Simona Taborelli is group packaging sustainability lead at global confectionary giant Ferrero. In this interview with Sarah LaBrecque and CEFLEX, which was originally published on CEFLEX’s website, she shares valuable insights on circular-focused design within the flexible packaging industry.
Tell us about your role at Ferrero. What led you to join the company and what are the most interesting and exciting parts of your job?
I joined Ferrero 10 years ago to work on packaging sustainability for the Italian market. At that time, sustainable packaging already played a key role across Ferrero’s much-loved brands such as Nutella, Kinder, and Ferrero Rocher. This drew me to the company and meant I had a unique opportunity to use my prior experience, which had centred around life cycle assessment, to support a business that had made strides and was looking to take the next steps on its packaging journey.
Over the last 10 years, Ferrero has made some ambitious goals around packaging – not least its 2025 goal to make 100% of its packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable.
My role today is to drive forward our progress against this goal. In particular, we engage in partnerships, such as with CEFLEX, across different geographies to harmonise material guidelines definitions, support innovation, advance material and technology developments, and drive positive change in line with our global commitments. The global challenges, alongside country-specific policies, make for a dynamic and exciting job.
Can you give us some examples of projects you're working on which relate to our theme: designing flexible packaging for a circular economy.
It’s well known that packaging structures that combine different materials often present a problem for existing recycling technology. As a business we have been looking at new structures using eco-design guidelines and the LifeCycle Assessment (LCA) methodology, to advance flexible plastic packaging.
As part of this research, we have developed mono-material flexible packaging which, for a specific application, is able to deliver the same quality performance but with a 23% reduction of CO2 equivalent emissions compared with the previous flexible multi-material. This new mono-material structure will be adopted across multiple products as we transition from multi-material to mono-material recyclable flexible film.
What advice can you give to CEFLEX stakeholders on how to really 'move the needle' and help create a circular economy for flexible packaging?
As part of our commitment to offering the highest-quality products, we are committed to increasing the circularity of our packaging, where possible, as well as ensuring recyclability at the end of life.
Some advice would be to use fact-based, science-focused data that considers all aspects of the packaging lifecycle. For example, we need to ensure that food safety is not compromised when using new packaging materials. It is not simply a case of swapping out one material for another, but rather, weighing up all the relevant factors. We wouldn’t want to use a pack that was more ‘circular’ but that resulted in more food waste.
You should also invest time and resources in developing projects and exploring opportunities to overcome the barriers to circular packaging. Collaborating with global and local suppliers and partners along the value chain, such as CEFLEX, is crucial. This includes transferring knowledge through collaboration with those companies that may not be involved today.
Finally, we think businesses like ours have an important role in engaging and educating consumers about the circular economy. We really want to encourage that curiosity.
Ferrero has pledged to make 100% of its packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, which is not that far away. What design tactics are you employing to meet these goals?
Yes, we have set ourselves an ambitious target. However, it is worth noting that before we set out on this journey, we carefully analysed our existing packaging to identify specific projects to achieve this goal. Our latest assessment showed that more than 80% of our packaging portfolio by weight is already reusable, recyclable or compostable.
Our designers are now carefully considering how to choose and combine materials in a way that the final packaging can be successfully disposed of, collected, sorted, and processed. We have been working on our 5R guidelines for years and we now have a rich funnel of projects to remove unnecessary packaging, reduce packaging weight or promote reuse.
Are you considering non-plastic solutions for packaging? (ie fibre, bioplastics etc.)
As part of our research and development, we consider all possible packaging solutions in order to select the most suitable packaging for each application. Safety and product quality are our number one priorities and we are always careful to adopt a science-based approach, including an LCA and recyclability/circularity assessment to support our choice.
As such, among the top priority projects for Ferrero are the design of non-plastic replacements for spoons and straws, included in some of our leading and region-specific products. Ferrero will continue to amplify efforts to meet even more ambitious goals for sustainable packaging, notably by designing out waste right from the start.
What are your thoughts on EPR to deliver circularity for flexible packaging? What about eco-modulation and the fact that EPR fees are sometimes at odds with circular design?
We are aware of the importance of increasing recycling rates and know there is a lot to be done in this area. To achieve this, we are committed to doing our part and working together with other businesses, communities, government partners, and consumers to ensure high levels of collection, sorting, and recycling of packaging.
In this regard, we are taking a number of steps with CEFLEX and our other partners such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, to promote the development of local collection and recycling infrastructure. Working with relevant sector associations to promote the right EPR principles, particularly CEFLEX and the Consumer Goods Forum, has also been critical.
Eco-modulation should go hand in hand with packaging recyclability and circularity. When packaging is easier to recycle and offers better quality, higher value recyclate, it will also drive end market development and help close the loop. If eco-modulation is well designed and effectively applied, it will also help fund the development of dedicated infrastructure for materials that are perhaps more difficult to recycle today.
Is there competition between designing for recycling targets vs. designing for a circular economy?
As explained in the EU action plan for a circular economy, “the transition towards a CE is the opportunity to transform our economy and generate new and sustainable competitive advantages for Europe”. The challenge we accepted is to reach material circularity, eventually. Still, this involves a deep transformation of our economy and it is fair to consider recycling targets as milestones of this transition.
How have you and your suppliers or customers used the CEFLEX design guidelines?
As active partners of Recyclass, CEFLEX and APR, we have been supporting the development of eco-design guidelines to address the full spectrum of flexible materials in place today. Together we’re on a collective mission to shift towards ‘better plastic’ solutions. These partnerships are key to channeling industry efforts toward common materials so that volumes within plastic recycling streams are boosted.
We consult the guidelines daily, both to further them, and to support our R&D around flexible packaging.