KEVIN CURRN, Managing Director at Tri-Star Packaging, introduces the company’s innovative new, and thoroughly green, Tri-Pot…
The recent media attention surrounding the recyclability of paper coffee cups has re-focused industry attention on the sustainability of packaging. Retailers, from coffee shops to supermarkets, may publicise that their products are sold in containers that may be recycled or composted, but unless the product is disposed of through the correct channels for that material type, the statement is meaningless because it will end up in the general waste system destined for landfill.
The problem for retailers is that they have no control over the way in which the consumer disposes of their product once they have left the premises. Coffee is drunk on-the-go, salads and sandwiches are eaten at the desk or in the park, deli items are taken home. If there is a conveniently-located, well-labelled collection bin, the items may be correctly disposed of for recycling (and there’s more likelihood of this for items that are taken home), but otherwise, chances are the packaging will end up in the closest bin.
For retailers and the packaging industry the problem is a lack of legislation, or even government guidance. There are so many different materials in use – paperboard, PET, PVC, PLA, rPET to name just a few – and the recycling
procedure for each is different, then you’ve got compostable products made from corn starch, for instance, that are different again. Manufacturers have invested in their production facilities according to the material they choose to work with and for retailers the sustainability of specified packaging and the material used is often a long way down the procurement checklist. Every retailer, and every manufacturer, has their own agenda and trying to pull these together into one consistent initiative that everyone signs up to is the challenge the industry faces.
As a distributor, as well as being a leading innovator, Tri-Star moves boxes. We will supply the customer with whatever product they choose and our range includes all materials and some really innovative products, like the hugely successful Tri-Pot, which is made from rPET, so it contains recycled PET and it can be recycled time and time again. I would like my customers to choose the most environmentally-friendly packaging items available, but the reality is that when the packaging buyer is faced with having to reduce costs, the likelihood is that any move towards greener packaging will be derailed before it’s even reached the starting line.
Retailers can help to drive the sustainability agenda for packaging. Coffee shop chains will generally use the same type of cup for their takeaway hot drinks; paperboard with a PE lining. The leading chains could help to solve the problems of collecting material by joining forces to fund the manufacture and siting of collection bins, strategically on our high streets or wherever there is a cluster of outlets. The bins could be branded with logos so the consumer knows which cups to put in them and the local authority could have a section on the waste collection vehicle for these cups. This sort of initiative could also be given a positive marketing spin for the chains involved.
Solving the problem of collecting the material is one thing, but does it then make environmental or financial sense
for it to be transported hundreds of miles for recycling? At the moment in the UK we have only two recycling plants for paper cups, both based in the north of England, although the biggest consumer market for takeaway cups is in London. We need regionally-located recycling facilities.
In the wider context of all food and drink packaging, the consumer understandably finds it difficult to identify different packaging materials, but the industry could help with this by standardising on the material used for different product ranges, for instance, salad pots. Then the retailer could play their part with the final link in the chain – consumer education – and this needs to target our children as well, because it isn’t an overnight process. Young people are really switched onto recycling and if we embark on a rolling education process now, in 10-years’ time when they are adults they will understand the difference in materials and the correct channels for disposal for recycling or composting.
SUS IT OUT
But to do this, the retailers need to put sustainability higher up the agenda when making their packaging
procurement decisions. The focus needs to be on the material being used rather than on the cost.
We need recycling to be more affordable and I believe sponsored by the government, or funded by a tax, for instance, on the paper cup, which would be passed down the line to the consumer with minimum effect on the cost. No-one is going to complain about that – or even notice it. But someone needs to take control. The government needs to take control; to help the country to meet its recycling targets and at the same time create employment and reduce waste in the system.