Reducing packaging or making product packaging more eco-friendly is not as straightforward for businesses as it first appears, according to industry insiders. The suggestion comes as a study claims consumers are being penalised financially for their efforts to use less plastic. The research compared the price of loose supermarket fruit and vegetables versus the packaged variety, finding that those sold without plastic wrapping were often more expensive.
But retailers and packaging suppliers have spoken out to explain the reasons behind the move, with the British Retail Consortium stating that buying packaged produce in bulk is cheaper for stores, because there’s “less handling and waste involved”. And individual stores claimed that loose items are often larger than those sold in multipacks.
The debate has arisen amid increasing calls for packaging – particularly plastic varieties – to be reduced in volume, and to be made more environmentally friendly. This has resulted in the launch of initiatives such as the UK Plastics Pact, which sets out a number of targets for businesses, local authorities and central government, including to make 100% of plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
But achieving this goal is not always as simple as it sounds, according to those in the packaging industry, as a number of challenges are at play, including technology, cost, shelf life and suitability. Although there are compostable films out there, they are not suitable for food use, nor will they give you anything like the shelf life that a supermarket requires. Shelf life is of vital importance, and to increase it without adding too many e-numbers or preservatives which are harmful, you need to create the right pack around it. With shorter shelf life comes increased waste, which poses an additional dilemma for manufacturers and retailers, as well as consumers.
However, since films involve the use of non-recyclable, non-compostable materials – which are currently considerably less expensive than the cost of sorting, recycling and repurposing plastic – businesses continue to use them; it’s far cheaper to buy the raw materials straight from the ground and far easier to get a fresh PET bottle as virgin-grade material than it is recycled.
STEP BY STEP
In response to current pressures, brands, manufacturers and retailers are looking for ways to reduce their packaging. And although many are now opting for minimal packaging – such as a film plus a low-cost, single-colour print, reduced grade cardboard shelf-ready package (SRP) – some business owners could benefit from increasing their efforts. Steps that could be taken include:
- Using plastic crates or totes instead of single-use cardboard boxes.
- Asking your packaging supplier if they can reduce the board grade of your SRP.
- Using self-stacking boxes or crates instead of shrink-wrap.
- Sending unused display materials for recycling.
- Looking into waste exchange schemes.
SUSTAINABILITY & SATISFACTION
While the extent of industry and cost attached to recycling plastics continues to render compostable packaging largely inaccessible for the time being, consumer demand for a reduction in packing volume at the very least is becoming increasingly apparent. By taking small but tangible changes, business owners will increase their sustainability credentials while satisfying environmentally conscious customers.