Big Food & Beverage needs to detox from its plastic addiction!
Have you ever thought about that clear plastic on your favorite spicy chicken wings or veggie and hummus sandwich? Yes, it is true that packaging is necessary for food to be delivered in good quality from production to consumption. Disposable packaging is also very convenient, so it has become an essential part of most contemporary food and beverage supply chains. Yet environmental problems related to packaging waste have grown exponentially over the past few decades. Over-packaging of products is commonplace. As the carbon intensity of disposable plastics reaches its zenith, now is the time for Big Food & Beverage to detox from its plastic addiction.
Plastic weighs down municipal recycling systems. Unless we ban plastic, what should we do? Meaningful action to reduce Big Food & Beverage’s plastic footprint is imperative. Still, reduce dependence on plastics in this gargantuan industry has been difficult, primarily due to cost, convenience and consumer safety concerns.
What’s wrong with plastic?
Food and packaging/containers account for nearly 45% materials dumped in landfills in the United States. (China stopped importing U.S. waste in 2018, driving up the costs of collecting, recycling and landfilling plastic waste.)
Big Food & Beverage is complicit with Big Oil in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It’s because petrochemical naphtha and other oils Refined from crude oil are used as feedstock for petrochemical crackers that produce the building blocks for making plastics.
According to APE, packaging products are made of different plastic resins. Some of them include soft drink and water bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), milk and water jugs made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), films (including bags and bags) made of polyethylene low density (LDPE) and other containers and packaging (including shells, trays, caps, lids, egg cartons, bulk filler, product baskets, liners and closures) made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene (PS), polypropylene (PP) and other resins.
Advances in technology, coupled with increasing consumer demands, have led to a drastic increase in plastic production. The urgent need to improve the sustainability of our food systems includes the development of more sustainable food packaging. Finding the balance between food affordability, cost, or convenience pressures while developing a green supply chain is no simple task.
According to a report by CustomerEarth.
- technologies that have not been proven on a large scale
- waste management practices that raise environmental concerns
- replacing one single-use item with another
- clean-up activities that do nothing to address the source of plastic waste
- plastic compensation schemes
- recycle plastics into products that cannot themselves be recycled
Can government regulations help fight plastic addiction?
Plastic pollution is at a critical point. Governments have responded to public concerns by developing rules to tackle packaging waste — single-use plastics in particular — and improve recycling and waste management systems. In March 2022, 175 countries passed a resolution on the first treaty to directly address the 9 billion tonnes of plastic produced since the plastic era accelerated in the 1950s.
Many of these new standards will come into force in the next few years, hopefully setting a global regulatory trend that can help promote more sustainable packaging.
A study outside the EU says it all. Moving away from the single-use disposable culture by rethinking design, reducing resource use and waste, and supporting reuse and recycling are key to achieving a circular economy of food packaging and reducing its environmental impact.
Big Food & Beverage must reduce and minimize its environmental impacts. This includes:
- reduce the amount of packaging and packaging waste
- promote reusable packaging and recycled and renewable materials
- innovative packaging solutions, with consumer safety as top priority
New York Governor Kathy Hochul introduced a proposal in her 2023 budget to incentivize producers to reduce waste, “make products that are easier to recycle, and support a circular economy.” The proposal has since been eliminated from the state budget. However, as of January 2022, no covered catering vendor or store is permitted to sell, offer for sale, or distribute disposable catering containers containing styrofoam in New York City. Authorities encourage the use of reusable, recyclable and compostable items, source reduction and items made from recycled content where possible.
Plastic-free supermarkets have become tendency which is increasing throughout Europe. France has set a target to recycle 100% of plastics by 2025 and to phase out single-use plastics by 2040. Plastic packaging for almost all fruit and vegetables has been banned there since January 2022 , and under French packaging law, companies pay less for their recyclable packaging. In addition, the Italian tax on plastic packaging is now expected to come into force in January 2023.
Australia aims to phase out single-use plastics and meet ambitious recycling targets under the 2025 National Packaging Targets. These require that all packaging be 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable, that 70% of plastic packaging be recycled or composted, and that 50% of the average recycled content be included in packaging.
Transport is essential to reduce the dependence on plastic
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions, energy and raw material consumption is to rethink the way food and beverages are packaged and transported.
green seal® is a global non-profit organization that started the eco-labeling movement with a mission to transform the economy for a healthier, greener world. Its certification is a process that ensures that a product or service meets the stringent performance, health and environmental criteria of Green Seal’s environmental leadership standards. More than 100 federal, state, and local purchasing policies specify Green Seal, and more than 33,000 products meet performance, safety, and health standards.
His Restaurant and Food Service Operating Standards specific to waste reduction and management include:
- develop a waste management plan
- carry out waste audits
- operation of a recycling program
- divert a certain percentage of waste from landfill
- reduce a certain percentage of waste production
- compost wasted food
- avoid or eliminate disposable products or services
Starch-based materials are considered a viable alternative to plastic packaging. These materials have great potential as biodegradable food packaging solutions which could reduce unwanted environmental pollution. The functional attributes of starch-based biodegradable materials can be extended or enhanced by adding other biopolymers or additives. However, as with most biomaterials, scaling up production and creating economies of scale to reduce unit costs is a challenge. With low margins in food retail, higher costs would undermine the competitive advantage of products.
Instead, many of the strategies adopted so far rely on reducing the size and weight of bottles and cans and stepping up efforts to encourage consumers to recycle containers. But, more promisingly, the total reduction in the use of cans and bottles has additional benefits in terms of reduced transport emissions and energy consumption.
A presentation in Bloomberg Green describes some innovative companies creating sustainable packaging for Big Food & Beverage.
- Colorado-based BrewVo has developed a way to extract water and alcohol from beer before shipping and reconstitute it at destination.
- London-based Packamama manufactures elongated wine bottles that are 87% lighter than traditional cylindrical glass bottles and 40% smaller, so almost twice the amount of product can be shipped in the same space, depending on the company. He said sales volumes grew more than 20x in 2020 and growth continued despite the pandemic.
- EcoSpirits has established partnerships with the Savoy in London and the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and Pernod Ricard for bulk liquid transport. Once at their destination, liquids are decanted into smaller, reusable containers or dispensed directly into a glass via an integrated tap.
In 2021, Mars Wrigley and Danimer Scientific announced a new 2 year partnership to develop compostable packaging for Skittles in the United States.
These examples are a good, albeit slow, start to ending Big Food & Beverage’s addiction to plastic. Innovations in sustainable packaging materials have the potential to be part of the solution, but only if combined with large-scale efforts to reduce the amount of packaging businesses choose to use.
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