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Hurdles to reducing packaging waste

By Rod Addy , 11-Oct-2012

The food industry must address fundamental issues behind reducing packaging’s environmental impact, according to Benjamin Punchard, senior global packaging analyst for Mintel.

These included consumers’ unwillingness to pay more for eco-friendly packs.

“Our research suggests consumers have got a bit of environmental fatigue,” Punchard told FoodProductionDaily.com. “How much they are spending matters more maybe than whether a pack is green or not.”

Lack of adequate and consistent recycling systems was another hurdle that still needed to be overcome, he said, with some local authorities operating one system and others another.

Lack of clarity

Confusing on-pack information was another challenge to lessening the environmental impact of packaging, said Punchard, with a lack of clarity over the recycling process and what could be recycled.

The rise of biodegradable packaging alternatives also presented problems, he said. “There’s a great message problem as consumers don’t have access to anywhere they can compost or biodegrade products.”

Shoppers mistakenly believed bioplastics contributed to eliminating landfill waste, but the reality was different, said Punchard. “It will often go to landfill and last as long as most conventional plastics.

“Consumers will throw a crisp packet on the floor and think it’s compostable and will disappear and it doesn’t.”

Full recyclability

Some materials were still presenting problems in terms of full recyclability, he said. Glass is one such example.

“When you are making glass from raw materials and you include recycled glass you have a mixture, so it ends up being used as aggregate in buildings. You are devaluing a [waste] stream that could have a higher value. That’s increasingly going to be a problem.”

The grocery industry is increasingly focusing on recycled packaging for eco-friendly packaging launches, said Punchard.

Eco-friendly launches

Punchard revealed that in the year to date, eco-friendly food and beverage packaging launches represented 10% of all new products in Europe.

In this regard, the UK was significantly ahead of the curve, with 29% of all new packaging launches being some form of eco-friendly packaging, he said.

“When you look at claims on pack, there has been a definite increase [in environmentally friendly packaging launches]. That has been consistent throughout the recessionary period.”

However, eco-friendly claims on packs were getting “less interesting” he said. “The focus is more on recyclability.” This was happening alongside the development of more uniform recyclability logos, which was making recycling less confusing for consumers, he added.

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