In recent months, an increasing number of supermarkets and grocery stores have started to offer their products with little or no packaging. What does a plastics packaging association think of this?
"I think that on principle it is a positive thing that shops are thinking about this and using their creativity, and it makes consumers think about their habits. It makes them aware that packaging design starts a lot earlier in the supply chain and makes them think about what distribution method is good for what product. Our IK guideline also states that. For example, toothpaste doesn’t necessarily have to be delivered in the shape of paste, it could also be presented in the shape of tablets," Dr Schmidt points out.
She is keen to highlight that it makes sense to package as little as possible but enough to avoid product waste. This varies for different products and situations. She uses the classic example of a cucumber wrapped in plastics to illustrate.
"Wrapping cucumbers in plastic prolongs shelf life and saves food waste, especially in the winter months, when it is imported from Spain. However, during the summer, when the cucumber is sourced locally, maybe it is not necessary to wrap it in plastic, and an unpackaged cucumber is best."
It is important to package smart, and it depends on the product as to what packaging is best, Dr Schmidt adds.
"With beef, its carbon footprint is so high that it is worth avoiding even the smallest bit of waste with packaging. Making sustainability just about ‘no plastics’ doesn’t work. That is oversimplifying things too much. However, in my experience, owners of these ‘unpackaged’ shops think a lot about sustainability in the supply chain, the problem sometimes lies with their customers and ‘followers’ who lack that differentiated view. Plastics can often be considered taboo in the industry, but they don’t have a problem with single-use glass despite its carbon footprint being higher."
She highlights the importance of differentiated thinking and using packaging in a smart way.
"I would like the sustainability debate to be less ideologically tinted and more open to different arguments. This can then create innovation that thinks outside the box, such as toothpaste in tablet shape. It’s also important to promote breadth and regional products. It’s important to advise consumers to buy products that make sense for them – best to buy something maybe a bit more heavily packaged when it can reduce food waste.”