Suffolk and Norfolk take on the packaging challenge

BEE Anglia programme partners and Carbon Smart with the East of England Co-op hosted the ‘Tackling the Packaging Challenge’ event on the 20th June in Ipswich, Suffolk, to support businesses improve the sustainability of their packaging.

 

Last year, David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II catapulted packaging into the spotlight. Since then, packaging with a focus on plastics is a regular news item and the public is increasingly demanding alternatives to address plastic pollution. To help businesses think about how they can get their packaging right, the Tackling the Packaging Challenge event aimed to bring local businesses together to share their success stories and lessons learnt.

It was a thought-provoking event where local, passionate businesses took the centre stage. Suffolk County Councillor Paul West, Cabinet Member for Ipswich, Communities and Waste, kicked-off the morning with a welcome speech. This was followed by an inspiring presentation by Ayse Singh, Product Safety and Standards Manager of East of England Co-op, who stressed the importance of reducing packaging waste whilst balancing customer expectations and the need to keep food waste to a minimum. Ayse Singh also shared some of Co-op’s success stories, such as reducing the amount of plastic required for core packaging products from milk lids and bottles.

Take-home messages from the day

  1. Packaging must be reviewed at each stage of the value chain – in the whirlwind of the ‘war on plastics’ there is the danger that we take a knee-jerk decision and quickly pick what may at first seem to be a better solution. However, the true impact can only be evaluated if we consider all stages of production, use and disposal of the packaging.For example, plastics can only be industrially composted. This may seem like a greener option and, indeed, work for corporate businesses with dedicated contracts but often customers at home are not able to dispose of these in any of their recycling options, which means they end up being sent to incineration or landfill.
  2. No business is too small to tackle the packaging challenge– being small has its advantages. Both SME speakers and attendees shared stories of times where they identified improvements to their packaging and were able to act on it straight away. Hadleigh Maid shared how they, with their supplier Delipac, transformed the Walnut Whirls packaging by moving away from plastics (including stickers and glue!) within six weeks. Similarly, Hodmedod’s shared how their packaging has evolved over time and how they are now tackling some of the more hidden operational packaging challenges of bulk bags, pallet wrap and tapes. Key message: do not be put off by ‘being too small’ to have a true impact, indeed we are seeing a lot of innovative changes coming from SMEs who have taken on the packaging challenge and are making good progress.
  3. Partnerships are a great way to boost buying power – the main challenges for SME businesses when tackling the packaging challenges are being able to: order greener options that are still commercially viable and influence their packaging suppliers. These challenges arise due to the limited volumes they order.To overcome this, smaller businesses could significantly boost their buying power by partnering with other businesses with similar packaging requirements. Frugalpac, a truly innovative Suffolk-based business, are working with local coffee shops to bring their product to market and are disrupting the packaging sector.
  4. Collaboration across the value chain is essential – We learnt from the Suffolk Waste Partnership that, although Suffolk has excellent recycling rates, contamination of the household recycling waste stream is 11%. In turn, this costs the Suffolk tax payer £550,000 a year to manage and dispose of. Although the council has an ongoing recycling awareness campaigns to educate the public, businesses can help by selecting packaging that can be easily recycled and educating customers on the disposal options.

Taking on the packing challenge: next steps for business

During the second half of the event, Carbon Smart delivered a workshop on sustainable packaging where attendees shared insights into their own packaging challenges and the barriers faced in finding solutions.

Reduce plastic pollution

 

Adopt a systematic review of packaging across your value chain. Focus your review on identifying opportunities across four key areas:

  • Reducing the volume of packaging procured;
  • Improving the recycled content of materials procured;
  • Considering available infrastructure and selecting materials that are recyclable in areas of disposal; and
  • Encouraging staff/customers to recycle through improved packaging design and targeted engagement strategies and campaigns.Having identified the most material areas for impact, begin establishing an implementation plan with actions, targets and a list of key stakeholders to engage.The event was sponsored by the BEE Anglia programme in partnership with Suffolk and Norfolk County Council, Environment Agency, Groundwork and NWES, to support local businesses engage on current sustainability challenges. The programme has helped thousands of businesses across the region take steps to improve their energy efficiency, find out more here.
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