It is believed that between 25% and 30% of domestic waste in the UK comes from packaging. A significant portion of this can be attributed to food or drink.
Food packaging can be difficult to recycle and reuse due to its shelf-life and safety qualities. Packaging and transportation are the biggest problems in the convenience drink sector. Transporting convenience drinks is a major problem. Packaging that is too heavy uses more energy.
At the same time, the UK is working to decarbonise all sectors of its economy to meet its net zero target by 2050. Consumers also want to lower their carbon footprint by making better food choices.
As consumers demand more sustainable foods and beverages, there is increasing pressure to lower carbon footprints. Agile start-ups have begun to rethink conventional packaging. FoodNavigator hears how.
The snacking sector faces numerous packaging challenges. Snack foods are often delicate and irregularly shaped. It is not easy to protect snack foods while also ensuring a long shelf life. Adding sustainability to the mix presents new challenges.
UK snack start-up WARP Snacks, owner of the snacks brands Eat Real and PROPER, is trying to solve these problems. To do this, the company developed a plan that focuses on reducing packaging and investing in renewable materials. It also aims to reimagine packaging entirely, as well as collaborating with stakeholders.
WARP made some progress, Katie Leggett (Sustainability Manager at WARP Snacks) told delegates at the Future Summit, hosted by Bread & Jam.
Its PROPER brand, which makes flavoured popcorn and lentil chips, has achieved a reduction – both in weight and dimensions – in the amount of film it uses in its packaging. The same is true for its packaging card.
Investment in renewable materials is also apparent in PROPER’s popcorn bars. Last year, the brand launched new wrappers made from 30% recycled plastic. Leggett indicated that the brand was keen to make the same use of the plastic film used in the packaging for its chips and popcorn packets. However, there is a shortage of recycled material.
The company has set itself the challenge of ‘reimagining packaging altogether’ with at least one product by 2025, and is collaborating with other stakeholders via the UK Flexible Plastic Fund, to work on solutions for flexible plastic recycling.
Drinking, and disposing, responsibly
In the UK, alcohol challenger brands are also working to reduce their packaging footprints. It can be difficult to choose the vessel in which a beverage brand is sold – whether it’s glass, plastic or aluminium. Glass can be recycled infinitely, but it’s heavy and energy-intensive to transport. If aluminium cans are made from 100% recycled material, it reduces its footprint considerably – but not all cans are recovered (around 82% in the UK, but just 45% in the US). Carton is not infinitely recyclable, and less than 10% of single-use plastic can be recovered from recycling.
Thomas Soden is the co-founder of Ace + Freak RTD Cocktail brand. He sells his products in aluminum cans. Aluminium cans can be recycled infinitely, but Soden encountered some challenges when choosing labels to label his beverages.
“We found that out of the three types of labelling materials, two of them rendered the can unrecyclable,” he told delegates at the Future Summit. Ace + Freak chose a polypropylene labels that could be separated and recycled separately as two raw materials.
Elsewhere, the canned cocktail brand is also reducing its footprint via upcycling. Ace + Freak works with the co-packaging facility to do this. Ace + Freak reuses all boxes that third parties may have. “It extends the life of that cardboard…and it costs us less money. And I think [that comes from] that constant mentality of questioning everything.”
Thinking outside the box
The global wine industry is dominated by glass packaging. It is estimated 19bn glass bottles are sold into the global market annually, suggested the sector is less reluctant to move into more sustainable alternatives.
As 39% of the wine industry’s emissions are associated with packaging and transport, UK start-up When in Rome – which understands the two are intrinsically linked – is working to reduce this footprint.
Instead of using glass bottles to sell its Italian imported wine, When in Rome works with three formats: boxed cask wine, 100% recyclable cans, and its brand new paper bottled wine. The latter, Rob Malin (CEO of When in Rome), is basically a bag in shape of a wine bottle. The paper bottle is made from 94% recycled paper and has a carbon footprint 84% lower than a single-use glass bottle.
Made in Rome, the UK’s first wine brand to make public its climate footprint through a partnership agreement with Carbon Cloud last year. Malin views this as the beginning of Made in Rome’s commitment to a ‘radical transparency’ regarding the business’s impact on the environment.
Spotlight on infrastructure
The responsibility of tackling the packaging waste problem cannot lie with start-ups alone.
A multi-sectoral approach that includes the private and public sectors as well as the consumers is the most effective one to take. The problem may not lie in the material, as the Sustainability Manager at WARP Snacks stated, but rather the system within which it works.
“Plastic is not the enemy,” Leggett told delegates, but for smaller businesses, “it’s difficult to change the system”.
Lack of recycling infrastructure, for example, represents a major hurdle to recycling in the UK. Some flexible film is recyclable if it’s returned to certain retailers, but only WARP PROPER brands, which use a double-layered packaging, are eligible.
WARP uses a triple layer. “This is because we export a lot of that product, so it needs to have different food safety requirements,” she explained. The UK cannot recycle Eat Real films.
This is part of the reason WARP is looking to collaborate better with stakeholders, we were told: “We can’t solve that in isolation.”