A future with less plastic packaging

Photo: Daria Shevtsova

Published in Vleesmagazine June 2019 - Industry Special

Every year we produce about 58 million tonnes of plastic in Europe, 40 per cent of which is packaging. Much of this plastic is food and drink packaging, which is designed to be used only once.

Single-use plastics are a waste of valuable resources. If more recycled plastics are used, the dependence on fossil fuels for plastic production and curb CO2 emissions. emissions. This could save energy worldwide equivalent to 3.5 billion barrels of oil per year. To put action, the European Union in 2018 set out a new strategy to make all plastic packaging put on the market in the EU reusable or recyclable by 2030. market will be reusable or recyclable. Alternative raw materials are already being are already being developed (e.g. bio-plastics or plastic based on carbon dioxide or methane-based plastics) with the same uses as traditional plastics, but with potentially less environmental impact. However, the market share of these However, the market share of these alternatives is currently very small. The idea is that if we use more alternatives that are more sustainable, we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. fossil fuels.

Circular plastics industry for more packaging reuse

The European Union therefore wants to challenge all parties involved - producers designers, brands, industry, retailers and recyclers - to achieve a circular plastics industry. a circular plastics industry. A system in which the reusability of of packaging is maximised and value destruction is minimised. minimised. To make this happen, the EU is taking concrete measures. One of these measures is the ban on plastic cotton buds, plastic plates and cutlery and on sticks to which balloons are attached. The use of The use of plastic drinking cups and meal containers should be actively discouraged, for example by by charging extra for them.

Companies are already responding to the need to use less plastic. use. Every (small) action is quickly in the news because it has a large social interest. For example, the COOP supermarket announced that They are asking more money for plastic bags and are lowering the price of the big shoppers. And in addition to the fully recyclable bags at the AGF department (90% sugarcane) paper bags will soon be introduced. Many supermarkets already have them, but still, it is a positive publicity stunt. 

New framework directive on waste

The first concrete measures for packaging result from from the new Waste Framework Directive, Directive (EU) 2018/851. This must be incorporated into national regulations and will come into force on 5 July 2020. Producers of packaging will be made even more responsible for the recycling the packaging. This can be done through other waste prevention measures, centres for reuse, take-back and collection systems and prevention of litter. The regulation contains minimum requirements that each member state has to develop and include in national and include in national regulations. In the Netherlands, the Ministry of Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management is responsible for this and is working on an chapter 10 (waste materials) in the Environmental Management Act. For this purpose February and March 2019, an internet consultation round.

Leafskin packaging

In Germany, producers and distributors who bring packaging are already obliged to take back and recycle sales and transport packaging. and to recycle it. This also applies to foreign companies. This law was still being flouted, but since January 2019 the law has been tightened. If companies fail to register, fines of up to EUR 200,000 can be imposed. It is not for nothing that the leafskin packagingwhich consists largely of cardboard (80% plastic reduction), is a big hit in Germany. The leafskin packaging is a packaging for meat with a 100% recyclable flat cardboard tray with a plastic top. All the different materials can be completely separated. At the IFFA fair in in Frankfurt, you could not ignore it. An additional advantage is that you no longer label is no longer needed. All obligatory product information can be put on the cardboard tray. So fiddling with labels is no longer necessary.

Packaging industry mainly looking for paper solutions

The packaging industry is looking for new packaging primarily paper solutions instead of other types of plastics. Probably Probably because of the recycling issue. Paper, like glass and metal, can be easily recycled. can be easily recycled. But plastics are still recycled to a very limited extent. Every year approximately 25.8 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced in Europe annually. Less than than 30 % of this waste is recycled. The EU treats most of it in third countries, where different environmental standards apply.

The EU is therefore stepping up the pressure to reduce harmful plastics. plastics. From 5 January 2021, for example, there will be a central reporting reporting obligation for suppliers who bring harmful plastics, also known as Very Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) on the market. The European agency ECHA is working on a central database. Suppliers must report in it by name which name which products are involved and which substances they contain. substance(s) involved. The database will be accessible for waste processors and, on request, also for consumers. consumers.

Less plastic packaging a challenge for the meat sector

In the meat sector, we are using more and more plastic. use. The supermarket shelves are now completely filled with plastic foodtainers. Is the leafskin packaging the new solution for the Dutch meat sector as well, or are we looking for more circular use? new solution for the Dutch meat sector or are we looking for more circular use, for example? Perhaps there are other solutions. The Dutch food sector in general in general and the meat sector in particular have a high reputation for innovation. It is clear that something must be done. Innovative and environmentally aware, small steps small steps and, above all, a lot of publicity or wait until new regulations or society society will enforce it. Either way, it will be a challenge!

Yvon Bemelman