At the recent Australian Institute of Packaging Virtual Conference, Detmold Group general manager Tom Lunn presented on the role of fibre-based packaging in the circular economy. He said that because of the small size of the Australian market, a major issue is difficulty in finding the scale necessary for changes.
“You really need to be clever and find some end markets [for recycled materials],” he said. Lunn explained that it was those end markets that drive through to packaging design, and the designers need to understand the consumer and their motivations. “We can’t operate alone anymore. You need partnerships and need to find willing partners who are moving in the same direction as you.”
Nespresso Australia and Oceania technical quality manager Marta Fernandes said worldwide the company had been working with local recycling entities to find solutions to recycle coffee pods efficiently. “Eighty per cent of the aluminium in our pods is recycled,” she said. “It is important to us that we are able to join forces with others, find local solutions for end-use materials.”
Next generation equipment
Sleever International Australasia focuses on shrink sleeves and representative Olivier Clement said Sleever has been creating ways to make its products more sustainable. “We can support brands towards their ecological transition with no compromise on the sensorial identity of their products because, at the end of the day, everyone needs to sell,” he said.
Clement also spoke about carbon footprint optimisation, which he said can be obtained through reducing the thickness of the materials and other methods. “We have also developed our next-generation equipment to reduce water and energy usage with higher performance,” he said.
The Australian Food & Grocery Council (AFGC) director, Sustainability, Barry Cosier spoke about Barriers and Enablers for developing a Packaging Circular Economy.
“Packaging is getting a bad rap at the moment,” Cosier acknowledged, “so what actions can the industry take to create a packaging circular economy?”
He said that it was critical that the issues and the problems that the industry is trying to address are understood at a deeper level.
“There are two issues that are surrounding packaging at the moment which are quite distinct in their cause and behaviour and how we act and respond to them.
“The first one is litter, which is any material ending up in the environment and predominantly what the consumer is seeing now is this litter ending up in the marine environment. So that becomes distinctly an environment issue.
“But when you look at the global recycling crisis, that becomes an environmental and economic issue and that’s where the circular economy solution sits,” he said.
Putting the litter issue into perspective, Cosier said that the total amount of litter entering the marine environment is 2.2 million tonnes per annum with 9 million coming from the coastal regions such as river systems.
“It’s important to note is that it’s estimated that close to 94 per cent is coming out of Asia and the African river systems. So, when companies are designing their packaging, they need to ask is it a litter risk?
“The question is, what is the relevance of that to Australian packaging? And it’s really the perception of packaging which is driving the perception of all packaging not just plastics,” he said.
Cosier referenced a 2019 survey by the University of Queensland in which people were asked to rank environmental issues.
“They said that packaging waste is one of the biggest environmental issues. Although, that’s probably not accurate, it is the perception.
“If you look at the global recycling crisis, the solution for this is to move from the linear take, make and dispose economy into a circular economy. A good example is the development of Vegemite in 1922 which was taken from one waste stream and used to create a new product. How do we now use that knowledge that we have had for 100 years and valorise a supply chain to make sure that we can get packaging back into the best form of packaging we can?