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VOLUME 15.3 – 2020

CORONA CRISIS

IS THE PACKAGING INDUSTRY COPING? LIFE WITHOUT PACKAGING • CHEMICAL RECYCLING • FOOD WASTE • PUMA INTERVIEW • BLACK PLASTIC


Editor

Operations Director

Libby Munford

Amber Dawson

Senior Writer

Brand Director

Victoria Hattersley

Tim Sykes

Journalist

Sales Director

Elisabeth Skoda

Jesse Roberts

Editorial Assistant

Senior Sales Executive

Fin Slater

Dominic Kurkowski

Head of Studio

Sales Executives

Gareth Harrey

Alain Rizk Alex Cheung

Production Manager Rob Czerwinski

Advertising Coordinator Kayleigh Harvey

VOLUME 15.3 – 2020

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Senior Audience Development Executive Andrew Wood

IT Support

Audience Development Executive

Syed Hassan

Dominy Jones

Packaging Europe Ltd Part of the Rapid News Communications Group 9 Norwich Business Park, Whiting Road, Norwich, Norfolk, NR4 6DJ, UK Registered Office: Carlton House, Sandpiper Way, Chester Business Park, Chester, CH4 9QE. Company No: 10531302. Registered in England. VAT Registration No. GB 265 4148 96 Telephone: +44 (0)1603 885000 Editorial: editor@packagingeurope.com Studio: production@packagingeurope.com Advertising: jr@packagingeurope.com Website: packagingeurope.com Facebook: facebook.com/PackagingEurope Twitter: twitter.com/PackagingEurope LinkedIn: uk.linkedin.com/company/packaging-europe YouTube: youtube.com/PackagingEurope © Packaging Europe Ltd 2020 No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form for any purpose, other than short sections for the purpose of review, without prior consent of the publisher. ISSN 2516-0133 (Print) ISSN 02516-0141 (Online)

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Editorial Libby Munford Coronavirus Challenging times in a fast-changing world Food waste Tackling the challenge with science PUMA Preparing to pounce “Be bold” Siegwerk on sustainable trends in the inks sector What’s in a headline? Green Alliance on plastic waste Chemical recycling A piece in the circular economy puzzle Henkel The startup investment in Saperatec Thinkstep Rethinking packaging, rethinking product design Black plastics Can they be recycled? ExxonMobil Exploring emissions Amcor Widerview Seven Pillars, One Goal Polybags Are polybags still in fashion? On second thoughts... We need more robots


EDITORIAL |

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he evil in the world comes almost always from ignorance, and goodwill can cause as much damage as ill-will if it is not enlightened.” – Albert Camus, The Plague I find reading these words from the French-Algerian philosopher, author, and journalist very fitting in the current climate. I’ve heard that during times of trauma (such as 9/11) people in society come together to offer support, whereas during a pandemic, people revert to selfish tendencies (stockpiling, fraudulent behaviour) to protect themselves. However, in my “working from home bubble” as I self-isolate in the UK, within the packaging sector all I hear is of the industry working together at this critical time. And this culture has been true over the past few years, when it comes to finding a more sustainable future, or solving critical global issues. I implore the reader to continue searching for knowledge and to share findings and experience across their industry sectors to enable a better future once we emerge from this crisis. Indeed, without enlightened progression, we find ourselves trying to solve problems with flash solutions (green packaging campaigns spring to mind such as switching from one material to another with no long-term thought process involved). Hopefully, when it comes to solving the coronavirus crisis, and the challenges it breeds within the packaging sector, the industry can work together rather than cause further economic and societal damage with short-sighted solutions. Within this edition we explore the initial issues, challenges and trends emerging from the start of this crisis and ponder the possible long-term effects on the industry. On the same wavelength, I sat down with Michael Nieuwesteeg, MD of the Netherlands Packaging Centre, who has spearheaded the PUMA project, exploring long-term solutions to the environmental issues the packaging industry is mired in. In both cases, the end result will be achieved by shared knowledge, rather than a scrabble in the dark. And in a similar vein, we are still anticipating the Sustainable Packaging Summit and Awards hosted by Packaging Europe in the European Green Capital, Lisbon, expected to be held 15-16 October 2020. We hope to see you there once we have emerged from this crisis to explore once again the big sustainability debate, as the state of our shared planet becomes ever more pressing in our mindsets.

Libby Munford Editor Working from home

Within this edition, we also explore the big questions still prevalent in the packaging industry, such as what would life without packaging look like? Elisabeth Skoda speaks with Sophie Kieselbach, senior consultant at Thinkstep in lieu of her planned address on lifecycle assessment and sustainability at the now postponed interpack. She also explores the current state of progression within chemical recycling, an area with great potential and innovation, but with many roadblocks still ahead. And we also ask an important question, how can we tackle the food waste challenge with science? An exploration supported by research from leading institutions and Universities. Victoria Hattersley discovers how black plastics fit into the circular economy and the misrepresentations in this field. Plastic waste is explored further with an in-depth article with the Green Alliance who recently published a report, ‘Plastic promises: what the grocery sector is really doing about packaging’. Don’t miss special interviews with Exxon, and Saperatec, a start-up with secured investment from adhesives giant Henkel. And last but not least, Fin Slater explores how to “be bold” within the colours and inks sector with Siegwerk. With the big packaging events on hold until 2021, I’ll leave on the note that although we may not see each other in person in the next few months, we look forward to continuing collaborations and conversations on a virtual note. We are supporting the packaging community during the challenges of the pandemic with our Lockdown Log, a new weekly newsletter, the continuation of our successful webinars, and with live broadcasts in the pipeline we are eager to share with you. And as the industry still has lots of innovations and launches to announce, we’ll be filling the interpack gap by hosting a week-long digital event between 6th and 13th May 2020. We’ll be letting the value chain know what would have been highlighted at interpack and give a foretaste of what it might expect next February. n Stay safe!

Libby Munford Libby Munford lw@packagingeurope.com @PackEuropeLibby

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Within the last month, we have received a massive influx of news surrounding the coronavirus pandemic: How it is affecting the packaging industry across all sectors, and how companies are rising to meet unprecedented challenges. It may seem like the packaging industry is “on hold”, with major exhibitions such as interpack and drupa moving to 2021, however we are witnessing the industry adapting in an impressively agile and flexible way to support the crisis on a European and global scale. Libby Munford explores key trends and issues that have arisen from this new world.

CORONAVIRUS: CHALLENGING TIMES IN A FAST-CHANGING WORLD SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT

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he packaging industry welcomed news with open arms when the European Commission confirmed that the transportation of packaging materials for essential industries such as food and pharmaceuticals will be able to use its “green lanes” – essentially fast-tracking the movement of materials. Looking across the board, Simon Ellin, Chief Executive of The Recycling Association, says, “Our members are hearing reports from all corners of the world that essential cardboard, paper, glass, metal cans, and plastics are in very strong demand. We’ve got to keep our supply chains open to ensure food and medical supplies can reach those who need it.” However, President of Pro Carton, Horst Bittermann states: “There will inevitably be challenges ahead. To ensure wide availability of goods, the supply chain needs to work smoothly from its start right through to the consumer’s home. For us that

means having sufficient raw material, both virgin and recycled fibre. It is essential that the supply of wood pulp is maintained and equally that paper based packaging and other paper products are sent for recycling (with separate collection where this is practised). It is imperative that local Governments and Councils maintain the operation of these recycling systems to guarantee that sufficient recycled paper fibre is available. “The haulage industry is under pressure to supply the numbers of drivers, vehicles and containers that are required. This is likely to be even more of a problem after the Easter break when some drivers may be required to quarantine before returning to their duties.” FINAT Managing Director Jules Lejeune updates us on the self-adhesive labels market and short run packaging in particular, “Presently, the European label value chain is facing consider-

able challenges, as businesses are struggling to keep up with excessive short term demand due to hoarding, while at the same time, companies are coping with labour shortages and restrictions on the availability of critical raw materials and chemicals in the manufacturing process.” It remains to be seen if European and global supply chain models will be able to sustain themselves throughout this crisis, and it appears crucial that the industry responds across material sectors with a unified approach.

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INK SHORTAGES

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ccording to the British Coatings Federation, printing ink manufacturers across Europe are reporting reduced availability of ethanol and n-propanol. These are key inputs into the production of printed packaging inks and other materials, like varnishes, which, in turn, are vital in the production of consumer product packaging. Availability issues are arising because ethanol, along with other industrial alcohol solvents like n-propanol, is also used in the production of disinfectants and sanitary products such as hand gels. With the obvious increased demands for sanitary, medical, and pharmaceutical products as a response to COVID-19, resources are increasingly being diverted into this area. Sun Chemical has said it will implement surcharges affecting its solvent liquid inks in Europe, effective 1 April 2020, outlining its reasons: With supply already limited in the second half of 2019 due to a bad crop of raw materials increasing the demand for fuel ethanol, the coronavirus has caused further increased demand for pharmaceutical and sanitized products, with governments considering allocation measures. While availability is reducing globally, prices are increasing quickly. Siegwerk, one of the leading global providers of printing inks for packaging applications and labels, has implemented price surcharges for solventbased packaging inks and varnishes in EMEA with immediate effect, whilst Flint Group Packaging Inks Europe has also announced a solvent surcharge across all solvent-based inks and coatings.

Siegwerk states that demand for these products, in particular ethanol, continues to outstrip supply which has led to reduced global availability and rapid price increases. In addition, due to the industry shutdowns in China and India, disruptions to freight and logistics, and many other isolated supply disruptions, Siegwerk is not always able to avoid price increases without increased risk of supply disruption. The progressively worsening global economic situation caused by the current coronavirus pandemic is placing untenable pressure on the supply chain for packaging inks and coatings in particular.

RECYCLING CHALLENGES

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ndustry bodies from across the packaging value chain are warning of a shortage of cardboard and paperboard, due to decreased recycling collection rates during the coronavirus crisis. Jori Ringman, Director-General of Cepi told Packaging Europe, “Recently, individual cities in some Member States have announced that they might have to reduce separate collections or even close sorting centres due to the current COVID-19 crisis, especially in relation to health and hygiene concerns for workers. “If we fully understand the concerns for worker safety, we have warned authorities of the risk of stopping separate collection of paper for recycling from households and supermarkets, as recycled fibres are an essential part of our supply chain.” Dr. Adam Read, external affairs director at SUEZ, talks to us about the challenges of operating waste and recycling collections during the coronavirus pandemic: “SUEZ is maintaining municipal services as best we can, where we are working for local authorities. Collection, treatment services and disposal are currently running pretty much as close to close to full capacity as possible. Some of the ancillary, marginal services such as green waste or food waste or bulky waste collection has stopped, as well as most of our commercial collections, as many businesses are closed or working from home.”

Of note, some recycling companies are making direct calls to the public to remember to recycle. Delphis Eco, a leading eco-friendly plant-based chemical company, and leading recycling company, First Mile, for example, are calling on homes throughout the UK to recycle all of their plastic bottle closures - such as trigger sprays, hand soap pumps and flip top caps - via a free RecycleBox courier collection. China and Northern Italy are the two main manufacturers of plastic bottle closures for cleaning and personal care products. As a result of COVID-19, there is now a global shortage of pretty much all bottle closures, including trigger sprays, hand soap pumps, and spray pumps. This shortage is causing issues in getting anti-bacterial hand soap and sanitisers to those that need them the most.

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LOGISTICAL INNOVATION

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ith new and critical logistical issues, companies are innovating under pressure to ensure safe delivery. DS Smith has developed boxes for example for safer delivery during COVID-19. Stefano Rossi, CEO of Packaging at DS Smith said: “We were approached by several of our food supply customers to design a new packaging solution that would maximise efficiency and provide everyday essentials to many of society’s most vulnerable. “We worked very closely with our customers to design and produce a solution which allows for a ‘stack, drop and go’ approach that is more time efficient, more hygienic and frees up time for more deliveries. Our sustainably designed solution is also fully recyclable at home.”

CHANGING ATTITUDES TO PLASTIC

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ominique Alhäuser, head of communication at CEFLEX member Windmöller & Hölscher KG, shares with Packaging Europe her company’s industry outlook during the corona crisis: “Packaging for food and medical supplies is very important for our safety - that fact has become more clear during the corona pandemic, and has changed public opinion of flexible packaging. We are convinced that this will permanently impact the view on packaging and therefore increase the demand for flexible packaging. “With regards to CEFLEX, I foresee challenges due to shifting priorities and restrictions, but on the other hand, projects might even benefit from the new mindset that is more open to new solutions and the growing feeling of community.” Tri-Star managing director Alex Noake explores further the effects of the coronavirus on the food service packaging industry, highlighting that the agenda has shifted from sustainability to endurance: “It’s fascinating watching the agenda change so fast. Suddenly disposable single-use plastic is in demand again and with a focus on hygiene, there is an expectation for food to be wrapped and even double-wrapped.”

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CONSUMER ANXIETY

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study from Princeton University and the USA National Institutes of Health claims to show how long the novel coronavirus can survive on plastic, stainless steel, and cardboard. According to the study, the virus could still be detected on polypropylene and stainless steel up to 72 hours after it was applied. Meanwhile, the virus could apparently be detected on cardboard up to 24 hours after it was contaminated. However, The FDA has published guidelines on food safety and coronavirus, stating: Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. CDC notes that in general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures. It is more likely that a person will be exposed by person-to-person transmission involving close contact with someone who is ill or shedding the virus. This news comes amidst rising anxiety amongst consumers around the safety of packaging.


CONVERTING PRODUCTION LINES

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ynergies between packaging production and key components needed in the fight against coronavirus have become clear. Following news that Reifenhäuser Reicofil has converted two of its test plants to produce components for face masks, the company has now announced that it has found a customer for these components. However, in order to actually solve the wider problem of PPE shortages, the company argues that Europe needs its own industrial production sites with closed European supply chains and decisive political action. In its view, the aim must be to supply Europe with protective material independently and competitively, both now and in the long term. Bernd Reifenhäuser, CEO of the Reifenhäuser Group, says, “We need a strategic production

reserve for medical protective clothing in Europe. We have to quickly build up the machine capacity for the industrial production of masks in high volumes, but at the same time, the corresponding capacities for the production of the necessary high-quality nonwovens in Europe must be created. Otherwise, our dependence will remain at a crucial point in the supply chain. Other nations have recognized this, in some cases much earlier, and have already ordered equipment”. Meanwhile Mondi has adapted production line in Germany to make much-needed face mask components. The plant was able to quickly adapt one of its manufacturing lines to produce a three-layer, laminated strap that binds a stretchable plastic film between layers of soft, nonwoven material. The straps, which Mondi supplies to its

CHARITABLE EFFORTS

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he packaging industry has been notable for supporting the global response to this crisis. For example, the Tetra Laval Group will donate €10 Mio to various voluntary organisations supporting the health care systems across the countries that it operates in. While maintaining important measures to ensure the health and safety of its employees, the Tetra Laval Group which comprises Tetra Pak, Sidel and DeLaval, is fully committed to play its part in ensuring uninterrupted food supplies during these difficult times. EngView has takan steps to help its customers: packaging houses, display producers, and diemakers transition their employees to work remotely without sacrificing quality or efficiency. The company is giving its customers free homeoffice editions of the EngView Package & Display Designer Suite for the duration

mask-making customers on a reel, are then cut and attached to each side of a mask, which can loop comfortably over the user’s ears to hold the mask in place. “Mondi Gronau is working to provide straps that will fit more than one billion nonwoven face masks. As there is increasing demand for such types of face masks, we are building up our capability to meet this demand. By producing this soft elastic strap, we are able to produce more volume to meet growing demand,” says Dr. Michael Trinkaus, director of R&D and application engineering for Mondi’s Personal Care Components division.

of the COVID-19 restriction period. With the free software, EngView will help structural and graphic designers, diemakers, and other packaging professionals maintain high productivity while working from their homes. Label design and management software provider, NiceLabel has announced it will provide free label cloud software to organisations that have joined the fight against COVID-19. This non-profit-based initiative offers free subscriptions of NiceLabel’s cloudbased solution and technical consulting services in a bid to help organisations get vital deliveries of medical equipment and supplies (such as respirators, disinfectants and masks) to those in need as quickly as possible. The cloud solution aims to help manufacturers and food producers to speed up supply and ensure their equipment and products arrive on the frontline without delay.

SUPPORTING VACCINE DEVELOPMENT

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China, the biotech company CanSino is working together with the military medical department to develop a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus. The researchers are supported by products from Minebea Intec: These play an important role in the manufacturing process and ensure that high-precision weighing and dosing is possible. CanSino previously relied on Minebea Intec in 2014, when it developed a vaccine against Ebola. The Tianjin-based company is one of 41 companies worldwide working on a vaccine against

the virus. CanSino was one of the first institutions to start working on a vaccination against COVID-19 and just recently secured permission from the Chinese government to start tests with humans in a clinical trial. Prior to this, Minebea Intec’s products ensured reliable weighing results, precise dosing and rapid transmission of the measured data during the production of the first substances. Whilst we collectively await a vaccine to solve this crisis, Packaging Europe supports you to stay home, and stay safe. Packaging Europe | 9 |


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TACKLING THE FOOD WASTE CHALLENGE WITH SCIENCE In a period of time where panic buying, stockpiling, and heightened consumer anxiety over hygiene and product protection is paramount, the issue of how to reduce food waste is more pressing than ever.

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nnovative food packaging offers product protection and improves food quality and shelf life. But does this actually result in a tangible reduction of food waste? This question was the subject of an Austrian industry research project “Stop Waste - Save Food�. The industry research was compiled by around 30 partners from science and research institutions, including the BOKU (University of natural resources and life sciences) in Austria, and consultants denkstatt GmH as well as OFI (Austrian research institute for chemistry and technology). The most important findings from three years of research were summarised in an industry guide, targeted at packaging manufacturers, food processers and retailers.

Elisabeth Skoda spoke to Bernd Brandt, senior consultant at denkstatt, to find out more about the project and some of the surprising results it yielded.

ES: What steps can packaging companies take in order to find the ideal balance between sustainability and product protection?

BB: The different aspects of designing packaging are more challenging than they look at first glance, and many aspects have to be taken into consideration. What constitutes the optimal shelf life? Sometimes shelf life demands can be exaggerated, as there may be situations when a product in real life never stays on the shelf for that length of time. The next question to ask is: how long does Packaging Europe | 11 |


15 - 16 OCTOBER 2020 PESTANA PALACE, LISBON

TWO DAYS OF INDISPENSABLE DISCUSSION IN THE EUROPEAN GREEN CAPITAL 2020 We’re bringing the value chain together for an interactive forum to examine new opportunities and explore how we can connect the dots. Join us for the Sustainable Packaging Summit, featuring the Sustainability Awards 2020. packagingsummit.earth

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thesustainabilityawards.com


the consumer store the product? It’s important to find the right level of product protection. The second aspect covers options and potential alternatives. For example, vacuum packaging is a good option to keep pork fresh for longer but is less popular with consumers in Austria than other alternatives. Some people believe that biodegradable film is always better, but from a data point of view, that is not the case. Ideally, sustainability needs to be assessed based on data. This links to the question of acceptance. In the course of our project, we spoke with many retail representatives, and it became obvious that even if retail knows what the most sustainable packaging would be, consumers won’t always accept it. For example, egg packaging made from recycled PET bottles comes out as a winner in lifecycle analyses, consumer acceptance is low, as it is made from plastics. A final point is the circular economy feasibility. Even if a pack is recyclable, that does not automatically mean that it will be recycled. It really is an art to do all these questions justice, and I do respect packaging manufacturers that face up to these challenges. Therefore it is very important that retail and research institutes work closely together.

ES: How would you summarise ‘theory and practice’ of how packaging can make food keep for longer?

BB: Retailers generally have fairly precise records on waste amounts. On average, if you increase shelf life by 100%, waste is reduced by 40%. However, as was found in research at BOKU university, it is hard to measure the amount of waste at the consumer’s home. As soon as you ask the consumer how much they throw away, he or she acts differently and becomes more self-aware. It was attempted to approach the problem with consumer simulations and surveys, but it’s hard to gain solid data from that. It becomes obvious that it depends on how quickly a consumer uses up a product at home,

and how they store it. Is food refrigerated properly, is it kept in the original packaging, do consumers use the resealability features or do they put food in a different container? Many consumers want to get rid of the original packaging, which reduces the usefulness of any packaging features. The guidelines are an important first step in the direction of evaluating this.

“Packaging should be avoided where it is not strictly necessary for product protection or other requirements, and when not using packaging doesn’t create more food waste.” ES: Could you give us some examples for life cycle analyses for packed and unpacked products?

BB: A classic example is the cucumber wrapped in plastics. Consumers generally don’t like this practice, so supermarkets decided to offer the cucumbers without plastics. We have data from several months across the whole of Austria, and by leaving out plastic packaging, food waste increases more than twofold. This is a clear result. It confirms that if you don’t keep moisture in the cucumber, it goes soft more quickly and waste increases, as people won’t buy the cucumber. Of course you can tweak storage conditions and logistics, but not using packaging makes the biggest difference. Another interesting example is ham. Consumers in Austria like to buy it open from the fresh food counter. BOKU university ran a simulation in Packaging Europe | 13 |


“Egg packaging made from recycled PET bottles comes out as a winner in lifecycle analyses, but consumer acceptance is low, as it is made from plastics.”

which a range of test subjects was asked how a piece of ham is perceived after opening, from day one up to twelve days, and to judge what it looks, smells and tastes like. The fresh food counter ham was only eaten up until day seven, whereas the packaged ham was eaten until day twelve. On the subject of jams, while single use glass packaging is quite resource intensive, jam jars don’t have to be chilled and keep a long time, which means using heavier, bulkier packaging can be justified in this case.

ES: Are there any examples where the life cycle balance favours unpackaged goods?

BB: With mini cucumbers, there is about 14% waste when they are offered unpackaged, but their carbon footprint isn’t very high in the first place. An elaborate package for mini cucumbers causes a higher carbon footprint. Generally, if the consumer uses up a product quickly, it’s not a problem to offer it unpacked. Consumers should be aware that they have to use their cucumbers up quickly and shouldn’t store them for too long. In our industry guide, we devised 16 ‘commandments’ for the correct use of packaging. One key takeaway is that packaging should be avoided where it is not strictly necessary for product protection or other requirements, and when not using packaging doesn’t create more food waste.

ES: How can sweeping judgements about certain packaging materials be avoided?

BB: Less black and white thinking would be great. We create data on packaging sustainability, and we notice when decision makers say something that isn’t based on facts. Often, they just do what the public wants, what consumers like and what sells well. If we want to act sustainably, we shouldn’t just listen to wishes and intentions of the consumer, but we should measure if anything improves due to the change. It remains a huge task to gather neutral data, to communicate and to explain. In our research, we compared the proportionality of packaging and products, and it turns out that about 3% of the carbon footprint rests | 14 | Packaging Europe

within the packaging, and 97% within the food. That shows where the big lever is and how important it is that food arrives well protected. We say in our guidelines that there isn’t a good or bad packaging material as such. When choosing a material, necessary packaging function and low effect on the environment should come together.

ES: How can better cooperation to avoid food and packaging waste along the supply chain be organised?

BB: Our project aims to create collaboration across the value chain. There are a lot of demands on retail already, but it is important to cooperate, and it has to be clear both from the packaging manufacturer and retail side what the benefits of new innovations could be. After all, food manufacturers and retailers could just shrug their shoulders and say that it is actually beneficial for them if a lot of food goes off at the consumers’ house as it means they can sell more products. Waste in the shop itself of course is a different story, as this cuts directly into their profit margins. ES: Do you think that the current coronavirus crisis will have an impact on the public’s perception of packaging?

BB: The current crisis will certainly contribute to consumers becoming strongly aware of the usefulness of medical products (face masks, single use gloves, protective clothing, equipment for tests and their evaluation). In the area of food, the hygiene aspect is becoming increasingly more important. Packaging can offer the kind of protection that many people especially value in this current situation. ES: In conclusion, what would you describe as report highlights? BB: The guidelines highlight how important the topic of food is when talking about the carbon footprint. This hasn’t fully arrived in the general public’s awareness. In truth it is big chunks such as food and mobility where big savings can be made in our carbon footprints. Packaging is a product that can n help us to use valuable resources more efficiently.


PUMA IS PREPARING TO POUNCE Michael Nieuwesteeg

We are living through an era of dramatic acceleration of the use of packaging – and Michael Nieuwesteeg, MD of the NVC Netherlands Packaging Centre is on a mission to end packaging as an environmental issue worldwide. He gave Libby Munford an interactive interview amidst his musings on how we can make a positive change together.

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he NVC PUMA project: Packaging Upcyclable Materials Accelerator was officially launched on 29 March 2017, whereby members of the NVC actively participate in ‘getting the job done’ by the target of 2026 by building on years of a wealth of experience. Following up on the successful PUMA kick-off, three working groups were formed. PUMA-L addresses the legislative and regulatory framework, PUMA-O addresses the organisational aspects and PUMA-T focuses on the existing and future technologies. These groups spend time via web conference discussing what exists, what is upcoming and what should be? Due to COVID-19, the meetings are now shared live online.

Spiralling up the rabbit hole But where do we start when it comes to putting such a complex industry and problem into context? Michael Nieuwesteeg asks me to draw a circle with a y and an x axis, and in turn I invite you the reader to take part: “Take your pencil and draw a circle. Follow the outline and go back to where you started – now you have created a two-dimensional example of the circular economy.” A simple exercise to explain the concept of how we could create a better future. “Next use your pencil to go back and forth across the x axis. This brings to life the ‘back and forth’ concept of the circular economy. But with this 2D model, we also need a sub-circle for packaging’s residual waste. As Albert Einstein once said, ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.’ The sub-circle is the giveaway of the failure of this model. We can see the ‘back and forth’ concept, but no account for residual waste, or ‘downcycling’.” Michael Nieuwesteeg elaborates that if there is a symmetrical view, then there should also be the concept of ‘upcycling’. Hence, the conception of the Packaging Upcyclable Materials Accelerator. “We don’t want to push any previous models away, but we aim to create deeper insight and accelerate the effect of doing good.” PUMA is set on the trajectory of a positive spiral. “We really want to make a change in how we all work together, all of us.”

During the interview, Michael Nieuwesteeg is drinking an iced tea from a glass bottle. He uses it as a prime example to explain the concept further in layman’s terms, “Although the material (glass bottle) as a noun doesn’t change in its meaning – physically and thermodynamically the bottle is not the same after I have consumed its contents. I’m looking at the same glass, but it’s not the same as it was 30 minutes ago. In the time shift, therein comes the spiral concept. You are rewriting your circle a little bit later in time.” PUMA is a movement: “It waits until the opportune moment, and then it pounces.”

Making tracks Every second, the world packs 320,000 products, resulting in 320,000 emptied packs per second. As a result, packaging as an activity, for example, is four times larger than Google, which processes around 80,000 searches per second worldwide. The increases in prosperity and growing world population are leading to further growth of packaging worldwide. For a sustainable future of packaging on this scale, it is an absolute requirement that an end is made to packaging as an environmental issue. To this end, the PUMA Manifesto offers a holistic, coherent vision of the activity of packaging and the materials used for that purpose in the front-end, back-end and collect & control phases. In addition, the PUMA Manifesto is a shared source of inspiration and cooperation, supported by NVC as a leading, transparent and reliable association of internationally oriented companies that are willing to take their social responsibility when it comes to packaging. Packaging Europe | 15 |


“Packaging an environmental problem? So we have to get rid of that!” The packaging sector finally seems to be moving towards the end of packaging as an environmental problem worldwide 25 years after EU legislation was introduced. The fourth annual PUMA meeting was held on 25 March 2020 with more than 70 participants from all over the world (live online), and the PUMA Manifesto will be introduced online on 6 May 2020.

Solving the Rubik’s cube Michael Nieuwesteeg states that we have invented most of the problems we have created ourselves in the last 25 years. And today, we are seeing the detrimental effects of this. Next, he uses a Rubik’s cube as an analogy of how we can solve the environmental issues surrounding packaging. In the past couple of years, I have been witness to a scrabble of ideas and hasty decisions made within the industry to mitigate the problem. However, short-sighted ‘changes’ do not have significant, universal, longterm impacts needed to make a momentous positive change to our future. What is striking is how long the NVC has spent deliberating over a course of action, before putting it into motion. With a Rubik’s cube, you can scrabble around and make changes to no avail, if you don’t think ahead. “However, if you watch an expert - they take their time, investigate, and plan ahead. Then the winning outcome can be achieved in record time,” says Michael Nieuwesteeg. “Finding the solution takes time. It needs care and thought, like raising a child. PUMA aims to give confidence to the industry, then together we will hopefully make the right decisions. And perhaps when we emerge from this coronavirus pandemic, there will be even more weight added to the fact we must all work n together for a better future.”

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“BE BOLD”: SIEGWERK ON SUSTAINABLE TRENDS IN THE INKS SECTOR When looking at the packaging industry, it becomes clear that the question of sustainability has become much more than simply a “buzzword”. Most global brand owners have sustainability commitments set in stone for their packaging. Consequently, sustainable packaging has moved centre stage in many discussions, although much of the talk focuses on manufacturing and end-of-life. This begs a set of obvious questions: How are other sectors, like inks and colours industries acting in sustainable ways? What are the drivers of this activity? What will the future of sustainability in these industries look like? To find out, Fin Slater spoke to Alina Marm, head of a specially established unit to serve the transition towards a circular economy across Siegwerk – one of the industry’s largest manufacturers of printing inks and coatings. FS: To give our readers a bit of an introduction into the topic, as far as you see it, what roles do inks and colours actually play in packaging sustainability? AM: I always like to look at it from two sides. The first important one is how can inks enable sustainability and the circular economy? This was really an eye-opener for me when I first joined Siegwerk, to see that inks are much more than simply colouring – they have a high degree of func-

tionality that enables sustainable packaging. Just to dive into that a little bit, if you think about reducing overall plastic consumption, which is one of the big topics, inks and coatings play a huge role when switching to paper while maintaining the functionality of the packaging. If we think about another trend in sustainable packaging, reuse models, then each use cycle has different ink requirements, especially if you want to manage them at scale as a project like TerraCycle’s Loop does. For example, Packaging Europe | 19 |


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the best-before date might have to change with each use, while the brand design itself has to stay on the packaging for multiple use-cycles. So, inks play a crucial role here in providing that at scale and with maximum cost-efficiency. Another trend in this field is obviously recyclable packaging. Ink plays a key role here too –for example, can we use a PVC-free ink that can then be printed onto PVC-free packaging, making the pack recyclable overall? Inks and coatings can also help with the move towards monoplastic structures, by keeping the functionality of the original packaging. I think we should be pushing these aspects as much as possible, because they can really contribute to the change that is needed. The other side we can look at this from is the reality that inks do hinder the sustainability aspects of packaging. In terms of the recycling process, I think it’s common knowledge that if I have plastic packaging, for example, that is covered in colours, this leads to lower quality recyclate output. With this reality comes the responsibility to look at de-inking as a solution, making sure that ink won’t hinder the recyclability of packaging. There will never be packaging that is not printed on at all. We can discuss how much branding we need on packaging, but there is some crucial information that must always remain. For example, I’m sure that someone with a severe nut allergy wouldn’t appreciate packaging that doesn’t have allergy information.

FS: In this context, could you tell us a bit more about your role specifically and what it entails? AM: Siegwerk very seriously looked at how it could turn the concept of a circular economy from an ambition into becoming an actionable driver for change. This idea was centre stage for Siegwerk in 2019, and there was a big strategy project encompassing it. One of the biggest results of this is that Siegwerk has committed to becoming a circular solutions packaging company and to really drive this change. The company also recognised that it had to equip the organisation for this change. This then led to the creation of the Circular Economy Hub, which has a threefold role. It’s our responsibility to spark interest, so that everyone understands why we need this transformation so that they can engage with it. This has both an internal and an external component. Another part of our role is support, which means we equip the organisation with the knowledge it needs on things like creating new solutions and

engaging with brand owners on the circular economy. The final part of the Circular Economy Hub’s role is sorting, because we have an ambitious agenda that needs focus and efficiency in its execution.

FS: You spoke about the “three Rs” earlier, and anyone who is involved in packaging hears these a lot. We’ve gone over the concepts, but how does Siegwerk put them into practice? AM: In terms of “reduce”, we’re currently working on some promising ink and coating solutions for the switch to paper. If you look at the reuse aspect, Siegwerk has been a player in this for a long time through providing inks for labels on glass bottles that, in Germany for example, are in a deposit scheme. We’re thinking about how we can take this idea to the next level by working with start-ups, for example. Lastly, in terms of recycling, we have a lot of PVC-free inks already on offer. We were partly responsible for putting fully recyclable pouches on the market with ink solutions that adhered to “cradle to cradle” principles and were also PVC-free. The same holds true for switching to monoplastic structures, which we’re trying to push further with other market players.

FS: The challenge of implementing sustainable practices can seem quite daunting. Could you break down the challenges that the inks industry faces in its efforts to do this? AM: I think one of the biggest opportunities and challenges is collaboration. This challenge isn’t just ink specific – it applies to the entire value chain. In order to make packaging more sustainable, we have to know what happens to it along the value chain. So, if you start by thinking about packaging at the design and manufacturing stages, where the ink component comes into play, I can only make a truly sustainable solution if I know what happens with that packaging in the use cycle and at end of life. We need to know that the people beyond our core of expertise understand what happens, we need the willingness to share information, and we need to come up with new ways of working in terms of inviting other members of the value stream into our inner circle. For example, if a brand owner, an ink manufacturer, and a converter work on a sustainable packaging product and bring it to the market, what kind of business model is behind that? One of the biggest challenges is to figure that out, to be bold enough to try new things and learn at rapid speeds from those modes of collaboration. We can also look to other industries that collaborate much more – IT, for example. Twenty or thirty years ago, open-source was something nobody really thought about, and now big companies engage in open-source models.

FS: I’m wondering how Siegwerk will measure success in terms of its sustainability efforts – are there any certifications or processes that it will use to do this? AM: You raise a good point, one that I’m trying to wrap my head around at the moment. I want to get to the point where Siegwerk can measure our impact on circularity – that’s my objective. So, how do we get there? The main challenge is that, compared to a brand owner or a converter, it’s diffiPackaging Europe | 21 |


cult for us to measure how many packages that are brought into the market that weren’t recyclable before are now recyclable – thanks to ink solutions. We deliver ink that is designed for recyclable packaging, but it’s hard for us to know exactly how many packages this results in. So, it would be really difficult for us to use the standard ways of measuring for our own purposes, which means that they’re not right for our situation. For us, it’s about seeing how many solutions we can bring to the market that enable others to translate that into more sustainable packaging. We can also measure success by analysing collaborations that we engage in, and that produce totally new solutions. Ultimately, there are lots of factors that we have to join to make these things measurable, because standard measurement methods don’t work for a company that is this early in the value chain.

FS: The packaging industry has become a lot more focused on sustainability in the last five years. What do you think has driven this change?

usually very clear which kind of de-inking technology is used and what the parameters of the de-inking process are. But, in order to achieve true scale, we have to translate this into post-consumer applications. The de-inking landscape here is so different, depending on factors like region and recyclers and so forth. The next step will be to collaborate with recyclers in order to make this solution scalable. I think this is another great example of how we need to share knowledge – we can only make de-inkable ink if we have some understanding of what the parameters in the recycling process are. Otherwise, we put a solution onto the market that doesn’t really have a system effect. You might then have a bottle that is printed on with de-inkable ink, but it never ends up in the right waste management stream. Transparency in terms of measurement of sustainability is another trend that I expect to develop. There is a huge legislative push on this coming from the EU. This is something I’m really excited about and I think it will lead to yet n more collaboration across the value chain.

AM: There is certainly a lively debate around what has been the driver for change in this regard. The conclusion I’ve come to is that there isn’t a single most important driving force, but a whole system of drivers. This is great because it multiplies the effects. One of these drivers is consumer awareness, which has massively changed within the past two years across a lot of areas. Brands obviously market to consumers so, they are much more interested in switching to sustainable packaging solutions because they see a market emerging. Politics and legislation also come into play, and governments find it easy to introduce new policies when there’s a general receptiveness towards the topic. At the same time, policy and policymakers have a huge impact on putting things on the agenda. The EU Green Deal is a good example of how policymakers took up a topic and put it centre stage. This creates a reinforcing loop, from consumers to brand owners to regulation. I think another part that plays a role is that we’re now at a point where it’s impossible to ignore the negative consequences the industry produces. I think, for a very long time, we could turn a blind eye, because the problem wasn’t that prevalent yet if you think about emissions or leakage, for example. Also, the speed of transmission of information has rapidly changed in the past two to five years, if you think about the impact of social media and consumers having more access to information.

FS: Are there any particular areas that you envisage the industry putting more focus on in the next couple of years in terms of sustainability? AM: One model that will have more focus is de-inking. We see that it has relevance in two areas – post-industrial and post-consumer waste. De-inking is something that we have to focus on, because there will always be a certain degree of print jobs on each packaging. We’re getting more and more customer requests for de-inkable inks, and in terms of making it more mainstream, the next step is to see how we can combine ink solutions with more standardised de-inking processes. At the moment, this works well for post-industrial waste especially, because it’s | 22 | Packaging Europe

Alina Marm


WHAT’S IN A HEADLINE? REPORTING ON PLASTIC WASTE The ways in which the media has covered the plastics debate have sometimes clouded consumer perceptions, to put it mildly. Victoria Hattersley spoke to Libby Peake, head of resource policy at the independent Green Alliance think tank, about its recently published study on the grocery sector’s response to the packaging waste problem and the response this has generated.

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part of its work for the Circular Economy Task Force, in early January this year the Green Alliance published a report, ‘Plastic promises: what the grocery sector is really doing about packaging’, which suggested that we are seeing a ‘disjointed and potentially counterproductive approach to solving plastic pollution’, with brand owners on the verge of swapping to other materials that may have even more serious environmental consequences – such as higher carbon emissions. This is no surprise to us – any regular readers of Packaging Europe will be aware that we have long argued the need for nuance in the plastics debate. That our approach to sustainability should encompass wider issues of climate change, and that tackling plastic waste means viewing the material as a valuable commodity that should be re-used and recycled accordingly, rather than demonizing it. And while shows like Blue Planet II have been fantastic for drawing our attention to the huge global climate

challenges we face, they have also unwittingly contributed to the narrative that plastics are the cause of our environmental ills. On this subject, the reaction to the Green Alliance report edges a wider issue into the frame: the role the media has to play in covering such stories and the partial responsibility it should take when consumers reach inaccurate conclusions. Headlines such as ‘Break the plastic habit!’, while no doubt eyegrabbing, are too simplistic. Unfortunately, it’s usually the case that simple narratives have more impact, and it’s almost impossible to convey such a complex issue in a few words.

‘We can’t just replace plastics’ One of the central quotes from the report was: ‘We are aware that [by switching from plastic to other materials] we may, in some cases, be increasing our carbon footprint.’ Packaging Europe | 23 |


“But some of the press coverage [to the report] was not accurate and some headlines – while not being ‘wrong’ – weren’t what we would have chosen and might have led a reader to assume we were saying we should keep using plastic exactly as we had been – that it was an either / or – which doesn’t come close to conveying the nuance of our argument,” says Libby Peake. According to Libby Peake, one of the biggest frustrations is the assumption, since the emergence of the plastics backlash, that it’s ‘better’ to replace plastics with alternative materials. “One of the most important points we included in the report is that almost everyone now thinks it’s equally important to tackle climate change and plastics. People hadn’t necessarily connected the two before and were looking to separate one from the other. We’re trying to promote that you need to address both in conjunction. “[Following the plastics backlash] there has been an automatic assumption that plastic should be replaced with other items. But bear in mind that for every tonne of aluminium that is on the market, 12 tonnes of waste is produced and that includes toxic waste. Glass has a really high carbon impact, especially single-use, and if you’re shipping it from far away there are higher carbon emissions. If you’re looking at cartons, they’re often | 24 | Packaging Europe

multilayer which makes them difficult to recycle and it’s not a closed loop system. Our report is trying to show not that we should continue using plastics as we have been, but that we can’t just replace plastics in this inefficient recycling system we have. After all, if it’s an inefficient system for plastics it will be inefficient for other materials, too.” It doesn’t help, of course, that there is an inevitable pushback from those who advocate for these alternative materials. For example, in response to the Green Alliance report, Jenni Richards, federation manager of British Glass, was reported as saying: “While we can’t disagree that glass is heavier… [during transportation], the bigger picture is that glass has the perfect qualities for a truly circular economy and our industry is taking great steps to achieve NetZero carbon emissions.” And yes, glass has its place too, as does aluminium and cartonboard. No one material should be scapegoated if we are to find an approach to packaging that works across the board and develop more efficient recycling infrastructure.

‘A lot more emphasis on reduction’ There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of packaging waste (and that goes for alternative materials as much as for plastics), but one thing Libby


“Tackling plastic waste means viewing the material as a valuable commodity that should be re-used and recycled accordingly, rather than demonizing it.”

Peake is clear about is that there needs to be more of a focus on ‘reduce’ as opposed to ‘replace’. Again, we’re all familiar with the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra but it’s gaining ever more traction. Take some of the examples we’ve been seeing recently of big brands responding to the plastics outcry by substituting single-use plastic items with other materials which can use up more resources to produce, don’t work as efficiently and are not getting to the root of the problem in any case (the McDonald’s paper straw, to give a particularly well-known instance). “If you think about it, most adults don’t need to use straws at all,” she says. “We should be encouraging a system where there is a lot more emphasis on cutting out unnecessary items. Then you get similar situations where single-use plastic bags for bakery items are being replaced by single-use paper where there could instead be reusable items or no bags whatsoever.” And hand-in-hand with reduction, she says, should come a greater simplification of the entire plastics production infrastructure – granted, this will take some time, but the benefits when it comes to recycling and the supply of high-quality recyclate would be considerable. “There’s a tension with plastics in particular; an awareness that we need to rationalize polymers so that we are only using, say, HDPE, PP or PET while phasing out the more ‘niche’ materials like PVC or polystyrene.” Other countries throughout Europe might also follow the model of places like Norway, which has a notably high quality of recycled plastics because items are collected completely separately so there is less contamination of the supply chain.

Re-use: ‘Great potential’ One positive development, as far as Libby Peake is concerned, is the steady rise of re-use and refill packaging models. There is certainly an increased interest on the part of the industry and consumers, but in order for this to really take off she feels there needs to be more of a focus on incentivization. “In the UK, for example, the single-use carrier bag charge is meant to reduce littering – which it has done – but we have found that people are still using multi-use carrier bags as single-use. We definitely need more of a cultural shift so we get people using these systems in the right places. Some of the obvious places to start introducing such models include carrier bags, home delivery refill models, the Terracycle Loop model operating

on the milkman model, and so on. These offer great potential and we’d like to see them introduced in a systemic way that’s not increasing overall environmental impact and material use.” What does she have in mind when she talks about incentivization? “Let’s take bags for life: they currently cost 10 pence in the UK, but if you made them much more expensive, they would be more inclined to embed the right behaviours. Or if you make it harder to do single-use – for example charging for plastic coffee cups that are single-use – then it’s more incentivizing for consumers to switch to multi-use. Academic research says people would be more inclined to use reusable coffee cups if there is a charge attached to them.” (In case you’re interested, a report released last year by Zero Waste Scotland is a case in point.) The key here is to factor environmental cost into the value of a package – not just the money it takes to produce.

‘Unhelpful and misleading claims’ One part of the equation we have not discussed so far is compostable and biodegradable packaging. This is a perfect example of how press reports and also the industry itself can further muddy the waters of consumer understanding. According to the Green Alliance report, ‘Consumers… are hugely confused about what bio-based, compostable and biodegradable mean’. Why is this such a problem? “There’s too much greenwashing across the board and very little to stop companies making unhelpful and misleading claims to consumers,” says Libby Peake. “Compostable or ‘biodegradable’ plastics are a particular concern, though, because they are viewed very favourably by the public, but there’s little understanding about what the terms mean, nowhere near enough control over material standards and a lack of the right infrastructure to deal with them in many instances. The UN has suggested that using the term ‘biodegradable’ could actually encourage people to litter. So, we should stop using that term, and make sure that compostables clearly look different from conventional plastic, to make it as simple as possible for people to know what to do with material.” That’s not to say we should be avoiding compostables altogether – they have great potential – it’s just that they need to be used in the right context. “Novel materials like compostable plastics have the potential to improve environmental performance in some instances, but only if they’re used in the Packaging Europe | 25 |


correct situations and don’t wind up in the wrong place, so it’s important to factor in systems thinking from the start. We think compostable plastic liners for food collection are an obvious place to start. “There are a couple of major hurdles that need to be addressed for them to succeed generally, though. The first relates to standards and infrastructure. At the moment, material is allowed on the market that isn’t certified compostable, which shouldn’t be allowed. We’ve also heard from several industrial composters that even certified compostable material – particularly rigid plastics – don’t degrade in the UK’s current industrial composting infrastructure, so those existing standards should be adjusted to reflect real life conditions.”

‘Joined-up action’ Of course, the average consumer cannot be expected to be an expert in the labyrinthine ramifications of every packaging material. (Even as someone who writes for the packaging industry I can’t hope to be an inviolable authority on all the myriad technical issues, nuances, debates and counter-debates that encompass the vast packaging industry and all the other industries that feed into it.) But while companies must clearly play their part by remaining transparent about the challenges they face and the environmental costs of the materials they use, it cannot be solely down to the industry to educate them. What is sorely needed, says Libby Peake, is more top-down leadership. (Another quote from the report is worth throwing in here: ‘If I could have a magic wand, I’d like to see more joined up, top-down government intervention… We would like to see government be braver.’) While the Green Alliance is a UK-based organization and any recommendations it gives as a result of its report are for this market, the conclusions it draws could apply to any country’s recycling system. “Businesses are all competing and developing strategies that go in different directions; at some point there needs to be a homogenous approach. There has been some leadership in the grocery sector with the big players autonomously mandating what should be used, but the body that has the most potential to influence the supply chain is of course the government. We need to level the playing field.”

“Hand-in-hand with reduction, she says, should come a greater simplification of the entire plastics production infrastructure.”

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‘Cautious optimism’ All well and good. But at the risk of labouring a gloomy point, the UK is not – nor perhaps will be for the foreseeable – in a position to give lessons to the rest of Europe on how such things should be done. At a time when what we need is a recognition of our shared responsibilities, the UK is wilfully pulling in the opposite direction. But enough of that subject (for now). Time will tell, they say – only time isn’t necessarily a commodity any of us has in abundance. So finally, to bring us back to my original question – what’s in a headline? Quite a lot, in fact. At Packaging Europe, as with all other members of the press and all sectors of the packaging value chain, we are not without responsibility to ensure that we discuss environmental issues in as accurate and transparent a way as possible. And no doubt we have fallen short here in the past just like everyone else. We can always strive to do better. But you’re a writer, you say (well I claim to be), so of course you think language is important. But in such contexts, it’s important for everyone. After all, we’re not talking about the pros and cons of a new kitchen gadget; it’s far more important than that. And we’re firmly in an age of ‘clickbait’ headlines (like the one for this article, some might of course suggest) and where anybody can post whatever they like online and others can take it as gospel. Where there is no requirement to back up what you say on a social media site with fact. But Libby Peake does voice a note of cautious optimism for the future. “There are more instances now of people thinking about the long-term consequences of knee-jerk reactions to plastic waste, and that you can’t just shift the environmental burden. It’s been a bit of a journey but I believe we’re getting there and I n hope things are slowly being pushed in the right direction.”

Libby Peake


A PIECE IN THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY PUZZLE Elisabeth Skoda explores some of the recent innovations in chemical recycling technology and shines a spotlight on collaborative efforts and prospects for the technology.

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very simple terms, the chemical recycling process breaks down plastics into feedstocks and monomers, enabling the creation of new chemicals and plastics that are equivalent to those made from fossil resources. CEFIC, the European Chemical Industry Council, has outlined several principles to ensure the scale up and full deployment of chemical recycling, which include collaboration and partnership to boost innovation and investments, increase transparency and develop uniform standards for a mass balance approach, further develop quality standards for sorted or pre-treated plastic waste and use LCA to measure environmental impacts along the life cycle of their products. To ensure the scale up and full deployment, policymakers are asked to “enable a policy framework that looks beyond the traditional boundaries of regions and members states, and offers an open investment environment and a competitive model, and an open, single market to ensure a continuous supply of plastic waste for the operation of chemical recycling plants.”

A cautious view In its report “El Dorado of Chemical Recycling - State of play and policy challenges”, NGO Zero Waste Europe takes a closer look at the technology’s potential to solve the plastic waste challenge. Zero Waste Europe’s report states that the information available about the environmental performance of chemical recycling technologies as a whole is still extremely limited and requires further research. “Chemical recycling is still in its infancy and most plants in the market are in a pilot stage. The potential roll-out of such technologies at industrial

scale can only be expected from 2025-2030 and this is an important factor when planning the transition to a Circular Economy and notably the decarbonisation agenda.” The report highlights the importance to set up the right policy framework in order to, on the one hand, accommodate chemical recycling as complementary to mechanical recycling and, on the other hand, ensure that the carbon stays in the plastic and is not released into the environment. “Allowing the conversion of plastic to fuels to be considered chemical recycling risks creating a loophole in EU Climate and Circular Economy legislation. With all its potential, chemical recycling can have a role to play in closing the material loop and moving away from disposal and recovery operations, up the waste hierarchy. Chemical recycling could be a complementary solution to mechanical recycling where the latter proves to be unsuited to materially recover plastic because it is too degraded, contaminated or too complex.”

Great potential for flexible packaging Dana Mosora, senior consultant for the CEFLEX consortium, sees chemical recycling as a ‘must have’ in the field of flexible packaging. “We at CEFLEX have run ‘proof of concept’ which demonstrates that flexible packaging can be recycled back into non-food packaging. Yet one problem is hard to tackle: How to make the recycled polymers fit for food packaging, the majority of which is made from flexibles. As we aim to recycle over 55% of it, we need to make sure it will also find its way back into food applications. Additionally, we recognize that there is a limit of how often polyolefins, which make up over 80% of flexible packaging, can be mechanically recycled.” Packaging Europe | 27 |


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As chemical recycling is an energy intensive process, the key consideration is how the process scores in total economic and environmental cost compared to the best alternatives. “Most of the technology providers are in different stages of calls for investment. Indications are that mechanical recycling will cost less and have a lower environmental impact than chemical recycling alternatives of the same PO-based sorted waste. Therefore we believe that the market dynamics and demand for recycled materials of food contact grade will determine whether sorted polyolefins waste is reprocessed by chemical or mechanical recycling,” Ms Mosora says. She identifies the optimization of the process by the availability of the right waste to enable optimal process and yield. “We see that CEFLEX can play a role in steering the action for the transformation to happen, such as chemical recycling to meaningfully complement mechanical recycling and thus improving the overall recycling rate of flexible packaging waste in Europe. Both mechanical and chemical recycling will be enabled with the implementation of the ‘Design for a Circular Economy’ guidelines by making more of flexible packaging waste a better infeed material for either recycling type.” CEFLEX’s goal is to create a full picture of the current and future flows of flexible packaging waste in Europe, showing the input and output materials’ streams potentially available for mechanical and chemical recycling and considering foreseen recycling capacities, requirements and certification to best of our knowledge today. “Legislation is a critical topic where industries have to work together to enable use of plastic waste as a raw material/feedstock for chemical recycling in addition to mechanical recycling, CEFLEX will collaborate with CEFIC led initiative to build this recognition.”

A closer look at ChemCyclingTM With its ChemCyclingTM project, chemical company BASF aims to manufacture products from chemically recycled plastic waste on an industrial scale. The focus lies on plastic waste for which there is no high value recycling process established. Examples of waste plastics which are difficult to recycle mechanically include plastics with residues, multi-layer food packaging or composite plastics used in the automotive and construction industries. Christian Lach, Lead BASF SE Chemcycling Project, explains the technology, based on a thermochemical process called pyrolysis, which the company is working on with technology partners such as Quantafuel. “Using high temperatures (300-700°C) and in the absence of oxygen the polymer chains of the plastics are broken down into basic chemicals. The resulting secondary raw material (pyrolysis oil) can partially replace fossil raw materials such as naphtha at the beginning of the value chain in chemical production. The percentage of recycled materials can be allocated to certain products manufactured in the BASF Verbund, using a mass balance approach, and we can offer our customers certified products. These are indistinguishable from products manufactured from fossil feedstock.” Mr Lach points out that the advantage of chemical recycling over energy recovery or landfilling is that the carbon contained in the plastics is permanently preserved and re-used. “Moreover, chemical recycling of mixed plastic waste has significant CO2 savings compared to incineration, including energy use, according to a study by CE Delft.” BASF has been assessing new raw materials to find out whether they are suitable alternatives for BASF’s processes and products, and according to the company, the results for pyrolysis oil were positive. “The products made from raw materials obtained via chemical recycling by using a mass-balance-based allocation system for recycled feedstock

“Chemical recycling could be a complementary solution to mechanical recycling where the latter proves to be unsuited to materially recover plastic because it is too degraded, contaminated or too complex.” Packaging Europe | 29 |


exhibit the same quality as products made from fossil resources. ChemCycling™ enables us to offer our customers virgin-like materials based on plastic waste for applications with stringent requirements on quality, efficiency and hygiene,” Mr Lach says. Despite the promising results, he emphasizes the importance of keeping expectations realistic. “ Worldwide, chemical recycling has so far played only a minor role in plastic recycling. Its share is less than one percent. Various technological, regulatory and economic issues are still unresolved. The existing processes and technologies for conversion of plastic waste into pyrolysis oil need to be further developed for industrial use to ensure availability of sufficient quantities of the secondary raw material in consistently high quality and at competitive prices.”

Regulatory challenges Current EU legislation is not opposed to the use of pyrolysis oil produced from plastic waste. However, since chemical recycling barely plays a role in today’s waste management landscape, there are regulatory ambiguities and some hurdles. Without a regulatory push, further development of chemical recycling will be difficult. “While the legislative framework of the EU builds on a technology-neutral definition of recycling, chemical recycling is not yet recognized as a process which contributes to fulfilling the plastic packaging waste specific recycling targets for material recycling under the Verpackungsgesetz (‘Packaging Regulation’) in Germany. This sends the signal that chemical recycling is

“Since chemical recycling barely plays a role in today’s waste management landscape, there are regulatory ambiguities and some hurdles. Without a regulatory push, further development of chemical recycling will be difficult.”

a ‘second class’ option, similar to energy recovery. Acceptance in order to achieve all recycling targets would be an important political signal. Similarly, incentives for recycled content should be applicable to all forms of recycling,” Mr Lach says.

Using water as the ‘agent of change’ ReNew ELP developed its Cat-HTRTM (Catalytic Hydrothermal Reaction) as a form of feedstock recycling, using water as the ‘agent of change’. A number of other technologies under the chemical recycling umbrella use a pyrolysis model, which sees waste plastic converted through the use of heat in low oxygen conditions,” explains Richard Daley, managing director at ReNew ELP. “The use of water as the ‘agent of change’ within Cat-HTRTM plays a key role, as it donates hydrogen during the cracking process, meaning no additional hydrogen is required, and end products are stable, with a high yield. It is also relatively insensitive to residual contamination, such as that from organic food matter and paper, removing the need for extensive preprocessing and segregation of the plastic feedstock. Cat-HTRTM can process all plastic types including multi-layered material such as composite films and can tailor outputs based on reactor operating conditions such as residence time and temperature.”

Potential for chemical recycling He points out that currently, there are a finite number of plastic types that traditional mechanical processes are able to recycle, and highlights flexible packaging, including composite and multi-layer film, and how the new technology can help. “Over 400,000 tons of these flexible materials are produced every year in the UK alone. The Cat-HTRTM technology is able to convert these materials into feedstock for the production of new, virgin-grade plastic, thus entering these materials into a circular economy. ReNew ELP’s Cat-HTRTM technology uses contaminated household plastics to produce virgin-grade polymer that is suitable for food, health and beauty and pharmaceutical packaging applications. He echoes the importance of cooperation in order to achieve recycling goals. “One of our key messages is that the approach to tackle plastic waste and plastic pollution should be a united one. Cat-HTRTM and ReNew ELP are part of a collective group of solutions of companies able to recycle plastic products, which are complementary to traditional mechanic recycling and able to increase n the scope of plastic recycling.” Packaging Europe | 31 |


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One of the themes of our previous startupfocused article was the challenge young companies face when it comes to investment. This time, Victoria Hattersley looks at Saperatec, a Germany-based startup that has developed a unique technology to separate multilayer packaging films containing aluminium foil while maintaining the value of each material. Saperatec has secured investment from adhesives giant Henkel. Packaging Europe was interested to learn a little about the advantages of this relationship from both sides of the transaction – investor and investee.

THE STARTUP INVESTMENT: HENKEL AND SAPERATEC

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t’s often younger companies, such as Saperatec, that are coming up with potentially game-changing solutions towards a circular economy. And yet many of these technologies may never reach industrialization without the necessary support. This can be from ‘angel’ investors, or from more established players who are looking to access novel technologies. For many, the latter may be the more attractive option, bringing as it does strategic benefits for both parties. Henkel’s investment in Saperatec – announced in October 2019 – comes after two years of technical collaboration between the two companies on its separation technology. “We are deliberately expanding into adjacent business opportunities because, as investors, we are constantly looking to get access to new technologies we cannot develop ourselves,” says Paolo Bavaj, head of corporate venturing, Henkel Adhesive Technologies.

“As a global leader in adhesives and coatings for the packaging industry, we have a very close relationship with our customers around the globe. Our understanding of their needs, combined with our industry know-how, can support startups like Saperatec to accelerate their market penetration,” adds Alexander Bockisch, global head of market strategy lamination & coating at Henkel. And what does a major player like Henkel – as we said, already well established in its field – get from this investment in return? “In our business of Advanced Materials, it takes on average eight years to develop a new technology until commercialization,” says Paolo. “With all the competition in our globalized market, companies like Henkel are less and less willing to wait this long. With these startup relationships, we can gain rapid access to technologies with proof of concept that could be industrialized in much less time. With technologies like Saperatec’s that are not within our core capabilities, it simply doesn’t make sense to try to develop it ourselves.” Packaging Europe | 33 |


| 34 | Packaging Europe


‘Unique environmental benefits’ Perhaps before we go any further, we should pause to look more closely at the Saperatec solution itself, its unique environmental benefits and why Henkel felt this was a strong strategic investment. In its simplest form, the physical-chemical process enables the separation and recycling of composite flexible packaging that contains aluminium foil. Crucially, this happens without disintegrating the materials from any of the layers (for example PE, PET and aluminium), so the materials retain their value and can be reintroduced as fresh input to the supply chain to be used for a range of industrial applications. “The process itself is based on what we call separation fluid, which is a chemical mixture that is able to enter the boundary layers of the laminate and reduce the existing adhesive forces in order to enable a delamination,” says Dr Sebastian Kernbaum, Saperatec GmbH founder and CEO. “The underlying idea is that when you cannot treat or recycle a multilayer material as such, then separating the layers into each individual component is the best answer.” It could be argued that the most significant benefit of this process – from both an environmental and an economic perspective – is that when the layers are separated, the outcome is materials of comparable value as at the start of the lamination process. This means, of course, less waste and also potentially one answer to that conundrum the entire industry is grappling with: the inadequate supply of high-quality recyclate. The teaming of Henkel’s adhesives technology, which was developed and customized for this specific application, with the ability to separate laminated structures afterwards will enable the company to provide its customers with an ‘end to end’ solution: bonding and debonding. For those who feel corporates should be taking responsibility for some of the sustainable challenges they create, this is a step in the right direction. “We are also able to reuse the liquid used for delamination; it can be circulated again following some retreatment and therefore supports sustainability within our own processes,” says Sebastian. Alexander is also keen to point out that this solution fits neatly into the three pillars of Henkel Packaging Adhesives circular design strategy as a whole – an approach it refers to as ‘REthink Packaging’. “Investing in this process under-

“With these startup relationships we can gain rapid access to technologies with proof of concept that could be industrialized in much less time.” lines our strategic focus on enabling compatibility with mechanical recycling; debonding of incompatible layers; and enabling new designs with better recyclability. For us, particularly, being able to separate aluminium-containing layers makes it possible to keep aluminium as an ideal barrier solution while offering a recyclable package at the same time. This way, of course, we are also addressing the problem of food waste: what we can offer is a solution that is both ensuring food protection and recyclability.”

Why composites? One angle we have not yet touched upon – and some readers may also have been wondering about – is that there are plenty in the industry who argue that we should be focusing on the development of flexible monomaterials rather than looking at ways to recycle composites. But is it realistic to use monomaterials for all products, or are there some goods for which composites are essential for resource efficiency? Given the focus of this interview, I was of course interested to hear my interviewees’ take on this. “First priority for any type of packaging will remain the protection of both consumers and the filling goods. There is a very good reason for the existence of composite structures in packaging.” says Alexander. “Take coffee, where you are typically talking about a three-layer structure: the aluminium layer will be in the middle, because you need outstanding barrier properties; on the outside you have the printable web for excellent optics in the shelf and on the inside you will have a sealable layer in order to close the packaging and maintain the highest possible pack integrity. Packaging Europe | 35 |


That being said, Henkel is by no means dismissing these structures. Instead, embracing the challenges and looking to improve their performance, as Alex tells us. For example, working on oxygen barrier solutions for food applications, and Henkel has already introduced a laminating adhesive for monomaterial structures with optimized properties for mechanical recycling processes.

“The sustainability challenges Saperatec addresses are something the entire market must face.”

What next? “So far, monomaterial solutions are predominantly used for applications with less aggressive filling goods, such as dry food, or filling goods that require less thermal treatment. At the same time, we clearly see the industry exploring new structures towards better recyclability thanks to monomaterial packaging solutions with enhanced functionality.” And there are challenges of a more practical nature. “When it comes to monomaterials, you will have two layers of similar materials which are then printed on,” adds Paolo. “Even if you take this printed material for re-use you can only achieve a coloured PE or PP material if you do not also carry out an ink removal process, so this is another step you have to deal with. Not all problems are solved by using monomaterial solutions.”

Alexander Bockisch

With the right fit, it’s clear from the above that investment in startups is of mutual benefit to both sides. But there is also the question of whether such a potentially important technology will benefit the entire market long-term: it is not solely about these two businesses, after all. The sustainability challenges Saperatec addresses are something the entire market must face. Sebastian tells us the solution has now been industrialized and they hope to have it up and running by mid-2021 (ed. although of course it remains to be seen whether the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will slow down such developments). So can we expect to see this technology being used on a wider scale in the coming years? He says: “We are currently working on making it available on at least a Europe-wide but also on a global level. We really believe that this technoln ogy can become an industry standard in the long run.”

Paolo Bavaj

Dr Sebastian Kernbaum

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RETHINKING PACKAGING, RETHINKING PRODUCT DESIGN Sophie Kieselbach is a senior consultant at Thinkstep, specialising in life cycle assessment and sustainability. She speaks with Elisabeth Skoda about challenges and opportunities for packaging, and what light the current pandemic crisis sheds on creating a sustainable future. ES: What would you identify as the biggest challenges the packaging industry has to face this coming year and beyond?

SK: Packaging, especially plastics packaging, gets a lot of negative publicity – people forget that it does have a purpose. I just recently read the article on Packaging Europe about the new EU Commissioner for the Environment thinking out loud about completely banning plastics packaging. We cannot afford this from a material technological point of view, especially on a big scale. Last year, Earth Overshoot day, the day on which we exhaust resources the

planet can renew, was on July 29th. We already use far too many resources. In that context, getting rid of an entire material group is ludicrous, it just means shifting the problem around. Having said that, even though there are many wonderful, innovative and sustainable products out there, for many companies in the packaging industry it is still business as usual. There are some exciting ideas out there, for example presenting cosmetics in powder form and telling the consumer how to mix with water, which enables the use of less packaging. It is important to keep the big picture in Packaging Europe | 39 |


Sophie Kieselbach

Every company out there has been affected one way or the other and I hope that companies are willing to learn from that. Learn that change is inevitable and that you need to have some emergency measures ready for implementation, to react to certain risks. Learn that speeding up reaction times is of the essence. Translating that to packaging: all the problems we were talking about before the crisis are still there, they (unfortunately) didn’t disappear. The legal requirements are in place, plastic is still in the oceans and we still have a giant waste problem to solve. The public demand for plastic-free products might have changed a bit throughout the crisis, but that doesn’t mean that we can stop with everything we did before. I would even state that it is crucial that sustainability efforts in packaging are embedded in a sustainability strategy and that they remain embedded throughout the crisis. This crisis now has links to humanity’s impact on the environment. The next one is likely to be linked, too, and may get even bigger.

ES: During this crisis, consumers seem to be drawn to packaged goods, whereas there is a drop in demand of fresh, unpacked produce. Do you expect this trend to last?

mind, but of course that is difficult in everyday business life. You need time, money and the will to take risks to change something. However, if you don’t change, you might fall behind your more adventurous competitors. you also face risks you may not be able to control at some point. I’m always pleased when somebody rethinks their product, as it shows they understand the problem, that packaging depends on the product you manufacture and how much you sell of it. It is important to make sure that a pack is recycled, but ideally we should start a lot earlier, to make sure a pack can be reused and is as efficient as possible, and also think about changing the product in a way that it maybe needs less packaging. Thinkstep strongly focuses on the ecological side of the sustainability debate, and less on the economic or social side. Unfortunately, the one sustainable pack does not exist. We have to find the right balance, which is challenging.

ES: A lot has happened since we originally spoke, and the coronavirus

“It is important to make sure that a pack is recycled, but ideally we should start a lot earlier, to make sure a pack can be reused and is as efficient as possible, and also think about changing the product in a way that it maybe needs less packaging.” SK: I do not expect it to last to that extent beyond the crisis. The more important question is: how long will this crisis last, and has the move towards a packaging-free world been thought through? Can it be embedded in crisis mode? Not really. Then we might need to invest our efforts differently. Right now, some people are really scared to contaminate themselves or do not want to buy food for a long time, so they buy items with a long shelf life. I assume that we will see a shift back afterwards even though it might be not as strong as we have seen before the crisis.

pandemic has changed the world we live in. What would you consider the biggest challenges for the packaging industry in this context?

ES: Back to the question of sustainability, What roadblocks to more

SK: There are two main points. Firstly, if you don’t know your supply

SK: The political framework is still somewhat lacking. On the one hand, there

chain and the risks within it, you are not fit for the future. Secondly, we are indeed capable of huge transformations if the will and the motivator is just big enough. Though this transformation may cost a lot of money and might result in the reshuffling of jobs and other resources, it is definitely worth the investment. Such crises are bound to come again and again, and we should be prepared and plan accordingly so next time it won’t hit us as hard and unexpectedly.

are laws that prescribe the use of recycled content in packaging and to make packaging recyclable, as is the case for example in Germany with the packaging law. But it is not easy for recyclers to invest or expand capacities as they do not have guaranteed buyers for their products. This could change in the future, but in countries like the US, for example, if recycling companies’ capacities are full, the waste ends up in landfill. If the price for primary aluminium is lower than for recycled aluminium, recyclers can’t sell their recycled aluminium.

sustainable packaging have you identified?

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| 42 | Packaging Europe


As soon as there is a cheaper alternative, the market will choose that. For example, in Pennsylvania, a massive site is planned to manufacture polyethylene from fracking gases – this very cheap polyethylene is likely to undermines efforts happening in other areas. The incentive is lacking to use recyclate. It’s not enough to rely on the market, there needs to be some support via subsidies or taxes that tie in with such regulations that the infrastructure can grow organically with the demand.

ES: What effects do you expect from the single use plastic bans around the world?

SK: Some countries have already completely banned single use plastics, and in that way managed to solve some of the visible waste problem. More and more countries will jump on the ban bandwagon and more items will be added to the list of items that can’t be produced any more. The core of the issue is, however, that there aren’t the proper waste collection systems in place and that people aren’t well enough educated on how to dispose of packaging properly. Many countries still have work to do in that area, even in Europe. The single use plastic plan has quite successful managed to solve some of the more visible waste problems, but the difference is mostly cosmetic. The bigger issues still need to be addressed. It is suspected that some of the big plastic “islands” in our oceans don’t originate from the rivers, but from trade ships that dump their rubbish. The problem of exporting rubbish to different countries still exists, even though some importers such as China stopped the practice. The problem hasn’t been solved, but just shifted.

ES: How can packaging be more resource efficient? SK: Nothing is gained if people use ten paper bags instead of one plastic bag. It’s about the mindset. We really should reuse products and packaging until they fall apart and cannot be repaired any more. Then they can go into a different cycle. If we treated all our materials as the valuable commodities they actually are, we would have a lot less problems. But, of course, that’s not

in the direct business interest, which currently is driven by steadily growing consumption. The market economy now doesn’t go together well with sustainability. A working circular economy would entail reusing for as long as possible, repairing and then recycling. Unfortunately, we often start at the latest possible point, which is recycling. It is important to recognise what is produced and for whom and for what purpose, that is how new ideas emerge.

“All the problems we were talking about before the crisis are still there, they (unfortunately) didn’t disappear. The legal requirements are in place, plastic is still in the oceans and we still have a giant waste problem to solve.” ES: What potential do you see for design for recycling, reusable packaging and chemical recycling?

SK: Design for recycling is important, keeping in mind the purpose of both the product and the pack. Reusable packaging is great but it’s important to educate consumers that they have to actually reuse it even if it’s not so modern or beautiful looking anymore. If reusable packaging also had a recommendation on the ideal number of reuses, customers would be better informed of what they need to do, to actually make a change. Chemical recycling is an interesting approach. My dream would be to recycle mechanically what is possible, and then move on to chemical recycling. If we managed to keep plastics in a very long cycle, we would gain a lot. There is a lot of hope in chemical recycling, especially if it is used not just for a fraction, but for all plastics that currently end up in landfill. But sustainability is a complex, interwoven system, and you can’t save the world n with one measure. Packaging Europe | 43 |


BLACK PLASTICS: CAN THEY BE RECYCLED? It’s not one of the great philosophical questions, granted, but for those whose goal is to address the need for a circular economy this is an important piece of the puzzle. The first and most obvious answer is ‘yes, of course they can – all plastics are recyclable’, but as many will be aware it’s not quite so straightforward. Victoria Hattersley spoke to some industry experts to shed some light on the subject. | 44 | Packaging Europe


T

he COVID-19 crisis may understandably be at the tops of people’s minds, but in the meantime the same packaging sustainability questions are still quietly chugging along in the background and will continue to be addressed once life has gone back to ‘normal’. (Whatever that may come to mean, when the creeping hands of Brexit are once again at work and the possible spectre of increased protectionism following on from the global pandemic looms). One of the many of these topics – some big, some small but all contributing to the common goal of a circular economy – is the recyclability of black plastics. While lots of those in the industry who keep an eye on such things will probably have moved beyond the assumption that ‘black plastics can’t be recycled’, there’s still plenty of confusion in the wider world around this complex issue. And yet we know – as you might have noticed we’ve often said – that plastics of any colour are a valuable material if used correctly. “Most plastics used in single-use packaging are what’s known as thermoplastic polymers,” says Thomas McCaffrey, new product development manager at Ireland-based Quinn Packaging (which, as we will discuss, has its own solution to the black plastics conundrum).

“This type of polymer has the unique ability to be melted and formed into useful shapes such as bottles or trays to name but two. But this isn’t the end of the story: thermoplastic polymers can then be re-melted and formed into another useful shape such as a different size bottle, a pot or a piece of garden furniture. With the right conditions this melting and forming can be repeated over and over. It is for this reason that plastics [and this includes black and coloured plastics] are such a valuable resource and so readily recycled.”

“If clear plastic is the only show in town, the question then becomes – what to do with this material?” Why, then, might some – consumers, for example, or brand owners / retailers – still operate under the assumption that black plastics are at an environmental disadvantage? While I don’t feel the need to enter into a full and detailed history here of the issues surrounding black plastic recycling

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| 46 | Packaging Europe


(many readers will have heard it all before), in brief, here are the main points: while all thermoplastics are recyclable, black plastics are usually coloured by carbon black, which, while is great for colouring plastic in an economical way has an unfortunate ability to absorb Near InfraRed Light (NIR) – the element used in the detection and sorting of plastics. Meaning? It’s invisible to the sorting systems and so won’t make it to recycling.

Why use black plastics at all? Given the above, some might well ask (and, in fact, do) why we don’t just stop using black plastics altogether. Wouldn’t that be simpler? Well, no, says Thomas – in fact this would be ‘short-sighted’. While black plastics do have a more ‘superficial’ aesthetic value (“consumers like how black packaging looks, retailers like how it stands out on shelf and producers like how it hides imperfections such as off-colours”), there are also practical reasons to using it over and above this. “Dark colours and black in particular have always been important in the industry as sinks used to absorb perfectly good recycled materials that may have poor optical characteristics. If clear plastic is the only show in town, the question then becomes – what to do with this material? Much

of the clear recycled PET produced from mixed source recycling cannot be used at levels up to 100% when making clear products. This is a notable problem that is simply overcome by colouring the material with an NIR detectable colour including black.” Sebastian Heitkamp, Global Segment Marketing Manager at the Cabot Corporation, agrees that cutting black plastics out of the equation entirely would be a mistake: “Banning black plastics would be counter to the concept of circular economy. Brand owners use black colour to increase the value of their product and to improve contrast to the packaged products. In addition, with black masterbatch, any kind of recycled scrap can easily be over-coloured and thus scrap that may otherwise be undesirable can be re-used.”

Is there another way? One key point to remember is that it’s not the essential material itself causing the problem, but the type of pigment used to colour it – and while we’re focusing on black it’s by no means solely confined to this: Thomas McCaffrey points out that many coloured plastics items that are not black also contain carbon black pigment.

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If we’re looking at the problem from this angle, then the task for the industry is to find another way to colour plastics black that does not use carbon black. Quinn Packaging is an example of a company that has taken this line of approach, having reformulated all new and existing colours to ensure detection and sorting is possible. We’ve featured Quinn’s Detecta product range in Packaging Europe before, when it was launched just over a year ago, but to give a brief recap: Quinn’s

“With black masterbatch, any kind of recycled scrap can easily be over-coloured and thus scrap that may otherwise be undesirable can be re-used.” solution has been to create its own black colour additive which makes the trays identifiable on existing NIR sorting equipment. It partnered with Tomra, a leader in sensor-based sorting systems, to test the range and they were found to be ‘fully identifiable in all respects’. “What makes Detecta unique is that it’s the first recyclable black tray of its type to launch in the marketplace,” says Thomas. “Alternative options are either much too expensive or are a poor colour alternative to carbon black and have made little impact.” But aside from the pigment itself, what about if we look at the solution from another angle? What if, for example, we assume that it is not just the pigment but the sorting technology that needs to be advanced? There are possibilities in this area too. “Technologies have already been developed to address challenges with recycling black plastics,” says Sebastian Heitkamp, “and now the industry is working toward wider adoption of this technology. Several technology

providers have come up with new technology that is able to sort black plastic by polymer type in the plastics waste recycling process, using laser or mid-wave NIR. With these technologies, black plastics can be sorted and therefore effectively recycled.

So is the problem fixed? Not quite, but the perception of black plastics does seem to be slowly changing. It’s clearly good news that more companies are coming up with innovative solutions to a well-known problem – but there is still more to do. Sebastian Heitkamp emphasises that continued collaboration between the plastics suppliers and the recycling industry is critical. “We can support recyclers in finding the right application to upgrade their polymer recycled material with solutions specifically tailored for recycling or to increase the recycled content in their product. For example, our PLASBLAK® 628 Series or our recently introduced TECHBLAKTM series – a product portfolio formulated with recycled resins.” For Thomas McAffrey, the task now is more about education than technological development. “The next stage is to correctly educate the consumer, the large multiples and the media that coloured plastics including black are recyclable. How do we explain that everything you have been told thus far is wrong and what you thought was bad is in fact good! This will require bravery from some key retailers. In Ireland I have witnessed this bravery first-hand, with Tesco and Lidl both moving key products from carbon black packaging to Quinn Packaging’s Detecta.” While we still don’t have the ‘perfect’ solution for the entire industry, there are now far more options for recycling black plastics and we have also seen their intrinsic benefits. So while it would still be a little premature to say, ‘go forth and may all your packaging be black in hue’, there are plenty of situations for which they are perfectly appropriate – even preferable – from n a circularity standpoint.

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EXXONMOBIL EXPLORES EMISSIONS Tim Sykes sat down with Oliver Lorge - ExxonMobil’s global performance polyethylene market manager to discuss their sustainability strategy in detail.

TS: In your view, what is the current state of the plastics industry and how is it evolving?

OL: Plastic is still fundamentally strong and driven by strong organisation. A growing global middle class means that there’s a greater need to preserve food, due to people moving from agricultural areas (where they have easier access to food) to towns – this is driving more and more packaging. So, the global market is looking pretty strong and robust. Polyethylene in particular is growing at 3.5% a year – for a 100 million tonne market that’s about 3.5 million tonnes of additional polyethylene. I would say the business side is going well. But on the other side, there is more and more push for sustainability. We are working hard at making things better and easier to recycle and we are trying to develop solutions that introduce collected recycled material and put it back into packaging design. As usual, there are a couple of steps. The first is reducing material - making things as thin as possible. Trying to reduce plastic use is always the best way to do this, reducing material by 50% is a good first step. We’ve been working on this for the last 20 years. 20 years ago, the thickness of heavy-duty bags made with our products was 200 microns – now it’s 100 microns. The second step is making packaging recyclable. In the past there were a lot of multi-material components, especially for some food packaging applications. This was good at the time because every layer was adding value, but now we must rethink this to make sure that these products are recyclable. Every end-use has its own challenges – food packaging might be the most complex because it needs to be food contact approved so that it doesn’t impact the people using it. So, we tend to use virgin resin in food packaging. Compared to the past where we had a PE/PA or PE/PET structure which was not recyclable, now we’re developing solutions with our performance PE polymers which provide the potential for 100% recyclability, are resistant to bag drop, keep the product fully inside, have multiple ways of introducing barriers, and are printable - which is very important for brand owners when they’re marketing their products.

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TS: On the subject of mono- and multimaterials, what are the key technological challenges that you face in moving to monomaterials?

OL: PET is a very good product; it has everything it needs in terms of stiffness and toughness. The problem is that it can be difficult to seal. PE is a very good sealant, but it isn’t very stiff. So, what you have to do is work with the OEM to design specific resins, as we have done in some of our recent products to increase the stiffness of the PE film.

TS: Do you envisage having a closed loop so that specifically your polymers are being collected and then going into the secondary application?

OL: I think it needs to be an industry move. But we hope that people will use our products when they need high-performance polyethylene. We hope that we will be able to help converters and brand owners to design sustainable packaging from a performance side. We have enough capacity around the world to help and supply, so it’s our goal now to go and develop that. In terms of closed loop, we recently worked with Reifenhäuser to see how many times you can recycle the same material and learned that performance properties can be affected each time. Through this collaborative process, we developed heavy-duty bags based on our most recent innovative performance PE polymer (Exceed™ XP), as they have stringent application needs. We found that we could recycle the bag three times and even when 37% of this recycled material was included in the next batch of the bags, performance was maintained due to the use of our performance PE polymers. It’s very important to work with experts in processing and extrusion companies, like Reifenhäuser and Hosokawa Alpine, can help to ensure that you take care of your recyclable material, so that its quality doesn’t deteriorate. Working together to find the right equipment and processing conditions is essential in order to be able to maximize the number of times we can recycle. The idea here is to have a circular solution where you can reuse and recycle products in partnership with the converters, recyclers, and brand owners. We need to show the proof of concept to our brand owners to show that we can do it – then they can initiate the commercial side. Oliver Lorge

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Some of these recycled material applications are commercial, such as our heavy-duty bags which we collect and reintroduce, but this needs to be bigger than us. The industry must work together to collect all bags, creating circular solutions.

TS: Back on the food packaging, I’ve been following the emergence of certain monomaterial trends over the last two years or so. We also run a competition called the Sustainability Awards, and we’ve seen a lot of monomaterial pouches coming through. Sometimes I find it quite hard to differentiate which of these are significant achievements or if everyone is advancing at the same pace. I’d like to ask you what differentiates what you’ve done from your competitors.

OL: One thing that is very important for brand owners – when you have a bag that drops for example, the liquid stays inside and doesn’t leak. It’s easy to do this with a product made of full PE. It’s more difficult to make a structure that’s


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| 54 | Packaging Europe


resistant and passes the sustainability requirements of the brand owners. The challenge is to make a structure, for example a five-kilo bag of salt, that can be dropped five or ten times yet still function correctly afterwards. Alongside bag-drop resistance, brand owners also want these bags to be puncture resistant, because they may fall on the corner of a table during transportation, for example. Producers have to make sure their structures can resist this sort of treatment and retain their integrity. So, people can design things which look nice, but brand owners aren’t interested, because one leak could mean that they have to throw away tonnes of product. They like to test packaging made with our products when we visit them by jumping on them, throwing them from long distances – things like that. That’s our challenge – to create products out of recycled material that have the same integrity as ones made from PET or PA. In India for example, the move to PE-PE from PET and PE significantly improved packaging integrity across the value chain. I was visiting a brand owner in India, a company we started working with two years ago. They already had 75% of packaging for flour and salt move to PE-PE packaging. They’ve subsequently seen improvements in the failure rate.

TS: The War on Plastic has been the big story over the past two years, but the climate crisis and carbon emissions are arguably more frightening. In your opinion, what is the importance of making sure that anything we do to address the plastic waste issue doesn’t make carbon emissions go up?

OL: I fully agree with that. Our goal is to deliver solutions that enable our customers to reduce their emissions. For example, our packaging can help to prevent spoilage and wastage of meat – and the production of meat is a big CO2 emitter. So, it’s a good thing if we can save 10% of meat via good, recyclable, reusable packaging.

TS: One organisation that we’re particularly interested in at the moment is CEFLEX - a value chain collaboration with a very large proportion of the European flexible value chain involved in it. They work together to standardise and map out the requirements for a fully circular economy in flexible plastics and a viable end-market for PCR. What are your opinions on the scope and potential of value chain collaborations like this?

OL: One of the biggest challenges I see is aligning the recyclers, converters and the resin suppliers in order to develop an organizational structure that the brand owners will buy into, without adding unnecessary costs. With a different way of thinking, we could buy the recycled material ourselves, incorporate our resin and then sell it to the converters. But this is probably not the most efficient process. Another way, which I think is more efficient in terms of CO2 emissions, is to do the dry blending directly at the converters. I think the brand owners are ready to change the way they work, but we need to structure the industry to provide them with the products they need. One of the industries in which we are already commercial with recycled material is shrink applications. In Germany, there is a good system of collecting bottles from supermarkets, where recyclers can also collect old shrink and

stretch film. We’re already working with converters to reuse this material, so that between 30-50% of our ‘new’ shrink film is made of this recycled material. Another example, which we developed with W&H and the Armando Alvarez Group is a shrink film that includes 30% recycled material with 70% performance PE polymers. Then you get the holding force you need to bundle the product, you keep the stiffness to be able to carry it from your car to your house, and you keep the mechanical performance. This is an opportunity for us to really get organised, create a “shrink in shrink” recycle loop where we collect the old packaging to put in the ‘new’ packaging and so on. It’s very important for beverage companies to demonstrate that they are taking this seriously – they were the first ones to push us to develop a solution. And, with a leading plastic film and packaging producer like Armando Alvarez, you can design a good, commercially viable structure. The optics though can be too good sometimes, so much so that people don’t trust that the product is actually recycled. A story from the US – we were working with our customer to make stretch bags containing 50% recycled material and the final product was so glossy and perfect that the consumer couldn’t believe that it was made from recycled material and didn’t want to buy it. The point here is to show we can do it, to say that there are three big companies that can produce significant volume for brand owners. n Packaging Europe | 55 |


SEVEN PILLARS, ONE GOAL It is generally accepted that the packaging industry needs to come up with more wide-ranging solutions to its many and varied sustainability challenges. But there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, as we’re all very aware. Victoria Hattersley spoke to Gerald Rebitzer, director sustainability at global rigid, flexible and carton packaging producer Amcor, about the methods it proposes: among them, the Seven Pillars of Sustainability.

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“Our intent with focusing on seven sustainability options is to give brands a clear starting point for actions they might take to switch to more environmentally friendly packaging now.”

THE SEVEN PILLARS Before we go on, let’s look at these pillars, or ‘options’, that brand owners can take:

Materials that have served their purpose (have been used by the consumer) and subsequently been recycled to produce a new product.

Materials derived from renewable resources such as corn, sugar cane or trees.

Raw materials sourced from socially and environmentally responsible suppliers, as confirmed by certification schemes, such as ASI or FSC®.

Packaging that has a lower life cycle carbon footprint than common alternatives, e.g. due to material selection, design or improved recycling performance.

Packaging that meets accepted design standards for recyclability, i.e. packaging with the right attributes for successful collection, sorting, and recycling in the real world.

Materials that biodegrade in a commercially managed or home composting system according to the relevant industry standards.

Packaging that is refilled or used again for its original purpose.

F

rom my experience talking to people from many different facets of the packaging supply chain, one thing I have become increasingly aware of is that, while everyone agrees that we need to be more sustainable as an industry and as a society, there is little agreement on what this actually means. Some advocate passionately for recyclable plastics within a circular economy while others favour compostables; some extol the benefits of glass, some metal, and so on. But what if nobody is ‘right’? What if it’s more a case of recognizing the uniqueness of each scenario and finding the best solution within that context? This, it seems, is what Amcor’s seven pillars are attempting to address.

“All our customers are looking to improve the sustainability of their packaging,” says Gerald Rebitzer, director sustainability at Amcor. “Our intent with focusing on seven sustainability options is to give brands a clear starting point for actions they might take to switch to more environmentally friendly packaging. We then work together with our customers to tailor a solution for their specific product and market. “And options can of course be combined in order to produce the optimal packaging with a holistic life cycle perspective in mind – for example, a bio-based PE pouch made from sugar cane that is also recyclable and has a lower carbon footprint than the product’s previous packaging.” Packaging Europe | 57 |


“If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on climate change.”

A balancing act The main goal behind each of these seven pillars, as Gerald Rebitzer says, is to ‘retain the packaging’s performance while reducing any negative impact’. As such, the company has identified three interrelated sustainability topics that it believes need to be a part of the sustainable packaging conversation: climate change, food waste and plastic waste. Each of these feeds into the other two, and so addressing them all is a complex balancing act. “Thirty per cent of food is wasted globally across the supply chain, contributing nearly 10% of global greenhouse emissions. In fact, if food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on climate change. For most food found in grocery stores, the vast majority of its carbon footprint comes from growing, harvesting and producing the food. On average, only about 10% of food’s carbon footprint comes from transportation and packaging combined. And here is where the seven pillars concept can come into Amcor’s relationship with its customers. “Packaging’s first job is to protect the food inside from spoilage, prolong its shelf-life and reduce food waste. As an example, paper is a renewable and recyclable resource. It can be a great packaging material for foods requiring no or low barrier. But for products that degrade

“When packaging is thrown away, the valuable financial and natural resources contained in its materials are lost.”

| 58 | Packaging Europe

with moisture and oxygen, paper does not offer enough barrier and plastic packaging is a better option. In those cases we can work with customers to explore options such as recyclable packaging using bio-based PE made from sugar cane; or using post-consumer recycled plastics; as well as downgauging to reduce the amount of material used in the first place.”

Beyond packaging design Of course, the scale of the challenge goes beyond packaging design. That’s why Amcor emphasizes the importance of more unified policy, collection systems and recycling infrastructure across Europe (and other regions) to build a stronger recycling framework. “When packaging is thrown away, the valuable financial and natural resources contained in its materials are lost,” continues Gerald Rebitzer. “Improperly disposed-of packaging waste also contributes to the growing issue of pollution. We know that some countries use recovered plastic for ‘thermal recycling’ or ‘heat recovery’. This method, which involves burning plastic to produce electricity and for other uses, produces carbon dioxide emissions. What we are focused on is packaging that can be recycled and enter a circular system and be used again to make packaging or other products.


“We need governments and advocacy groups to get on board with the fact that there simply isn’t enough infrastructure to serve rapidly growing populations in many countries.”

“Our work with organizations like the Consumer Goods Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Recycling Partnership in the US, and CEFLEX in Europe is already moving us closer to this reality. But we need governments and advocacy groups to get on board with the fact that there simply isn’t enough infrastructure to serve rapidly growing populations in many countries and this needs to change with support from both the public as well as the private sector.”

Actions, not words In short, you can design the most ‘sustainable’ package imaginable, but if the end-of-life infrastructure is not there then all that work may well be for nothing. That’s what we mean when we (as we often do at Packaging Europe) discuss the need for more ‘joined-up thinking’ across the entire value chain. It’s not just words that are thrown around to sound impressive: I’d like to think a large percentage of the industry is beyond that now. Certainly it seems Amcor is. “It is now more than two years since we made our pledge that by 2025 all our packaging will be designed to be recyclable or reusable, as well as increasing our use of post-consumer recycled content. While the majority of our packaging portfolio is already designed to be recyclable – for example, 97% of our rigid packaging already is recyclable – we

continue to develop new materials and light-weight flexible packaging solutions that are both extremely efficient and can also be recycled. Integrating post-consumer recycled content in both rigid and flexible packaging is also a high priority.” And while it is fair that a large part of the burden should fall on industry, Gerald Rebitzer stresses that this should not therefore absolve the individual of responsibility. “The system also needs consumers to be more active in keeping waste out of the environment. Through participation in a collection system and avoiding littering, each one of us plays a critical role in creating a highly effective system.” It is this kind of ethos, including tools such as the Seven Pillars of Sustainability, that will hopefully help move us towards the common goal of a circular economy for plastics. And many would argue we have the means at our disposal today – we don’t need to wait around for some astounding new technology to effect real change. The future is today (as my 10-year old daughter informed me yesterday). “Our hope is to bring the supply chain, governments, multinational and regional companies and NGOs together to create permanent, scalable recycling systems and improve recycling rates – all of which is vital to keep plastics n in use and out of the environment.”

Packaging Europe | 59 |


ARE POLYBAGS STILL IN FASHION? Should we continue to use polybags in the fashion industry considering the rise of sustainable alternatives? Ashley Holding, innovation manager at Fashion For Good and Adam Gendell, associate director of GreenBlue’s flagship project, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, discuss findings from their joint whitepaper with Libby Munford. Adam Gendell

Ashley Holding

LM: Ashley, I’d like to ask you how you define polybags and what their

LM: Why do you think there’s an eagerness at the moment from compa-

function is in the fashion industry?

nies in the fashion and apparel sectors to focus on polybags? What are the issues surrounding them and their use?

AH: I think the word “polybag” could mean different things to different people. In the fashion industry it’s quite a widely understood term, used generally to refer to clear, PE film bags which garment manufacturers use to package their products. It’s something that really unites almost every kind of brand, from luxury brands to value retailers, sportswear and formal wear. Almost everyone uses some form of polybag, and they’re really integral to the whole supply chain. I think that’s one really important thing to think about, and it’s really tied into logistics and supply chain elements as well. They go through distribution centres all the way to bricks and mortar retail stores, as well as consumers’ homes via e-commerce. Polybags are not always collected or recycled. AG: I think, in today’s landscape, we hear a lot about eliminating problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging, namely through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s “New Plastic Economy” framework. What we’ve found is that polybags aren’t superfluous – they shouldn’t be considered unnecessary because the functions they provide in a complex supply chain are critical. A few months ago, we sent out a survey to the audiences of Fashion for Good, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, and the European outdoor group, and we heard from a number of companies in the fashion apparel space about polybags and what they need polybags to do. We found that, first and foremost, polybags are there to protect. Protecting the garment is much more than making sure that it doesn’t get a little bit of dust on it – we’re talking about making sure they don’t get torn, scuffed or dirty. Moisture protection is right up there as well. I’ve been fascinated by a case study published by Patagonia, where they conducted a kind of science experiment by taking a few dozen garments and sending them through its distribution system without polybags. They found that something like a third of them came out the other side too damaged to sell. Of course, if we think about the relative impact of a couple of grams of polyethylene versus a full garment, I think everyone can understand the relative importance of making sure a garment is in a saleable condition. | 60 | Packaging Europe

AG: I find this groundswell of interest really fascinating. We know that there’s a lot of attention on single-use packaging – that’s not new news. But I think we can trace all of this scrutiny back to one monolithic issue: marine plastic pollution, and the terrible images that we all see constantly. However, I’ve never seen a polybag in any of those pictures, so it strikes me that the polybag isn’t the straw, or the foam take-out container, or the plastic shopping bag – the symbols of single-use plastic packaging and marine plastic pollution. But, at the same time, it hasn’t just been a couple of companies here and there that have said that they are addressing polybags – there’s a real critical mass of companies out there that all share the same high level of interest in doing something around polybags. I think what we’ve learned is that the industry is being proactive here. They know just as well as we do that polybags in the fashion industry aren’t the plastic straw or the foam take-out container. But they are the main symbol of plastic single-use packaging within the fashion industry. If I think about fashion and apparel packaging in general, it’s actually refreshingly straightforward from my perspective – when compared with the different types of packaging that an FMCG company would use. We’ve got corrugated boxes, polybags, and then you might have some sort of hang tag. So, in a sense, I think the industry is being proactive about addressing this before it becomes the new biggest issue around plastic packaging. Another thing we’ve learned is that a lot of brand owners and retailers have zero-waste goals. And, right now, polybags aren’t in a very circular system. Most of them are made from 100% virgin material and there are a number of challenges related to capturing them and getting them into the recycling stream after they’ve been used. So, from a zero-waste perspective, today everybody has polybags, and nobody has closed the loop on polybag waste. AH: I think one thing that is difficult to understand is the exact scale of the packaging footprint. There’s really not a good amount of data on how many polybags are produced each year but, based on some estimates we’ve seen,


hundreds of billions of garments are produced each year. If we assume that each of these has a polybag attached to it, then there are probably hundreds of billions of polybags. I think it’s important to put this into a bit of perspective – they are very thin and light compared to the garments that are inside them, so you might have a polyester sweater in a polybag which is many, many times heavier than the bag itself, and contains way more plastic.

use altogether from certain sections of the supply chain. I was also surprised to see that carbon footprint came in third place in terms of how much importance was placed on it by our audiences. We often advise companies to be on the lookout for conflicting priorities, and the risks of unintended consequences because we want companies to take a multifaceted approach and not just think of it as a single issue that needs to be addressed.

LM: You’ve just discussed some really key issues with regards to sustainability. How is the industry reacting to this and what do you think the solution is?

LM: On that note, what stands out to you in terms of how brands are focusing their activities, and what more can be done?

AH: We polled some of our members to see what they were thinking. The

AG: What concerns me is that a lot of those conversations start with a

answers depend on what their priorities are, and these constantly change. We’ve seen that some prioritise recyclability and end-of-life waste management, some of them prioritise reducing the amount of plastic overall, and some look at reducing total carbon emissions. But, to be honest, they seem to rank these things below simply reducing the amount of overall plastic usage. Consequently, most of the initiatives we’ve seen have been based on things like reducing plastic, through reducing polybag size, incorporating recycled content, and collecting polybags for recycling. Only a minority of brands – around a third – are doing these initiatives, and then there’s a bunch of other initiatives looking at compostable polybags, paper-based alternatives, and master polybags.

statement along the lines of: “We want to fix this polybag issue and we understand we need to find an alternative. We’ve stopped using them, and we want to replace them with alternative designs and materials.” The first piece of advice I always give to these companies is, while there might be a lot of advantages to alternative polybag designs, these will only ever be as sustainable as the systems surrounding them enables them to be. If you’re using a different material that might introduce performance tradeoffs as far as moisture barrier properties, or tear and puncture resistance, you really ought to consider what corresponding moves need to be made to your line speed or worker practices when they’re filling boxes. Similarly, if you’re transitioning to a compostable design, you should really think about the systems in place that are there to get that polybag to a composter. So, I do think there’s a lot to be said for retaining the existing polybag, which has been highly engineered and is good at all the “jobs” it needs to do. We need to put a lot of emphasis on the systems around it, on the practices that can be put in place to get polybags collected and recycled after they’re used. The results of these surveys really have been encouraging – the industry is taking a very level headed approach and, before anything else, they are asking the question: “How do we use less?” We know that we need polybags, but do

AG: What I found really interesting about the responses we received from our audiences when we sent out the survey is that there’s a nice synergy in the priorities the industry is placing on polybags. I don’t think it’s surprising that circularity attributes rose to the top of everyone’s lists. People look at the issue of polybags as an issue of waste, waste recovery, and closing the loop at the end of life. A not-too-distant second from that is the idea of using less polybags or reducing their gauge and size and finding ways to reduce their

Packaging Europe | 61 |


“I think the industry is being proactive about addressing this before it becomes the new biggest issue around plastic packaging.”

we need them for absolutely everything, or are there creative ways to get rid of them in certain instances and circumstances? Again, can we use smaller polybags that more tightly fit the garment without wasted space and material.

AH: Like Adam said, rather than focusing on reducing or eliminating plastics, I think we should really be focusing on the systems. Something Fashion For Good has been looking at in detail is the implementation of a circular system where polybags are collected from distribution centres and retail stores, and then recycled into high-quality products like new polybags. LM: Since plastic exploded in the media, there has been a strong move towards finding alternative materials. Do you think that’s the best pathway, or should the conventional polybag become a thing of the past? AH: From my side, I think conventional plastics still have an important role to play. It is possible to recycle polyethylene and not necessarily distribute it so well, even in a market like North America. Recycling systems are being set up across the world, and it’s becoming more feasible to recycle polyethylene with current and emerging technologies. The second point is that you can source polyethylene from biological feedstocks, so you can have bio-based PE which is chemically the same as PE from petroleum-based sources and can be recycled in the same way. You can also use a mixture of bio-PE and recycled PE and, from a carbon impact perspective, both those options are quite good. Bio-based PE bags are available now, many companies sell them. They are based on sugar cane as a feedstock and are sold by a company called Braskem. AG: I agree with Ashley – we also appreciate the diversity of approaches that companies are taking. I think both things can be true – the conventional can have a brighter future and there’s also good opportunities for alternative materials and designs to come in and push innovation as well. I don’t think that anybody knows enough to say that “option B” is always going to be the best, in every region and in every circumstance for every type of product. When we polled our audiences on what kind of improvements they were exploring and implementing, we measured more interest in reusable packaging | 62 | Packaging Europe

than anything else. Our numbers showed us that basically every single company is at least thinking about some type of reusable packaging system that would serve the same function as polybags but may look completely different. But at the same time, when we ask them what they’ve actually implemented, hardly any companies actually had reuse systems in place. I think our research suggests a multi-pronged short-term and longterm approach.

LM: You’ve explored some of the alternatives that are options on the market, but there must be pros and cons to these alternative materials. Can you discuss these? AG: Any material is going to have a different profile of environmental attributes, and that extends beyond this discussion on polybags. One of the first learnings to be found in the whole galaxy of sustainable packaging is that there’s not going to be one “silver bullet” material or design format that’s going to “win” across the board if you look at all the different and important environmental characteristics. The conventional polyethylene design is, frankly, not that impact-intensive – we’re talking a very small amount of polyethylene. That said, we’re also talking potentially billions of small amounts of polyethylene every year, which turns into a lot of polyethylene. So, there’s a meaningful carbon footprint at play in polybags. The amount of fossil resource consumption is meaningful – water consumption, toxicity indicators, all of those. AH: The trade-offs often come in terms of waste management. Most countries don’t have a separate collection system for compostable plastics. I think it’s also important to understand the volume of polybags being used by large brands. You’d have many tonnes of compostable plastics going through a distribution centre which wouldn’t really have a place to go – it would essentially be incinerated or landfilled. So, thinking about the lifecycle of materials before they are put on the market is very important. As was mentioned, using bio-based alternatives for current materials is a good way to reduce carbon impact. Paper is also


interesting – it can be recycled pretty widely in most countries. There is a slight trade-off in terms of carbon emissions and water usage. Then there are new materials, like PVA, which is a water-dissolvable polymer and also has trade-offs in carbon emissions and water usage.

LM: Which of these alternative materials do you see receiving the most interest on the market at the moment?

AH: For me the compostable options are quite interesting for a lot of people and I think it really depends on the brand itself and what message it’s trying to convey. You actually see more small brands (which we define as less than $1 billion in revenue) focusing on compostable alternatives. They’re also interested in the idea of participating in the biological cycle. Of course, the realities behind this today aren’t quite there. Another thing that is interesting, if still quite new, are the water-dissolvable PVA polybags that I talked about earlier. I think it’s still very early days – they claim to be compostable but, to be honest, I haven’t seen specific evidence of this. I’m happy to stand corrected if there is some. We do need to exercise caution until there’s more data on its compostability and compatibility with current recycling streams and plants. Also, as we mentioned before, I think a pretty good option for now is bio-based and recycled PE. AG: I love this question because I actually find it very challenging to answer. I don’t think we’ve seen any kind of critical mass forming around one particular alternative to the conventional polybag. I think Ashley and I have done a great deal of exploration to find out who’s doing what, and I feel like we’ve found single examples of a company using each of these main categories of alternatives. So, we can find one brand owner who’s using the sugar cane-based polyethylene, another brand owner who’s using a compostable plastic alternative. I think the paper alternatives are going to be interesting to watch, because they’re probably the newest entry into the market here and, just in general with the scrutiny around single-use plastic packaging, the paper alternative tends to be one of the things companies want to explore. So, I’m not going to be surprised if we see some good healthy uptake of the paper alternative as well. All that said, I want to reinforce a point I introduced earlier, which is that for every company that is looking to change material, there’s multiple companies who are attacking this as more of a systems challenge and asking what they can do without these polybags and how they can change the system. They’re looking at what happens at their distribution centres – they have good ability to collect polybags there and they can deal with the film recycler. They want to know if it’s possible to do things like using polybags until that last leg of shipment, and then ship them without a polybag, so that they can be kept at the distribution centre where they can be aggregated and recycled. We’re also seeing companies looking at down-gauging and incorporation of recycled content, so again, there’s not really any gravitation towards one of these alternative options. I also think it’s worth mentioning that there’s a lot of sharing going on as well, which is really nice to see – a lot of pre-competitive cooperation so that companies can say: “This is what we’re doing now, this is what we like about it, and here are the challenges we’ve discovered.”

LM: It sounds like you’re seeing quite a joined-up approach on these issues. What do you think the solution is and where do you think we’ll go with this in the future? AH: This is really what we’ve been focusing on at Fashion For Good. We accepted that polyethylene is being used right now, so it’s probably a good idea to make the current system better. Firstly, we should always start off with reducing plastic where necessary and where possible. There’s some ways in which you can eliminate it as well, especially before it’s sent to consumers. Exploring ways to remove polybags in distribution centres before they’re sent to consumer could also be quite a good idea. In line with these things, we should also be establishing collection of waste and making sure this is actually recycled, as well as ensuring that stores in particular collect and recycle their polybag waste. We’ve seen that some more traditional retailers and brands have quite a large volume of polybag waste – sometimes 80% of its whole volume of waste – actually at store-level. AG: I think, from an ideal sustainability perspective, the best solution is going to be worked out on a really long wavelength – it’s going to take time. I also think everyone shares the same long-term pursuit of a world without polybags, where the short term strategy is to enhance their circularity, but the long term strategy is to change whatever needs to be changed, so that we don’t even have to ask what the best polybag looks like. I don’t think we’re going to have billions of reusable unitised polybags – the system is going to be different. It might be a whole bunch of garments together in one reusable shipper – who knows? Again though, in the meantime, I think the diversity of approaches we’re seeing about perfecting circularity and finding fits for alternative designs is going to contribute to everyone’s understanding. AH: I like the idea of a “master polybag”. It is vital for some brands to have one larger bag which contains many garments, and it’s something that a lot of larger retailers are doing. This reduces overall plastic waste n and is a fairly viable solution. Listen to the conversation in full on the latest Packaging Europe podcast. Available on our homepage, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.

Packaging Europe | 63 |


ON SECOND THOUGHTS... WE NEED MORE ROBOTS In the time of the coronavirus, robots can keep workers safe, and boost productivity argues Mark Gray, UK sales manager at Universal Robots.

D

uring recent weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has largely dominated the headlines, impacting every sector and changing the way we work. As many sectors move their workforce online, it goes without saying that this simply is not possible in the manufacturing and packaging industry. The question now, is how can the packaging industry adapt to these new conditions, whilst staying productive and also creating a safe, hygienic working environment for employees? Whilst the media narrative surrounding robots tends to focus on how automation stands to replace human workers, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, even without a global pandemic, regional labour shortages and the need to up productivity all mean robots will be central to manufacturing in Europe and creating jobs in the sector over the next few years. During these times, protecting jobs should be the highest priority for businesses, and robots can help the industry to stay productive, safe and retain as much of the workforce as possible. Automation will replace certain monotonous and cumbersome tasks and we do need to be mindful of the impact this will have on specific roles. However, it will also enable the human workforce to upskill and complete more rewarding tasks that offer better job satisfaction. For example, identifying areas where automation can enhance productivity, communicating this to the wider company and completing the final checks in the quality control process. For every task a robot assumes responsibility, several newer jobs can be created. For example, as a robot supervisor, in logistics or quality control. For the packaging industry, robots offer myriad benefits to deal with coronavirus, from addressing regional labour shortages to increasing throughput. They come in all shapes and sizes, from industrial robots, engineered to lift heavy metal parts, to collaborative robots (cobots), designed to work alongside the human workforce. If we look at the latter, thanks to their economic size and multiple safety functions, including motion and impact sensors, cobots can be placed directly on the factory floor, next to human employees. Most importantly, during these difficult times, they can remove the need for human contact with packaging, meaning that they not only reduce the risk of contaminating packages and impacting the end user, but also

| 64 | Packaging Europe

lessen the need for workers to touch contaminated materials. With the capability to complete repetitive, high-precision tasks, cobots can relieve workers of dull, dirty and dangerous work. With benefits aplenty, it’s no surprise that globally, more and more companies are turning to cobots to better protect their employees and enhance their productivity. If we look more regionally, countries like Singapore and Germany are forging ahead with their adoption of automation, while the UK severely lags behind its G7 counterparts. Some argue that uncertainty around Brexit has contributed to this, others that scrapping the Manufacturing Advisory Service has made it difficult for companies, particularly SMEs, to get help and advice on how to automate. Perhaps the misguided perception that robots require vast sums of money and lengthy implementation downtime has also fuelled a hesitation to automate. Regardless of the reasons, the good news is that cobots are designed to address these concerns head on. Cobots are built with integration in mind. Many come as an out-of-the-box solution, meaning that even an untrained operator can unpack, mount and programme the cobot in less than an hour. For businesses, this means that they can maximise throughput and accelerate time-to-market. For workers, it means they can offload the most menial and repetitive aspects of their role to the robot, freeing them up to perform more varied and fulfilling duties. In terms of the cost, cobots are an economic option for companies, particularly SMEs, to automate. Some are even available on a leasing programme, designed to offer greater cost control and flexibility to automation without a capital investment. This scheme also has the added benefit of adding units during peak periods to meet a spike in demand. This enables companies to maintain their competitive edge. As early adopters like Europe demonstrate, robots are not something to fear, but welcome. They can drive business efficiencies and maximise productivity all while empowering the human workforce to learn new skills. The partnership between robots and human workers is bright and one that we should embrace with open arms. Universally, businesses may be suffering due to the pandemic, however, in the long-term, robots can provide a means to future-proof business operations in uncertain and n fast-moving circumstances.


15 - 16 OCTOBER 2020 PESTANA PALACE, LISBON

TWO DAYS OF INDISPENSABLE DISCUSSION IN THE EUROPEAN GREEN CAPITAL 2020 We’re bringing the value chain together for an interactive forum to examine new opportunities and explore how we can connect the dots. Join us for the Sustainable Packaging Summit, featuring the Sustainability Awards 2020.

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