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Co-operation key to achieving sustainability – expert

By Joe Whitworth , 18-Jul-2012
Last updated the 18-Jul-2012 at 12:57 GMT

Companies must work together to push the sustainability message, according to Sealed Air’s vice president of sustainability, Dr Ronald Cotterman.

Dr Cotterman, presented at the second World Packaging Forum earlier this month speaking on behalf of Sealed Air and AMERIPEN, an organisation the packaging company jointly founded. 

The forum was organized by the China Packaging Federation and focused on the sustainable development of the Chinese packaging industry. 

Sustainability co-operation  

Speaking to FoodProductionDaily.com, Dr Cotterman said sustainability needed industry co-operation and identified there was still work to do be done around life cycle analysis (LCA). 

Asked why collaboration between companies and industry organisations is so important, Cotterman said: “That can be answered in two parts, one is the need for common standards that are consistent and clear, so there is a level playing field and it avoids any confusion and groups can effectively work together taking the same positions.

“The second is the scale of the challenge and the work that is involved. It is broader than just one company as it is about the whole supply chain and the value of packaging. 

“We need to help raise standards on a global basis, the impact of the population still increasing means there are still opportunities to prevent and reduce food waste.” 

In response to the claim sustainability was becoming overused, he said: “There are plenty of examples of claims that are trivial, mostly around so-called green claims, to do with environmental attributes and this can lead to consumer confusion or distrust. 

“We are mindful of this and it’s why we have SmartLife [Sealed Air’s sustainable packaging approach] to help customers and the value chain, understand the packaging decisions made throughout the lifecycle of sustainability.

“Companies are looking for a level playing field with no material bias.”

Fine balance

Cotterman said the balance between sustainable and protective packaging was a fine one. 

“It depends on the product use, how it is distributed and the content. It needs to be the right packaging to meet the requirements of the product. 

“We know the right amount of protection is critical, if you go too far you end up over packaging but if you don’t go far enough, the protection may be too little.” 

He added there has been an industry shift from the green packaging to sustainable improvement.

“I think people appreciate why you need packaging in the first place, for things like stopping cross contamination.

“There has been a switch from improving one piece of the packaging chain to improving the overall sustainability with regulatory standards.

“There is a more holistic approach and the packaging role is appreciated more in providing safe, effective food products that acknowledge consumer awareness and access to the methods of reducing waste.”

Cotterman said China is improving in considering the role packaging plays in the chain.   

When I was there, I spoke to a few people and wandered around the supermarkets and I noticed there is a clear difference between China, compared to the US and EU.

“There are huge opportunities to make enhancements in efficiency and distribution to increase the life of products and cut down waste.

“China has a huge impact in the food industry and there is room for packaging technology to improve standards, but I know food safety is an area they are increasingly looking at.”