Chicken or the egg? Recyclable packaging and infrastructure must advance together, says Amcor VP
20 Apr 2020 --- The coronavirus pandemic has spiked global demand for grocery shopping and home delivery. With this changing consumer behavior comes concerns of intensified packaging waste management issues. David Clark, Vice President Sustainability at Amcor, explains how packaging recycling is a “chicken and egg” situation: recyclable packaging and recycling infrastructure must coincide to realize greater environmental sustainability. Clark also echoes industry sentiments that the vital role of packaging in ensuring food safety, preserving freshness and quality and providing convenience has resurfaced in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing crucial issues to the fore and creating new challenges – for us, for our customers and for the millions of people who use our packaging every day,” Clark tells PackagingInsights.
“The pandemic has reminded us of the value and importance of essential consumer goods. In many countries, people have had to stop eating out and so they are replacing that with increased grocery shopping, e-commerce activity and home delivery. Many are giving more thought to the importance of shelf life and hygiene when it comes to everything from food to medicines.”
“On the other hand, there may be concern that those changes in consumption could lead to more waste and – therefore – more waste leakage. While there already appears to be some indicators of environmental benefits from lower levels of human activity during the pandemic, we don’t need to choose between safe packaging and a healthy environment. It is possible to have both.”
Amcor reports that its 1,000 R&D specialists are continuing their work to produce cutting-edge environmentally-sustainable packaging. In February, Amcor launched the first 100 percent post-consumer recycled PET containers in the multivitamin segment. The supplier also teamed up with British multi-award-winning start-up Garçon Wines to bring its 100 percent recycled and recyclable postable wine bottle to the US market.
As circular economy targets loom on the horizon, the incorporation of recycled plastics into packaging is on the rise. Innova Market Insights identified “Plastics come full circle” as a top packaging trend for 2020.
In addition to more recyclable and reusable packaging, Amcor is increasingly incorporating bio-based and responsibly sourced materials while innovating to drive down the carbon footprint of products with lighter weight packaging.
Clark affirms that no one stakeholder in the consumer goods value chain can solve the packaging waste challenge alone. “People need and want packaging that can be recycled and reused, so then we need systems and infrastructure to collect and recycle post-consumer packaging, while consumers need to be active in the recycling system.”
Amcor’s work to better protect the environment in partnership with organizations like Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF), CEFLEX (a collaborative initiative of a European consortium of companies representing the entire value chain of flexible packaging) and The Recycling Partnership continue. “We are hosting and participating in remote working sessions with global experts and our progress and enthusiasm for what our collaboration can achieve has not reduced,” Clark notes.
“We remain committed to working across the value chain to create a packaging system that works. One way of understanding the systemic approach that we need is the age-old question – ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg?’ The right answer to that, of course, is neither. One needs the other – and vice versa – for the other to exist.”
“At Amcor we are succeeding in getting the ‘egg’ sorted: our products are increasingly ready to be reused and recycled and we are investing time and money in making sure the ease and efficiency with which waste can be turned into useful products is increased.”
Last year, Amcor took a big sustainability stride with the launch of the AmLite Ultra Recyclable high-barrier laminate pack – the first product made from the company’s landmark recyclable polyolefin film. The new high-barrier laminate can package a range of food, home, personal care and pharmaceutical products and be recycled in existing polyolefin recycling streams.
Investment in infrastructure
The “chicken” is the infrastructure and incentives to realize the full potential of recycling, Clark explains. That means more and better collection systems and recycling infrastructure and a real focus on positive consumer behaviors so that the recyclable materials that the likes of Amcor are producing end up being recycled.
“So, which should come first – developing packaging to be recyclable, or developing the system to collect and recycling more packaging? We can’t wait for one before starting on the other. We need to innovate both the ‘chicken’ and the ‘egg’ so we get both at the same time. And the good news is we know what needs to be done,” Clark tells PackagingInsights.
In Japan, Germany, British Columbia and other places around the world, evidence shows that packaging waste leakage can be decreased by getting the infrastructure and incentives on recycling properly aligned with the innovations in packaging, Clark insists. “Learning from what works today is crucial to driving leakage down and recycling up, globally.”
Through its partnerships, Amcor is committed to sharing best-practice so that its products enter a marketplace that is equipped and ready to collect and recycle them, the supplier indicates.
COVID-19 shines light on packaging’s positives
The COVID-19 crisis has brought into focus the vital role that packaging plays in society; whether protecting goods in the supply chain and reducing food waste, or enabling hygiene and sterility in the food, pharmaceutical and medical sectors.
“Even as COVID-19 radically changes how we live, Amcor’s commitment to more responsible packaging remains front-and-center of our strategy and work with customers, suppliers and other partners,” Clark continues.
Amcor’s wide range of packaging solutions makes sure food, beverages, medicines and other consumer products are safe and long-lasting, protected through the supply chain and easily dispensed and stored.
“Although we are not in normal times, our focus has not wavered from these crucial actions. And this means our customers and their consumers continue to benefit from our packaging as the environment increasingly benefits too,” Clark concludes.
Amcor recently announced that its global footprint and strong financial profile is allowing it to offer support to its customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The supplier has “thorough business continuity plans” across plants and raw material supply chains to manage risk and maintain productivity while keeping employees safe.
“With Amcor’s global footprint, we’re well-positioned to adapt our production rate to serve near-term increased demand or to increase our customers’ inventories. We continue to prioritize the safety of our employees and focus on delivering the packaging products and services our customers need,” Melinda de Boer, Director of External Communications at Amcor, tells PackagingInsights.
By Joshua Poole
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