Closed loop recycling is the “holy grail” of sustainable packaging, according to Andrew Streeter, packaging innovation director at market analyst Datamonitor.
Commenting on sustainable packaging trends, Streeter told FoodProductionDaily.com, when comparing the environmental impact of different approaches “I subscribe to the holy grail being recycling”.
“We make a material for packaging and when it is finished it needs another life, in fact a material is loaned to make the packaging en route to doing something else. We should regard waste packaging as a valuable resource, not waste; if we can make that leap then our packaging world can move a lot more potently towards sustainable objectives.
“If we had that closed loop with the consumer, plus recycling science in place, and some evolution on the material front we face a game changer with packaging.”
Coca-Cola’s plant bottle
Coca-Cola had adopted this strategy with its plant bottle, he said. Using the science of a bio-based polymer, the beverage giant was upping the bottle’s recycled content, employing purpose-built recycling facilities in this process.
“Their plan is to introduce their bio based feedstock into the mix whilst reducing finite polymer content to eventually reach a recycled bottle scenario without resort to oil based materials.”
In addition, aluminium, glass and steel could be recycled continuously without breaking down their molecular chains and high performance plastics could be 100% recycled for certain applications, Streeter told this site. And paper and board could extend its usage applications, he said.
Ultimately, the environmental impact of carbon emissions and water use inherent in recycling “appears less than the constant production of new feedstock from finite or renewable sources”, he concluded.
Consumers obviously had a powerful role to play in making the recycling process work effectively, said Streeter, and they needed more education about what sustainable packaging actually involved.
Certain packaging types, such as combination packaging, did not help consumers grasp and play their part in the sustainability message, he said.
“Consumers can see and identify overt renewable packaging, but I suspect do not value the atmospheric and other protection properties that packaging provides.
“So, by way of example, a pack made for liquids made of recycled board (like egg boxes) on the outside, with inside a PE (polyethylene) pouch to contain the product and a PP (polypropylene) closure to dispense it, may well be perceived as wonderful and sustainable.
‘What is not judged’
“But what is not judged are the three different manufacturing plants making the three components, three lots of carbon release, consumption of water and, oft overlooked, supply movements.”
He believed neither that consumers would break down such packaging and recycle each part separately nor that municipal waste streams were in place to handle such recycling. “So I see these types of packaging moves as unhelpful, unless they have an educational role for the consumer and that role is transitory.”
Bio-based packaging’s ‘sustainability’ in terms of renewable sourcing had to be balanced against its impact on the environment in terms of deforestation and land use, said Streeter.
“A big issue with sustainability is bio-sourced plastics and the use of land, some would say the trashing of land, deforestation and destruction to grow crops to make into plastics. To a lesser degree there is a similar argument with production of cellulose but there you have reforestation, albeit in a less attractive and maybe less bio-diverse way than nature.”
- Look out for FoodProductionDaily.com's Sustainable Packaging Special Newsletter, which will be published tomorrow, for more insight from Datamonitor, packaging suppliers, food manufacturers and researchers on the topic.