WHY REMOVE PLASTIC FOOD PACKAGING?
Plastic that is incorrectly disposed of has been a global environmental concern for many years. The main issue is that the product doesn’t break down, and if dumped as ‘waste’ remains in the environment. Typically, Western counties driven by convenience consume a lot of plastic packaging and then dispose of the waste cheaply by exporting it to the Far East. Due to poor waste management systems in those countries, plastic waste was ending up in the oceans, open land dumps, or being burnt. 8 million tons of plastic is dumped in the ocean every year. Plastic pollution threatens wildlife, alters ecosystems, and poses risks to human health.
40% of plastic produced is single-use packaging.
WHERE ARE WE FOCUSING ON TO REMOVE PLASTIC PACKAGING?
Since the release of Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II episode most leaders in Grocery Retail, Food Service and other industries have been working hard to reduce or remove single use plastics. Grocery Retailers have made much progress since January 2018 and have particularly focused on the Fresh Produce category.
UK Grocery Sector – Estimated Plastic Usage by Product Category
Meat & Fish
Carbonated Drinks & Water
Source: industry estimates
As shown here, plastic packaging on Fresh Produce makes up 20% of total plastic packaging used but it isn’t an easy transition to simply ‘remove the plastic’.
WHY DOES PLASTIC PACKAGING EXIST ON FRESH PRODUCE?
Plastic packaging was introduced to fresh produce to do 3 main things:
- - Preserve the produce and extend the shelf life
- - Offer choice to suit varied consumer budgets
- - Carry product information including best-before dates to assist consumers in managing food waste and allergen requirements.
Preserving produce and extending shelf life is the biggest benefit of plastic, particularly as it reduces Food Waste. Food Waste is not only an economic loss, but the energy used to make that food is also wasted. The volume of food waste generated in the retail supply chain, the hospitality sector, and in homes stood at 9.5m tonnes in 2018, down from 10m tonnes in 2015 and 11.2m in 2007 (Source: WRAP). UK households still waste 4.5m tonnes of food a year that could have been eaten, worth £14bn and equating to 10 billion edible meals.
By controlling the ripening process with plastic packaging, it also enabled the convenience of different levels of ripeness to be merchandised. Controlling the ripening process and protecting produce also enabled Retailers to source produce from around the world bring endless choice and year-round supply of produce that was otherwise limited to UK season availability.
Packaging enabled different portion sizes giving consumers a choice of pack prices and options on convenience. Clear plastic packaging was particularly good for this as consumers really buy produce by being able to see it. It also aided the introduction of pricing and quality tiers to appeal to different consumer groups.
When moving to sustainable packaging, we must avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
WHAT SHOULD WE CONSIDER WHEN REMOVING PLASTIC PACKAGING?
We can totally remove the plastic packaging or replace it with another material substrate. To avoid creating unwanted adverse affects during the switch to environmentally-friendly packaging, we need to consider:-
- - Will the change impact food waste?
- - How will supply chain cost change?
- - Will we need more quality checks?
- - How will the cost per package be affected?
- - Will production lines run at the same speeds and sealing temperature settings?
- - Will the produce be exposed to more human touch points?
- - Will an alternative material cope with the moisture levels in the supply chain?
- - Will the product ripen differently?
- - How will sales be affected by the new look pack?
Store positioning, visibility of the pack contents and on-pack branding will all need to be considered. If switching to card, for example, can it still be sold by pack, or is it now by weight?
So, we need to think about product quality, hygiene, merchandising, not to mention cost, before making the decision.
SO, CAN WE SUCCEED?
It depends what you call success. Yes, we can certainly make substantial reductions in plastic usage. Few of the barriers represent absolute hurdles to progress, but we must also be realistic by acknowledging that currently on-cost implications remain for those wanting to plot a rapid pathway to complete transformation. For an unbiased assessment of the possibilities, contact Seth on 01322 295990 or just call us on 0800 298 5844.