EUROPE – European food giants Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever have joined forces to create a joint scheme to promote circularity in flexible packaging.

The Flexible Packaging Initiative will be built on the principles of ‘resource efficiency, prevention of waste and pollution, and lowering the overall environmental impact of the packaging, the companies said.

Individually, each of these companies are working on their own agendas to address flexible plastics in their supply chain.

PepsiCo, for instance, recently vowed to cut virgin plastic from its chip bags by 2030 by switching to 100% recycled or renewable plastic in its packets.

Some of this work is viewed as competitive and large brand owners carefully protect their R&D investments in the packaging space. 

For greater impact, Industry leaders however believe that addressing the plastic packaging issue pre-competitively will be more effective.

To support higher recycling rates, the five companies said that they will work with partners through the Initiative to improve infrastructure.

They plan to ‘go beyond’ individual packaging design efforts by providing ‘concrete proposals’ to enable the effective collection, improved sorting and innovative recycling of flexible packaging across Europe.

Part of the suggestion includes a mandatory collection of flexible packaging and improved transparency on the use of EPR fees to ensure that the industry’s commitment to the circularity of flexible packaging is not ‘lost to the benefit of other types of packaging.’  

Single-use plastic packaging increases food waste

The recent flexible packaging pack comes on the heels of a report from the sustainability charity Wrap that associated single-use plastic packaging with food waste.

The group’s 18-month study investigated sales of apples, bananas, potatoes, broccoli and cucumber both with plastic packaging, including “Best before” dates, and loose without the dates.

What they found was, that along with the added pollution that comes from single-use plastic packaging the sale of fresh produce wrapped in plastic and including a “Best before” date actually increased food loss.

Plastic wrap “doesn’t necessarily prolong the life of uncut fresh produce,” said WRAP EO Marcus Gover. “It can in fact increase food waste in this case.”

In its study, Wrap notes that in the UK, nearly US$3 billion worth of produce is thrown away annually because it has either gone moldy or its date label has expired. 

The group noted the plastic wrapping on produce in-store made “little or no difference” in shelf life but did force consumers to often purchase more of a product than they needed, leading to waste. 

Additionally, the presence of a “Best before” date often leads to the disposal of produce before it is necessary, further compounding the problem. 

Not only would the elimination of plastic packaging from produce save more than 10,000 tons of plastic, the group found, but more than 100,000 tons of food annually.

Switching to a more sustainable method of packaging (or not packaging) food will therefore not only protect the environment from choking on plastic waste, but also reduce food loss. 

Getting sustainable packaging has also been deemed good for business with more than half (52%) of Millennials willing to pay more for their weekly grocery shopping if doing so helped the environment.

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