Good things come in innovative packaging

SCI’s new Science and Enterprise Group opened its programme of events on the evening of Thursday, 14 May 2009, with a workshop on Innovation in Packaging. The event brought together packaging specialists and experts from SCI’s Technical Interest Groups to discuss responses to issues impacting the future of packaging. Good packaging means safe and effective product delivery, as well as enhancing consumer appeal.

However, today and in the future, this is not enough. Customers want to, and are increasingly obliged to, ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ – the ‘3Rs’. In response, retailers and producers seek more sustainable packaging solutions, which comply with regulations targeting reduced waste, landfill and carbon emissions. Packaging is also intrinsic to efficient distribution and, in some cases, product application.

The Group asked three leaders in the field to outline some of the challenges and opportunities currently engaging those who want to bring forward innovative packaging solutions. Dr Mark Caul from Marks and Spencer gave a retailer’s perspective. Mark is responsible for packaging brand standards, such as quality, innovation and value. He is particularly involved in delivering an environmental strategy under ‘Plan A’. This is Marks and Spencer’s approach to ‘working with customers and suppliers to combat climate change, reduce waste, safeguard natural resources, trade ethically and build a healthier nation… we believe it’s now the only way to do business… There is no Plan B’. Mark focused on three major issues: safety, including food safety issues, like bisphenol A and chemicals of concern to the Food Standards Agency; environment, including recycling and composting; and innovation.

Hannah Hislop, policy officer for Green Alliance, discussed regulatory and end-of-life issues. Hannah manages Green Alliance’s waste and resources work, which includes researching options for policy and fiscal incentives for recycling. Green Alliance has worked on environmental policy at senior level with government, parliament, business and other NGOs since 1979. Recently, Green Alliance and the Institute for Public Policy Research published A Zero Waste UK. Waste is a big problem in the UK – 300 million tonnes have to be tackled every year. One solution suggested is to tax environmentally damaging or hard-to-recycle products, to shift behaviour towards better alternatives. This could include a levy on composite materials, such as hard-to-recycle, multi-layered, beverage cartons (four billion such cartons are consumed annually in the UK). Made of layers of cardboard, plastic and sometimes metal foil, they are highly functional, but are difficult to collect and recycle – less than 10 per cent are recycled in the UK at present. The levy could also apply to plastic packaging, of which only two types of plastic are routinely recycled in the UK. The money from a levy could be used to fund collection and recycling, or the charge could be levied in such a way as to encourage consumers to choose products with the best overall environmental performance.

John Williams of the National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC) talked about the potential for renewable materials. NNFCC’s remit covers plant-derived materials, derivatives and by-products used for commercial non-food purposes, (excluding ornamentals and timber). Their remit plays a key role in developing non-food crop supply chains in sectors including bio-lubricants, plant-derived pharmaceuticals, renewable polymers, fuels, energy, biorefineries and crop-derived construction materials. John is the technology transfer manager responsible for renewable polymers and renewable construction materials. He is in charge of identifying and helping to develop market opportunities in the bulk and commodity chemical markets, including aspects such as recycling and disposal.

The workshop was chaired by Chris Waterhouse from iDi Pac, a packaging consultancy specialising in all aspects of packaging, including researching new materials and technologies, design, development and supply chain optimisation.

Alan Baylis, Science and Enterprise Group

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