Alex Henriksen, Managing Director for North Europe, Tetra Pak, stresses the need for collaboration across the packaging value chain.

Earlier this year, the Public Bill Committee met for the first time to begin scrutinising the contents of the landmark Environmental Bill. Key policy demands on the government, such as reducing single use plastic and prioritising the use of renewable resources, will all impact the packaging value chain and their business strategies.

The industry will be paying close attention, especially as it will need to take action to improve its environmental contributions. There are several measures that can be deployed – but they must centre around innovation, policy initiatives, and collaboration.

The importance of innovation

Being innovative in developing long term solutions is essential to reducing our industry’s carbon impact, especially through our choice of materials. The utilisation of plant-based materials like paperboard and plastics derived from sugarcane is key to a low carbon economy, thanks to their renewable nature and ability to be naturally replenished over time.

However, moving to lower carbon options cannot be at the expense of food safety – and this balancing act reiterates the need for innovation. At Tetra Pak, we’ve developed Tetra Rex® Plant-based packaging, the world’s first and only fully renewable beverage carton, and investing €80 million into renewable packaging solutions to help create a low carbon circular economy, without compromising standards.

Working with policymakers to achieve demonstrable change

Achieving a circular economy also demands a concerted effort by policy makers to address the entire value chain’s impact, not just end-of-life. Current measures are not going far enough, and we are not on track to limiting global warming by 1.5°C. In fact, the CO2 emissions from material production still account for 23% of global CO2 emissions from energy and industry, and are set to rise to 32% by 2050.[1]

And while it is positive to see retailers trialling their own deposit return schemes, the whole packaging industry will need to work with policy makers to encourage greater use of sustainable materials and capture maximum waste, to move the UK closer to developing a true circular economy.

A circular economy must align waste reduction policies with raw materials and production processes, and not look at them in isolation. But we cannot work towards this alone; collective action is needed.

The need for collaboration

Collaboration across the packaging industry value chain will help us understand where the areas of greatest impact lie. Therefore, it is imperative that we acknowledge common goals and targets, and act both quickly and collectively towards them to tackle some of the biggest global environmental issues we face today as a community.

In support of this, we launched Positive Packaging: Towards a Low Carbon Future, a study into the changing attitudes of food and drink retailers, the pressures they are facing, and how they’re making packaging decisions.[2] It is clear how important sustainable packaging has become to retailers across UK and Ireland – in fact, 97% cited it as their chief consideration when choosing a supplier. Retailers sit between the consumer and manufacturer, therefore playing a key role in helping to put affordable and sustainable options on our shelves.

Understanding the impact faced across the value chain when it comes to developing and supplying low carbon packaging is just the start. Continuing cross-industry conversations and partnerships will be vital for the packaging industry if we are to achieve demonstrable change in tackling the climate crisis.

Final thoughts

Lowering the packaging industry’s carbon footprint cannot be done overnight, it will require commitment to developing long term solutions and collective action from all its members.

It is essential for all those in the value chain to work together to set common ambitions, and work towards them. Through this, consumers will be presented with sustainable product choices that contribute to a low carbon economy.