As the world is working effortlessly to address the global plastic waste crisis and pushing to reduce our plastic consumption, it’s important to take note on those also doing what they can to also alleviate the problem. In addition to that, it is also important not to forget other forms of waste and their contributions towards carbon dioxide emissions.
At an international level, the fight against food waste plays a major role in achieving the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, as food waste is a vastly overlooked driver of climate change, expressed by Chad Frischmann, Vice President and Research Director at Project Drawdown, earlier this year in the Washington Post.
Studies have shown that food waste is a major contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, with UN estimating contributions as high as 87% globally. According to the World Bank, approximately one-third of global waste comes from food waste, however, additional findings from the Visionscape Group shows that this number is as high as 45 to 50 per cent across emerging markets and the developing world. The UN has also estimated that 60 per cent of this waste occurs in the post-harvest and/or food processing and transportation stages in developing countries. A major factor that correlates with produce not lasting as long as they could in the developing world.
Benefits of Plastics in the Food and Beverage Packaging Industry
With all the recent talks about single-use plastics, it is important to note the difference between ‘ready-to-consume single-use plastics’, i.e. plastic soda bottles, and ‘processing single-use plastics’, i.e. food trays and tray liners for fresh produce, such as poultry and beef, with a decent percent of it being ‘processing single-use plastics’.
Within the food and beverage processing and packaging sector, plastics are still a major part in preserving and protecting food. These plastics also preserves and protects the contamination of foods during the processing and transportation phases of the lifecycle of the food product.
Plastic is an extremely versatile material, with the different identification grades (1-7), which can be used across the food and beverage processing and packaging industry. Food and beverage packaging are also complex, as there are multiple layers, all serving a different purpose from barrier performance to tear resistance and then of course there is the aesthetics of your packaging.
What needs to be considered, and what the conversation should be focused on, is how we engineer, manufacture and use plastics in the food and beverage processing and packing industries, and developing ways to close the loop and attain a circular economy. Why? Because the plastics crisis has become one of the top, if not the top, priorities across the consumer public and governments across the world.
How do we solve this?
Servicing the Food and Beverage Packaging Industry
The first thing that must be considered is ensuring the safety of your packaging, ensuring standards meet a specific or global requirement, that is acceptable across at least more than one market – really to cut down the stress of recertifying yourself across multiple markets. When it comes to plastic packaging, food safety is vital, as food gets contaminated, it can lead to an array of health problems. This has been seen over time in experiments with animal testing, or exposure.
In regard to the role of the food safety regulators, we have regulators focused on the substances that migrate from packaging into food, with a strong focus on the plastics barriers, and do not typically accept recycled materials in food contact products for the industry. And on the other side of the spectrum, we have government unions and authorities, as well as non-government organisations, pushing for new food and beverage packaging regulations to meet the demand coming from current crisis. Somewhere this gap needs to be bridged.
Recently, the trade body the European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services (FEAD), hailed the European Paraments approval for the mandatory production of beverage containers using at least 35 per cent recycled polymers by 2025. As we push to achieve eco-friendly and greener solutions, it is important for manufactures to know food safety is an integral part of the process. At Vision Gelpack, we are BRC accredited, and work towards keeping that standard, as the accreditation gives us confidence in ensuring we deliver a safe product to the highest quality across the food and beverage processing and packaging supply chain.
Concerns over Closing the Loop in Food and Beverage Packaging
The European Union is committed to halving food waste by the year 2030, supporting the transition towards a Circular Economy. And across the globe, companies and other mission-driven start-ups are pledging their commitment to utilising recycled polymers in the production of food and beverage packaging; for example, at the end of October 2018, Faerch Plast announced their new 100% recycled PET material into their food-to-go packaging range available from January 2019; and Pepsico and Coca-Cola announced that by the year 2025, they will be using 25% recycled PET in their bottles.
So if Pepsi, Faerch Plast and the likes are doing it, it must be easy right? The issues are more complex and less straight forward than we think.
Aside from getting food regulators on board, the next point to tackle is the manufacturers customer. The bottom line is, as at this moment there is insufficient data relating to the use and control of recycled polymers in food contact materials. Therefore, commercial/sales and technical production teams need to be working with the customer and obtain their buy-in’s to run trials. Due to this, there is a reluctance from the customer to move forward with this, however, consumers across the world are demanding a faster response to the global plastic crisis. It therefore lies with the manufacturers and customers to determine and agree on what is possible, and by when, which is what is preventing a faster progress.
Investing in the Future of Food and Beverage Packaging
“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Henry Ford once said. Ultimately, the idea is to reduce the use of virgin polymer grades in food packaging with innovative thinking. However, at the same time, it is vital that the food product is kept as fresh as possible and protected – this really is the challenge.
With this being said, how do we connect the bridge between the effect of food waste on the environment, and alleviating the use of plastics in the food and beverage packaging industry on the environment? Even if manufacturers developed improved food contact products that prevent the from degrading for longer periods, will it be enough to combat the effect of food waste related CO2 emissions?
The answer lies in the British proverb, ‘Every little helps!’ – every contribution, even the smallest things, are helpful when pushed towards an overall goal.
Our Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) and Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE) plastic film offerings are used to enable clarity and strength in our products, ideal for processability, providing barrier performance solutions determined by the consumer and/or end-user, ensuring the product is right for individual needs. Developing thinner, yet stronger materials is an ideal way to reduce plastic usage. This can be achieved by the utilisation of LDPE, LLDPE, and biodegradable plastic film, liners and sacks within a range of gauges (thicknesses) offering an innovative approach to developing LDPE, LLDPE and biodegradable plastics that can be used across the sector.
As we are striving to attain a Circular Economy and a closed loop as a company – from film, to liners and sacks – we believe the time has come for us to invest in advancing our direct food contact engineered solutions.