The race is on to develop more environmentally friendly packaging – without compromising on cost, convenience, food safety and shelf life.
By Rachael Porter
The problems associated with plastic packaging are continuously under the media spotlight – and consumer scrutiny. “The ‘Blue Planet’ effect has, quite rightly, made plastic a hot topic across many sectors not just the poultry and packaging industry,” says ULMA Packaging UK’s technical manager Dave Berriman. “And with the packaging industry accounting for 40% of the plastic processed every year, it has a significant responsibility to minimise waste and find sustainable packaging alternatives.”
Poultry integrators have responded with plans to tackle the use of plastics and packaging across the industry. Moy Park announced plans earlier this year to reduce overall packaging by 5% year-on-year while also increasing the percentage of recyclable packaging by 5%. The target is one of a set of goals announced by Moy Park as part of its ‘Remove, Reduce, Recycle and Research’ strategy and is backed by a range of initiatives across the business.
With strategies such as these being implemented by food manufacturers across the industry, it is key for the packaging industry to target waste at the processing stage, and Berriman says his company has taken steps to do so. “Our thermoforming solutions, for example, are compatible with a selection of more sustainable materials, such as recyclable film and paper board.” ULMA also offers tray sealing machines as a packaging solution for poultry processors, vacuum-packing product to maintain a contaminant-free environment.
“Not only does research suggest that products sealed in a vacuum actively reduce plastic consumption and waste, we have also developed cardboard carriers with a removable sealing layer for certain tray sealing applications. This ensures poultry processors can reduce the use of plastic packaging even further,” he says.
Retailers and consumers are increasingly looking for environmentally-friendly packaging solutions, and processors and retailers must respond to this. “We have taken steps to implement a number of environmentally-friendly solutions,” says Berriman.
“For example, we are currently working with a number of material supplies to develop recyclable mono-base materials. “We have introduced LeafSkin, a sustainable tray sealing packaging solution, to reduce plastic use. Designed to reduce the amount of packaging required while maintaining product safety and retaining long-term preservation benefits, this uses recyclable and compostable materials that are all fully separable.”
This product is based on a 100% recyclable cardboard tray, incorporating an ‘easy open’ corner to remove the lid and a ‘recycling’ corner to separate material from the tray and make the recycling process easier. “This innovation makes LeafSkin environmentally friendly, as the amount of plastic use can be reduced by up to 80%,” Berriman says.
So, what other innovations in packaging are reaching the market? Alongside the need to enhance their green credentials, poultry processors are also under pressure to increase efficiency and reduce operational and logistical costs.
Packaging companies’ efforts and innovations must strike the right balance between sustainability and affordability. “By applying highly advanced packaging technologies, such as using thinner gauge films, minimising the materials in packaging, and reducing film waste, we are achieving this goal,” Berriman adds.
One example of this is the company’s ReducedScrap sustainable solution for Darfresh packing. This packaging method, which involves creating a vacuum through specially-designed air holes in the bottom film, allows for a film scrap reduction of up to 40%. As well as positively impacting the environment, such innovations around lighter packaging reduces complexity in the upstream logistics of poultry processors, allowing for a greater focus on handling the final finished pack and reducing management costs for poultry processors.
The trend toward focusing on sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions shows no sign of slowing down. With this in mind, ULMA has launched its #ULMAweCare project, a sustainability plan that seeks to achieve a circular economy in plastics, building awareness of environmentally friendly solutions across the supply chain.
“This ethos of ‘doing more with less’ is integral to the project, and nowhere is this more apparent than in our efforts to develop solutions that reduce product packaging,” says Berriman. “Our innovation efforts toward this aim materialise in innovative designs and sustainable applications for our vertical packing, flowpack, tray sealing and thermoforming machines.” One such example is the TFS 200 MSV, which is compatible with modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), skin and vacuum processes, and is optimised for multiple applications with flexible and rigid plastic materials and some combinations of cardboard.
Sealed Air also recently announced a sustainability and plastics pledge to design and advance its packaging solutions to be 100% recyclable or reusable by 2025. The company says that it will accelerate its use of recycled materials, expand reuse models for packaging, and lead the collaboration with partners worldwide to ensure execution.
It will do this by investing in innovation, to design and advance packaging solutions to be 100% recyclable or reusable, according to the company’s CEO Ted Doheny. “We’re also looking to eliminate plastic waste. We’ve set an ambitious target of 50% average recycled content across all packaging solutions, of which 60% is postconsumer recycled content,” he says. “And we’re also looking to collaborate, with partners and other companies, to increase recycling and reuse rates.”
“Plastic packaging materials need to be ideally suited to meet the essential requirements of today’s complex supply chains that demand properties such as sealability, toughness and clarity,” adds Ron Cotterman, vice president for corporate innovation and sustainability. “By focusing on product design and renewable and recycled materials, as well as recovery processes, we will drive innovations that enhance performance and efficiency.”
Sealed Air is a participant in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative and recently became a signatory to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. The company is also investing in an expanding portfolio of sustainable solutions, such as food packaging made from Plantic plant-based starch and recovered materials, EcoPure plant-based cushioning foams, newly released Cryovac Darfresh skin packaging options, which are made with recycled PET materials. POST-
The company says that the skin packaging solution reduces plastic packaging by 25% compared to MAP (skin or tray skin), thanks to new thinner top and bottom webs. “And it contains up to 95% of recycled postconsumer PET – designed for recycling. This lowers the carbon footprint of packaging, by 60% compared to tray skin and up to 40% versus MAP,” says Cotterman. “It also reduces food waste by 50%, compared to modified atmosphere packaging, and avoids product disposal due to discolouration or short shelf-life.”
He believes that the packaging also improves products’ point-of-sale competitiveness with a glossy, high quality, premium look and vertical display. “It also offers increases consumer convenience with a safe, easy-opening feature.” Logistics and storage costs are also reduced: “They are less bulky packs, compared to MAP. And there’s also the added benefits of increased production speed, by as much as 20% compared to tray skin systems.”
A CHANGE IN THE LAW
Last December the Government announced businesses and manufacturers will be responsible for paying the full cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging waste. The move will overhaul England’s waste system, putting a legal onus on those responsible for producing damaging waste to take greater responsibility and foot the bill.
The announcement formed part of the Government’s ambitious Resources & Waste Strategy, the first comprehensive update in more than a decade. The Government said it would eliminate avoidable plastic waste and help leave the environment in a better state.
The Resources and Waste Strategy sets out how the Government will: ensure producers pay the full net costs of disposal or recycling of packaging they place on the market by extending producer responsibility – up from just 10% now; introduce a consistent set of recyclable materials collected from all households and businesses, and consistent labelling on packaging so consumers know what they can recycle, to drive-up recycling rates; introduce a deposit return scheme, subject to consultation, to increase the recycling of single-use drinks containers including bottles, cans, and disposable cups filled at the point of sale; introduce annual reporting of food surplus and waste by food businesses. Should progress be insufficient, Government will consult on introducing mandatory targets for food waste prevention.