QR codes, however, they support information exchange, and they are faster and more flexible as they can be overwritten with new information. Overall, NFC tags would be a much more appealing proposition than QR codes, especially for marketers, were it not for their environmental impact.
Sustainability and producer responsibility have recently been pushed so forcefully to the forefront of public consciousness that no manufacturer can be oblivious any more to the end-of-life waste their products create. And indeed, companies such as Thinfilm and GoToTags are trying to replace the most problematic components of the NFC tag with materials that lend themselves more readily to recycling. The PET currently used for the antenna and the NFC chip is being replaced with a paper-based substrate. Thinfilm avoids using silicone in its tags and has instead invested in a new method of printing on recyclable strips of thin steel, which are the thickness of human hair. However, if you consider that only one of the major CPG brands produces as many as 108 billion bottles a year, that is still a lot of metal.
Aware of the scale of the problem, Coca-Cola, one of the big brands participating in Carrefour’s programme, has recently proposed a challenge to take the idea of smart-packaging-assisted recycling to the next level and “irresistibly engage all consumers”. Suggested solutions should be commercially viable, sustainable, recyclable and integrate seamlessly into existing DRS systems. They should also draw in recyclers weary of apps and round-the-clock smartphone use, which can mean that both QR-codes (on account of reader apps on smart phones) and NFC (on account of smart phone readers and recyclability issues) are non-eligible.
Are we witnessing a technological breakthrough? Pitches are to be made at the AIPA (Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association) Congress in Amsterdam on 18-19 November with the winner – hopefully – coming up with a solution that doesn’t generate future sustainability problems. Watch this space.
by Zita Goldman, Business Reporter
Commercial packaging has been in use for centuries, seen as not just an essential way to ensure that food products are fit for consumption, but also by marketers as a means to make products truly iconic. Coca-Cola isn’t perceived by millions as being a brown, sugary liquid – it’s a cold glass bottle with beads of moisture running down the side, instantly driving cravings. The same is true for Toblerone, Heinz ketchup, Doritos… the list of memorable brand packaging goes on.
But the added value of even a great design is no longer enough. In late 2017, the BBC aired its long-awaited sequel to the original Blue Planet documentary, and in doing so laid bare the vast scale of the impact discarded packaging is having on the world. Alongside growing public awareness, this galvanised the marketing sector to see eco-packaging as an opportunity and to look beyond packaging to supply chains and the sourcing of materials. Almost 20 months later, a long, diverse list of organisations have modernised their packaging by reducing the use of plastic and other potentially damaging materials. This list includes Aldi, Burberry, Costa, Dell, Evian, Carlsberg, Coca-Cola, Iceland, Morrisons, Nestlé, IKEA, Lidl, McDonald’s, Tottenham Hotspur, Volvo and Walmart just for starters. Asda alone reported that it had saved 6,500 tonnes of plastic last year by changing or removing packaging from some of its own-brand products.
Packaging is, for many retailers, the new battleground of the high street. Concern among shoppers regarding the use of plastics has left many retailers to race towards plastic-free aisles, requiring whole supply chains to rethink their offerings. It’s no longer good enough for brands to focus on what a product will look like among its competitors on a crowded supermarket shelf. Marketers need to ask questions such as: how robust is the packaging? How easy is it to store in the refrigerator/cupboard and will the brand still be visible? Is it easy to open and use? How easy is it to recycle? Brands that ignore any element of this can put themselves at a major disadvantage with savvy high-street consumers.
Choice is changing too. Challenger brands who can move quicker than their more established rivals are leapfrogging onto supermarket shelves using environmental packaging credentials. Innovation and creativity are driving success at a number of levels, from the ability to standout on shelves, to new storage and opening techniques – every interaction a consumer has with packaging, is now an opportunity for a brand to build a relationship.
That requirement to understand the needs of consumers and have consumers relate to brands has fuelled innovative marketing campaigns. Brands have increasingly highlighted aspects such as innovative packaging, ethical supply chains, recyclable materials, and the rise of eco-impassioned spokespeople. Last year, the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), the Consumer Goods Forum, and global change agency Futerra conducted research to address consumer demand for more transparency in packaging and products sold around the world.
The result, The Honest Product Guide, revealed that global consumers are hungry for more transparency in the production of products. 70 per cent of respondents stated that they were more interested in the make-up of the products they buy than the actual companies that made them. Such was the interest that a growing number of consumers now expect packaging to state information such as which materials are used – looking at their impact on society and the environment – as well as product labels supplying details of the supply chain.
In the eyes of marketers, packaging has a pivotal role in addressing a range of consumer requirements. It provides a key communications role portraying brand values through design and imagery. Now marketing teams at food companies are going further by responding to consumer expectations around wider factors such as food waste, by using packaging to extend shelf lives significantly.
As packaging becomes more important as a communication channel, marketing departments will face new challenges. For example, the desire to meet consumer demand to show off green credentials or support of a cause must be balanced with a brand’s identity, or the very thing that attracted the consumer to the brand in the first place could be lost.
How key messages are displayed is also critical. The Daily Telegraph reported that shoppers must now interpret 58 symbols for recycling alone, leading to widespread confusion about what can and cannot be put into kerbside collections.
While it might take a bit more time to refine aspects like recycling information, when brands do get it right the benefits are huge. One good example is Lush, which sells natural, handmade beauty products. The company aims to source the best, safest and most beautiful ingredients, never to test on animals, and champions reduced packaging. Lauded in the press for its approach, in 2018, Lush posted record pre-tax profits of £73.5 million, up from £43.2 million in the previous year.
There’s no doubt that when it comes to packaging the marketing industry is at a crossroads. Marketers face an exciting opportunity, and if teams can leverage engineers and R&D to develop great designs and drive awareness while meeting changing consumer needs, success should follow. Those that can combine these factors as successfully as Lush should not only profit but drive an even closer relationship with their consumers.
by James Delves, Head of External Engagement, Marketing, CIM
Consumer awareness and concern about mounting waste and its detrimental impact on the planet has never been higher. But with education comes action, and the global rejection of plastic on both consumer and corporate levels has enabled innovation to find an alternative to plastic that’s performs the same functions but is less environmentally damaging.
As is often the way with complex problems, the solutions have been around, albeit relatively unnoticed, for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence on the British Isles found that the inhabitants of prehistoric Scotland used compost to enrich soil with nutrients as far back as 12,000 years ago. Composting has today developed on an industrial scale, with the UK hosting 53 compost plants and 170 anaerobic digester plants that can treat over five million tonnes of green and food waste annually. But what if we could compost the packaging that contains our food in the same manner?
According to a recent study published by the WEF, the world has produced an estimated 8.3 billon megatons of plastic since 1950, a very small amount of which has been successfully recycled. Flexible packaging made from plastic films – for example, those used for snacks, granola bars and meat – often contain several raw materials that makes them impossible to recycle. Today, only 9 per cent of all manufactured plastic actually gets recycled, with the majority incinerated, sent to a landfill or dumped into natural environments. It is also important to highlight that recycling is not an endless process – recyclable packaging can be recycled only once or twice, which means recycling only delays eventual disposal or incineration. When a mere percentage of plastic is recycled, virgin plastics are still required to create new products with the recycled material.
A rethink of epic proportions has begun in the face of this depressing picture, with manufacturers and retailers alike desperately seeking plastic alternatives. Failing to respond to this primary consumer demand could spell a loss of customers on a grand scale – the issue has become that important in influencing buying decisions.
There have been a number of attempts to eradicate plastic, but alternative solutions have proved relatively problematic. Earlier this year, Iceland trialled packaging bananas in paper bags, which failed due to the packaging leading to a 20 per cent shrinkage in the size of the fruit, faster decomposition, and other complications. Generally, non-plastic packaging cannot compete with plastic when it comes to protecting food from damage during its journey from farm to aisle and aisle to home. Plastic also offers manufacturers unrivalled flexibility when printing, cutting and assembling packaging for products where a significant shelf-life is necessary.
In circumstances where glass, paper or aluminium are not a viable packaging alternative, what then is the answer? Compostable packaging is gaining momentum as a solution to this conundrum.
Modern compostable packaging is made up of polymers that can be bio-based and/or fossil-fuel based to varying degrees. This is the basis of our innovation at TIPA. We have created packaging solutions based on our innovative films that safely compost in 180 days in home or industrial composters – just like an orange peel. The result is new packaging solutions with a healthy end-of-life cycle made from viable materials that, when returned to the earth, will not damage ecosystems, but benefit them. TIPA is already providing worldwide solutions for the food and fashion industries aligned to this vision.
There is currently confusion among consumers about compostable packaging. For clarity, compostable products break down into organic materials in a home or community compost heap or industrial composter via a food waste collection bin.
Complementary to DEFRA’s plans to create an organic waste collection system across the UK, there is an opportunity to develop a biowaste definition that will include compostable packaging. This will allow for an effective collection system and processing of the packaging together with the organic waste. It will also help to capture more organic material and ensure a cleaner biowaste stream away from conventional plastic packaging contaminants.
With the right infrastructure, either at home or via industrial recycling, compostable materials have the potential to replace the recyclable and non-recycled conventional flexible plastic while possessing the same benefits. By transforming waste into compost, as those ancient Scots did 12,000 years ago, we can make a real difference in reducing the amount of plastic packaging lingering in landfills and improve the capture and value derived from organic waste.
By Daphna Nissenbaum, CEO and Co-Founder, TIPA
TerraCycle’s refillable bottles are causing a stir in packaging and retail spaces – they’ll be hitting shelves early next year, when Tesco launches them for its online customers. Tesco is also participating in TerraCycle’s Loop service, which enables customers to return containers for grocery items that are then either refilled and reused, or recycled. TerraCycle unveiled the shopping and recycling platform it created with founding retail partner Kroger Co back in January.
The company has developed the Loop concept in co-operation with big brands such as Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, The Body Shop and Coca-Cola. The system enables consumers to responsibly consume products in specially-designed durable, reusable packaging made from alloys, glass and engineered plastics. Having paid a deposit for reusable containers, customers can order their products in the Loop store or on the websites of partnering retailers. When a customer returns empty packaging in a branded Loop tote through a courier, it will be cleaned by TerraCycle and refilled by retailers, or in some cases recycled through groundbreaking technology.
Loop’s other partners in the UK will be logistics firm UPS and resource management firm Suez.
Caroline Frery, VP of Business Development at TerraCycle, who heads its global business development team across 21 markets, gave a talk at the Packaging Innovations event in London. To read what she talked about, click here.
Vesta Smart Packaging is taking the idea of reusable packaging to the digital level. Its solution allows consumer goods companies to migrate to a refillable smart package that lives permanently in the home. Vesta’s smart containers know when they’re running low, and re-order their contents automatically, to save you another trip to the shop or buying more packaging, which can damage the environment. For merchants and manufacturers Vesta offers another opportunity to engage with customers and improve customer loyalty. If Vesta’s reusable smart packaging solution gains traction, it could herald the arrival of a new generation of IoT networks where household machines communicate and make decisions between themselves.
To find out more about the ideas that Tom Mowat, CEO and Founder took away from Smart Packaging Conference 2019 click here https://www.vestapack.com/blog/
In order to tackle the food waste crisis, UK startup Mimica is providing smart packaging solutions for the food and beverage industry by using a smart label which is calibrated specifically for each food product and gives a tactile response – smooth when fresh, and bumpy when the food is no longer safe for consumption. The label consists of a gelatin-based expiry indicator which deteriorates at the same rate as the packaged product, providing consumers with an accurate indication as to whether food is edible, or ready for the bin.
Lucy Hughes, from the University of Sussex, has won the 2019 UK Dyson Award for her bioplastic made from fish waste and agar. The innovation, branded as Marina Tex, looks like clear plastic but biodegrades in about a month if properly composted.
The positive environmental impact of the bioplastic is twofold. It turns widely available fish waste into a resource, and also has the potential to replace some of the single-use plastics currently causing huge ecological problems.
To hear Lucy talk about her inspiration and the material she invented, click here.