The Change & Challenge Initiative was set up with the goal to highlight the benefits of food packaging when it comes to sustainability and the preservation of natural resources across the entire food chain – from field to the household. Packaging Europe spoke with Alexej Shevel, co-founder of Change & Challenge Initiative, about the initiative and the benefits of flexible packaging in particular when it comes to reducing food waste.

The initiative’s activities aim direct global attention to the food waste crisis and targets the reduction of food waste that occurs during production, processing, supply/distribution, retail and households and wants to induce awareness about ‘performance packaging’.

It is built on three objectives:  Create a platform for the public, stakeholders, brand owners, and industry players to obtain or supply factual information about food packaging and food waste, stimulate stakeholder collaboration in the drive towards a sustainable future through recyclable packaging solutions and offer actionable and sustainable solutions to reduce global food waste. This also extends to efforts to “correct misconceptions about plastics and creating a community to discuss the benefits of performance packaging as a resource-efficient solution to reduce food waste.”

Why has UBE chosen to launch this initiative? 

UBE pioneered this initiative as part of the company’s resolve to lead collective action and behaviour change against food and material waste across the entire value chain. UBE promotes the idea that the food and packaging industry have a moral responsibility to address food and material waste. Flexible packaging has the potential to ensure sustainability through the responsible use of resources and a significant reduction in food waste. This is being addressed, given that performance packaging ensures sustainability and circularity through the responsible use of resources and it significantly reduces the use of virgin plastic. In the end, we intend to generate a triple win: for the economy, food security, and for the environment. 

What partners are involved, and why?

Several brands have indicated their interest to get involved in the initiative Our first partners were Mitsui Chemicals, Windmöller & Hölscher, Flexible Packaging Europe, EVAL Kuraray and many more. Currently we are in discussions with BASF, APK AG, ExxonMobil, LANXESS, NGR (Plastic Recycling Technology), NUREL, NIPPON Gohsei Europe (Mitsubishi Chemical) and many other brands.

Brands and major industry players are partnering with us to accelerate efforts to improve regulations, legislation, policy formulation, information, sensitization and action, and also to correct misconceptions about plastic packaging and communicate the benefits of flexible packaging for sustainability and everyday life. These partnerships help us organize regular events like the Change and Challenge conferences, conduct research, and provide information about industry-based topics, inform, educate and engage stakeholders.

Transparency is key. The public is increasingly demanding openness from all stakeholders in the chemical and plastic industry. Our partners want to be part of a three-way dialogue between science, the packaging industry and other stakeholders, especially the public. 

We obtain insights and feedback from our online/offline communities and other stakeholders. We also identify emerging trends, detect issues of public concern to help brands make informed decisions, which helps our partners want to safeguard the health of their brand, respond to consumers’ demand for eco-friendly food packaging and project sustainability as part of their operations.

The initiative claims that it would like to help reduce food waste globally. How?

Food waste is prevalent across the entire value chain (production, processing, supply/distribution, retail/market and consumption in households). We strongly believe that the use and availability of the right packaging solution can ensure food protection along the distribution chain, as well as extend the shelf-life of food without the need to “pump” our food with preservatives. Performance packaging keeps oxygen out and therefore can significantly extend the shelf-life, giving producers and retailors a “wider window” to sell their products. The final consumer enjoys the benefit of a more convenient lifestyle where he/she is in charge of how the evening will turn out and is not restricted by the food in the fridge, which will go bad just a few days after the purchase.

What are the common misconceptions about plastics, and why is it important to focus on providing clear messaging across the industry?

Plastics have attracted widespread criticisms that are misleading, and fails to take into account the factual information and evidence regarding the benefits of plastic packaging. Some of the myths surrounding plastics have been that plastics generate more emission than glass, metal or paper packaging. Such claims fail to understand that replacing plastic packaging with other materials (glasses, cans or jars), could significantly increase energy consumption, and triple greenhouse emission that occurs during transportation.

Another common myth even among experts in the packaging industry claims that mixed-material packaging (performance packaging) cannot be recycled. Our partners already have provided compelling evidence that it can be recycled even under current recycling technologies.

This year has thrown a curveball into the sustainability conversation. How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the debate surrounding creating a sustainable future for food packaging?

The risk of food contamination during a pandemic has justified the arguments for packaging in our daily lives. Packaging remains critical against the spread of food-borne diseases and health risks. Packaging integrity safeguards food quality and hygiene conditions during the supply chain. Packaging innovations like flexible packaging requires less material to produce. This increases the volume of food supply during a crisis situation like the Corona pandemic. Without packaging, food cannot reach consumers in peak and safe condition. Conversations have also been centered on the need for packaging that is lightweight and lowers CO2 emissions during production and transportation. This illustrates the vital role of packaging for resource efficiency, sustainability and public health.

Can you give us examples of the benefits of flexible packaging for different types of food from the point of view of avoiding food waste?

One example is flexible packaging for fish and seafood. According to the UN, 50 million tons of fish, translating to more than 27% of captured fish is disposed of before it reaches the market or consumers. Flexible packaging offer benefits that ensure that fish products do not go to waste. It offers aroma barrier properties that suppress the smell of fish, prevents spoilage, retain freshness and extend shelf-life. Fish products are time-sensitive and fragile. Flexible packaging offers optimal protection from pressure, squeeze, damage, waste or loss during processing, storage, stacking, transportation and display. Another example is the use of multilayer packaging to preserve fresh and processed meat products: Flexible packaging suppresses chemical reactions and microbiological growth, which causes early spoilage and affects the red tone of meat and poultry products, and also retains the quality and flavour of the product. When it comes to cheese, flexible packaging can control the inflow and outflow of gases in the pack to extend shelf life and protect soft or hard cheeses against environmental factors, such as light, sunlight, and water vapour. For dairy products, flexible packaging facilitates on-the-go consumption and convenient formats, such as sachets for powdered milk, and reseal pouches for yoghurts, which reduces consumer waste.

The initiative highlights the performance value of multilayer films. How do you address the challenge of boosting their recyclability?

We have been exploring different angles when it comes to recyclability, including mechanical recycling, solvent-based separation of layers, water-soluble polymers for easy separation of layers and chemical recycling.

Already this year we saw evidence by leading companies who proved that multi-layer packaging with high percentage of PA against other comments can be recycled and even can improve the value of the rPE recyclate through better mechanical performance.

What is the future of performance packaging?

In an ever-evolving grocery supply-chain performance packaging will play a crucial role to safeguard the natural products. The demand for more sustainable food is omni-present and not merely driven by millennial and young professionals. More and more consumers became conscience about the value of food and its origin. Protecting this value from spoilage and damages is the main target of performance packaging. The disruption of traditional supply chains by grocery e-commerce also drives the need to innovate current packaging solutions and to design the new packaging fit for e-commerce whilst complying with the sustainability goals for plastics packaging.