US packaging body Ameripen plans to hammer out a raft of policy initiatives this year in a bid to establish itself as a leading voice on packaging and the environment, new president Gail Tavill told FoodProductionDaily.com in an exclusive interview.
Tavill, who is also vice president of sustainable development at ConAgra Foods, said findings of research into key issues on extended producer responsibility (EPR), increasing public understanding of the value of packaging and material recovery would be laid out to its members by the summer.
In a wide-ranging interview Tavill also explained why she believed the US federal government was unlikely to get involved with driving key packaging policy initiatives and moved to scotch rumours that there was competitive tension between Ameripen and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC).
Upswing in packaging legislation
Ameripen - The American Institute for Packaging and the Environment - was formed in March 2011 by leading brand owners and packaging converters following the success of organisations such as Europen in Europe.
Founding members included The Coca-Cola Company, DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers, Kellogg Company, MeadWestvaco, Sealed Air, Tetra Pak as well as Tavill’s own company.
She added: “Historically, there had been less legislation on packaging in the US than in Europe and therefore less concern by industry here to influence legislative affairs.”
But as that has changed over time, so had the level of industry concern.
“In recent years there has been an upswing in packaging regulation from federal and state bodies relating to whole range of issues from material recovery to chemical contained in packaging,” said Tavill. “This had many in the industry thinking about how we could contribute to the debate for the benefit of the packaging industry.”
Extended Producer responsibility
The body highlighted developing a stance on EPR as one of its main priorities has already commissioned two research institutes to analyse different models across the world.
EPR is a policy approach that uses financial incentives to encourage manufacturers to design environmentally-friendly products by making them responsible for managing the product’s end of life costs.
“We found that in every instance other EPR analysis appeared to come from a particular point of view,” said Tavill explaining Ameripen’s approach. “What we wanted to do was represent the entire packaging value chain – not just one sector – in order to be as neutral as possible. We aim to have an EPR position to present to our members that we can endorse in the context of the US situation.”
Much of the responsibility for packaging related regulations is dealt with on a state-by state basis and Tavill said this could clearly pose great difficulties for many of the body’s members who have operations across the US.
“If we have 50 states doing 50 different things, that will be very challenging for industry. Harmonisation is key,” she added.
Additional costs associated with EPR schemes were a concern, with industry unwilling to be obliged to pay to make up for flawed state systems.
“As for-profit entities we want to make sure we are putting money into the most efficient structures,” said the Ameripen president. “Right now there is a lot of work that needs to be done to improve the infrastructure systems.”
Another large project on their radar was to develop a way to communicate the important role packaging plays in the food chain and the economy.
“One of the most important things is to establish a positive message around what packaging contributes – in terms of improving food safety, reducing waste and ensuring convenience,” she said. “As an industry we have always been apologising for packaging by saying we want to reduce this and cut that. But we also need to say what it does for the economy in terms of growth in employment, capitalization and technology.”
Working in conjunction with the US Department of Commerce, Ameripen said it was aiming to produce an assessment for the first time on the totality of the industry’s contribution. This was scheduled for the end of March for presentation at June’s annual meeting.
Rumours that Ameripen and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) felt in competition with each other were false, said Tavill.
“The SPC has a very important role to play and there is no reason why the two bodies cannot co-exist and indeed reinforce each other’s work,” she added.