Plastic food and drink packaging Contents
Annex 1: SME roundtable
Roundtable meeting held on Tuesday 18 June, with the following participants:
Neil Parish MP (Chair)
Loop - TerraCycle
Skipping Rocks Lab
The Beeswax Wrap Company
Note of discussion
- Companies developing compostable packaging have to invest in compostability testing, which is around EUR 14,000 per product. Certification for one company was around EUR 20,000 a year with food safety certification around EUR 5000 a year. Another company had spent around £10,000 getting certification for four products. This bureaucracy was seen as a hindrance that was difficult for SMEs to manage. These costs do not apply to companies selling other plastics, such as polystyrene cups.
- It was suggested that the Government should help with some of these costs. Universities can do testing, but not certification.
- One compostable packaging company noted that it had spent around EUR 14,000 on Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) and expected that figure to increase. This was a frustrating mismatch as it all went towards mechanical recycling, not compostable infrastructure.
- There was little awareness of the Green Investment Bank.
- The standard BS EN 13432 on “Requirements for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation” could be more rigorous. Some ecotoxicity tests will approve products that break down into microplastics. There is a range of biodegradability rates and many consumers do not understand the differences. There are no checks and balances from the Government regarding what it means to biodegrade.
- There are several composting facilities in the UK (17 facilities accept Vegware products, for example). Some compost is provided to farmers. The key is trying to make composting work within our existing infrastructure.
- There are not enough anaerobic digestors in the UK to meet consumer demand. The Government’s waste strategy supports wet anaerobic digestion (AD) but not
- in-vessel composting (IVC), which is necessary for better quality compost. This will cause IVC facilities to close down in the UK. This is already happening in Wales. The Government promotes and subsidises AD, but composting facilities can’t compete. There is a compelling argument for composting to be a standard part of the AD sector.
- Home compostable packaging can go into food waste bins.
- We need to decide whether we want to export our waste to Malaysia or process it in the UK to benefit sectors such as agriculture.
- For many alternative materials to plastic, it is expensive to wrap food at scale (for example a bag of lettuce is too expensive to wrap in beeswax). Beeswax is also not recognised as an alternative material that can contain food safely.
- Plastic is more scalable: small communities might get by without plastic packaging, but cities need plastic.
- Retailers tend to see plastics alternatives as a publicity stunt than a commercially viable alternative.
Reuse and recycling
- There is little focus on reusable packaging. Terracycle is developing Loop, a system whereby consumers pay a deposit for packaging (e.g. ice cream tubs), which are picked up by Loop for cleaning and refilling once the consumer has finished the product. The packaging is co-designed with the food brands using existing materials such as glass and aluminium.
- The first phase of Loop will be online, followed by online delivery in collaboration with Tesco. The final phase would be to have Loop containers in supermarkets. Supermarkets offering “unpacked” food require customers to refill their containers themselves, whereas Loop will offer prefilled packaging on the shelf for consumers to swap with their empty containers.
- Customers like to know where packaging is going and that it can be recycled.
- Inconsistency of waste collections for recycling is a big problem. DEFRA has recently consulted on this. Different councils accept different materials and consumers are confused. The Government’s assumption that compostables should not be collected as a core material is concerning. It would close down an exciting avenue for the future and would stop innovation.
- A large proportion of waste is not collected and ends up in the environment. This is not addressed in the biodegradability standard.
- Almost anything can be recycled, but it comes down to economic feasibility. Glass is easier to recycle than plastic and can be recycled more times (on top of reusability). At five uses, glass bottles can save 50% of environmental impact compared to plastics.
- There is a challenge around recycling plastics, sorting of plastics, and contaminating the recycling process.
- Why aren’t large companies running more deposit return schemes?
Takeaway and on-the-go food
- Grab and go packaging maintains freshness and extends shelf life. For restaurants, the cost of buying in sandwiches is low so most outsource it.
- Skipping Rocks Lab is trying to replace plastics where they are only needed for short-term use, for example takeaway food.
- Food trays may only be filled for 30 mins in the takeaway sector. Such packaging is over-engineered, likely to end up in landfill and littered. We should still have branding but not have plastic.
Proposed plastic packaging tax
- One suggestion was that some plastics should be taxed to provide investment for the development of alternative materials. The tax could be used to fund innovation.
- Biodegradable plastics are currently within the scope of the tax. However, it is challenging to include recycled material in biodegradable packaging. The tax is designed to encourage recycled PET (r-PET) but risks penalising the bio sector. Biodegradable materials are already at a premium, with additional costs as outlined above. Exempting them from the tax would make it more commercially viable.
- The tax isn’t clear in relation to packaging where plastic is not a significant component, for example ketchup sachets made from polylaminate films. Packaging with low plastic content might still be unrecyclable.
- There is no levy on on-the-go packaging.
- One proposal is that packaging with over 30% bio-based content should attract a lower rate of tax, but would need more money on certification, leading to more cost for business.
- Recycling for PET plastic will be a growth industry.
- The problem is that new products need to be created to solve consumer habits. There is little/no emphasis on changing consumer habits.
- There should be better public communication about what plastic is, and the different types of plastic.
- It’s important to engage young people about recycling – they often educate their parents.
- Plastic helps to extend shelf life. Packaging does play an important part in preventing food waste. Do we need to return to having seasonal foods instead?
- There needs to be better communication of government initiatives (for example, the carrier bag tax).
- Local authorities have different rules, which makes it difficult to achieve the education piece.
- A key message for consumers should be around reduction; “don’t use plastic when you don’t need it”.
- How much responsibility should supermarkets take? Supermarkets have affected local communities and increased the use of plastic, by replacing local retailers. Consumers are forced to buy plastic packaging because of the increasing difficulty in buying locally.
- There needs to be a partnership approach between government, consumers and retailers.
Funding and innovation
- The problem for SMEs is access to funding. They experience problems with cashflow and not enough money being presented upfront.
- Huge support comes from the EU as part of Gloucestershire’s growth hub.
- Access to funding is too slow. Innovate UK’s timings do not support business needs.
- Should larger companies invest more? Larger companies should be responsible for the waste they produce.
- It might be useful to frame the discussion within the wider context of the challenge of climate change vs plastic packaging.
- We need standardised lifecycle analysis.
- We need to add value to waste.
Published: 12 September 2019