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For the past few years, sustainable packaging has been a hot topic in the fine food and drink industry – and then came the coronavirus pandemic. As part of Bread & Jam’s webinar series, Paul Horton, the founder and director of consultancy brandprintcolour, says that despite the implementation of certain plastic policies, bans and taxes being pushed back, the focus is still firmly on sustainable options.
“I believe [plastic policies and taxes] will still happen… the general principles of what is happening will remain, and that’s the foundation and scaffold that we can use to guide in material choices,” Paul says. However, he added that the focus may shift to carbon reduction rather than plastics removal.
Paul cited a study conducted by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) that found just 9% of Brits want the UK to return to ‘normal’ after lockdown ends. “The poll showed the British people are increasingly aware that the health of people and the planet are inseparable, and it’s time for radical, environmental, social, political, and economic change.”
Paul continues: “Sustainability in packaging very much is absolutely here to stay. I think there is a maturing conversation about packaging and choices made into lifecycle assessments in carbon footprinting. I think we’re going to increasingly see that on packs - people stating the carbon footprint. In fact, it’s something that Quorn have just released recently. But also, I believe that there’s a pause on that for the moment.”
Starting at the end
Throughout the webinar, Paul stresses that sustainable packaging isn’t just about the end product – but that’s where he suggests companies start when they begin thinking about their sustainable options.
“Think about what your packaging actually is. What does it have? Is it a label, is it a box, does it have tissue paper inserts? What can you do to ultimately promote better packaging?” In the waste hierarchy of remove, reduce, reuse, recycle, taking out unnecessary packaging components is the first step. “There are a number of things you can do to actually start your sustainability journey without going down the rabbit hole of complex material choices.”
From there, consider the UK waste infrastructure, which, Paul admits “is not the best”. “Where I live in Leeds, the council collection scheme will be very different to where you guys are around the UK and beyond. And ultimately that makes for some challenges.”
“The goal of the government is to align the UK waste infrastructure so that there is a uniform collection of material types across the country. And ideally, same color coded bins to make disposal very easy.” There is also the customer to consider, and Paul says they need education and clear instruction about what to do with any product packaging. “We have to assume that the consumer is stupid. Evidence, anecdotal and from a science perspective, shows that the consumer on their own will not make the right choices,” Paul says. “You’ve got to make it easier.”
Right first time
Paul also stressed the importance of taking your time looking at the options and producing your packaging so that you get it right the first time. “Just consider the options. Consider the landscape. Look at your competitors. Explore different categories and sectors and what they’re doing and tap the experts. There’s a myriad of packaging companies or printers out there, supplying solutions.
“Think about your stock control, think about inventory, think about obsolescence, minimum order quantities. Some of the startups I’ve worked with and had lounges full of packaging. And after three weeks of use they’ve discovered that actually 90% of it isn’t fit for function or they’ve spotted a typo on something, and they’ve got to bin in all and start again. Setting out with the best intentions without taking that extra moment to really consider the form and the function of the packaging, it can be a downfall, and can be expensive.”
For example, Paul spoke about a brand he worked with recently to explore sustainable packaging options for high-quality beef. “They were very, very intent on moving away from plastic,” he says, but every option reduced the shelf life significantly they decided that they would do more harm than good by contributing to food waste. “It’s really just asking those extra questions, taking that extra moment to think about the impacts of your packaging and how you get it right.”
Don’t sweat the small stuff
When it comes to start-ups and small producers, Paul says that the most important thing to think about is getting your product onto the shelf. “And then as you grow, start to consider the packaging challenges, because sustainability typically does have a cost for the startups.”
He says: “I’m going to assume generally that you are all startups starting on their early packaging journey. I mentioned earlier about ‘don’t sweat small stuff’. It’s as important for you to have cash in the bank and products in the market and selling. Getting that right first time, irrespective of what packaging you choose, I would say is often better than trying to find that absolute perfect solution for your product. As you scale, then more suppliers will be coming on stream who can support minimum order quantities.”
To view the whole webinar, click here.