May 22, 2018

The 'S' word

I am becoming more and more comfortable being the antagonist in the corner when it comes to forward thinking in our industry. While I am not always right, I thoroughly enjoy the conversations that ensue. Over the last few years we have been taking Jenkins Freshpac on a bit of a journey to be a big part of leading the sustainability conversation around produce packaging. However, of recent times it would seem that we will need to not just be a part of it, but be a big part of leading that change.

While we don’t publically decree our intentions, we are beavering away to a target of providing only genuinely sustainable packaging options into the market, but it is becoming increasingly clear that this is going to be a significant challenge.

While most suppliers into the retail space are in the gun for what the customer perceives as over packaging or unsustainable packaging practices, horticulture seems to really get it in the neck. A recent online troll really stuck it to me on our Facebook page believing that most produce already comes packaged and we should leave it as it is. This person is clearly not concerned with food waste or food safety!

So, I better get to the point before I lose you. In developing a portfolio of environmentally sensible packaging options we have become immune to the pain of a price differential as we all accept it can’t be the same price. But what is totally unpalatable is the way in which the waste stream operates in our ‘clean and green’ land. In short, if you have a #1 or #2 recycling symbol on your packaging you are home and hosed. This is basically milk and soft drink bottles. After that, you are on an upward battle to get anything right.

So what are the top three issues from up on my soapbox:

  1. Every council is left to its own devices in regard to how it handles its local waste stream. Therefore they need to mandate and drive the kerbside recycling system alone and without any national conformity. In Tauranga for instance, they have just removed glass from kerbside collection. Therefore, there is no national standard that we as suppliers or producers can comply to and know our customers can uniformly dispose of our packaging in a sensible way regardless of where they live.
  1. The incumbent waste management companies do not have the infrastructure to handle the various forms of recycling. The main one of interest to us is soft plastics. While they may be fully recyclable (e.g. certain netting bags for citrus, plastic shopping bags, flow wrap etc.) the infrastructure does not like them, and therefore does not accept them. When recycled at supermarket deposit stations, these are baled and shipped to Australia for processing (um?).
  1. We are failing to close the loop. While we can recycle some materials currently and could recycle a lot more, the market for the output is tiny in New Zealand and simply will not take it all up due to a) virgin plastic being cheaper and b) it has limited applications.

I will not sit here as a keyboard warrior and proclaim to have the answers to the wild generalisations I make above. But I can say that we are currently engaging at the highest level to get a firm view on what Government has in mind for this space, and if we don’t like what we hear we will be sure to make some noise about it. We are forming strong ally’s to stand alongside us, we are investing with national research institutes to gain a deeper insight of the issue and we are dedicated to the cause.

In the meantime while we chip away, all of our Infia PET trays and punnets are made from 100% recycled material, our fibre trays are home compostable, the waste stream from our fruit labelling is commercially compostable, our PP Sorma Bag is recyclable (including handle) via supermarket deposit stations and we have a range of compostable films for flow wrapping and tray sealing.

It is not going to save the planet today, but we are working very hard on being a part of helping save it tomorrow.

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