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  • Writer's pictureMeyrick Consulting

It's time to stop thinking of packaging as rubbish

Will this be the solution to cutting food waste packaging further?

Having spent weeks at home many of us have naturally reviewed how we live life. Many have audited expenditure and not only what we buy but how and when we buy it. With online shopping surging by 129% across UK and Europe then packaging has to be uppermost in the collective consciousness. Can we cut down waste full stop? Should we stop calling packaging ‘waste’? Should we really start to see packaging as a precious resource that requires repurposing? Indeed, can we recycle more of what we buy and also, does packaging need to be quite so complex?

Is this really acceptable?

Who can afford to ignore sustainability in their marketing?

Take cheesemongers, for example, they have been forced to close shops during the lockdown. Many have been developing innovative ways to sell remotely. This is great news and might well be a very sound business opportunity. Yet, how they choose to package their cheese has never been more important. If they can develop sustainable ways that would be yet another reason to buy from them. Sustainability is a USP and many companies are seriously working it into their philosophy.

Does unsustainable plastic wrapping put you off?

But those who buy supermarket cheese will have seen the rising trend in flexible plastic cheese packaging, you know the type that has a re-usable, ziplok capacity. They are great at keeping cheese fresh, but ultimately, are they good for the environment? Right now, these very handy packs are destined for landfill. I’m guessing that a huge number of people will consider this a reason not to buy.

It’s time to explore packaging

Well, it looks like their ‘bad ass’ reputation is going to be challenged by a new initiative that hopes to push this flexible plastic packaging through recycle centres. We all know that recycling is quite a headache and much of what we recycle needs to be sorted, often by hand. It is complex, often unhygienic, time consuming and labour intensive. Isn’t it time we went right back to the beginning regarding what we use to protect our food and our attitude towards packaging per se?

It’s good to see manufacturers teaming up with recycling companies

Cathedral City cheese, owned by Saputo Dairy has taken the initiative to do something under the current procedures and has teamed up with the recycling giant, Terracycle. This is an interesting development because currently the packaging used in these wrappings are not currently taken by local government pick-ups. To prevent them from ending up at landfill, the public can now drop them off at a location or sign up to the Terracycle website. This will enable the consumer to have access to downloadable free postage labels. These will then be collected by UPS and delivered onto Terracycle.

Surely there are even more innovative solutions?

Like Walkers' attitude to consumers posting back un-recyclable crisp packets, this is quite a clunky response to a conundrum. People are not keen on having to hang onto recycling to make a consignment return worthwhile. Who has the space or inclination to fill their house with aromatically challenging rubbish? But under the circumstances it is slightly better than doing nothing about the growing mountains of plastic waste.

The question people are asking is if Terracycle can recycle then why can’t others?

What may not be clear is that Terracyle has the capacity to separate the different polymers that make up the typical cheese packaging. It is a significant process and in addition, food waste has to be cleaned from the plastic to enable it to be re-used. Once this process has been completed the material is then extruded and shaped into pellets. These small plastic pellets are then used to form different items like gardening equipment, outdoor seating, play equipment etc.

Current initiatives are laudable, but the food industry has to tackle the recycling problem at source

Not many consumers are going to collect a minimum of 10 empty cheese packets before having them collected. However, at least the service is free and is being funded by the industry itself. This is a start and is in direct response to growing consumer awareness of environmental issues. My belief is that a change of approach is overdue. We should not see wrappings as waste; they are an important resource and should be treated with respect. That change would make a difference. However, sustainable, reusable and easily recycled basic packaging has to be the future. Ultimately, changing shopping habits may well make a profound difference. Companies are quickly cottoning on to the fact that sustainable may well make a difference on a purchase decision, as we know, money talks. Does packaging affect your purchase decisions? Should it?


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