Tetra Pak highlights packaging industry’s key 2021 conundrum

Infrastructure News: Nthabiseng Motsoeneng | April 8, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic calls for a paradigm shift in how the packaging industry meets consumer’s safety concerns while addressing the very real threat of climate change, says Tetra Pak Southern Africa Marketing Director, Nthabiseng Motsoeneng. Growing awareness of the effects of climate change has meant that sustainability is a key concern for any industry. This has been overtaken by the debilitating effects of Covid-19 on health, communities, and the economy – and with it, a disruption to every aspect of life. Priorities shifted overnight: individuals were forced to relook – and changeset patterns of behaviour and “pivot” became a rallying cry for businesses.

Established supply chains were summarily disrupted; quarantines and isolation led to a surge in deliveries, and safe packaging that limits the spread of the virus became a key concern – as did a renewed focus on food safety. Results from Tetra Pak’s global consumer research, carried out in mid-2020 and recently published in our Tetra Pak Index report 2020, found that food safety is now a major issue for more than two-thirds of respondents, with environmental sustainability still a major, but secondary concern. Coupled with this is a demand for transparency and a need for trust. This has deep implications for the food packaging industry, notably because packaging can, and does, cause problems for the planet. And there is much more to sustainable packaging than merely recycling, using eco-friendly alternatives, or reducing waste. A holistic environmental approach that reduces the energy intensity, carbon emissions and end of life impact is vital to the preservation of our planet. This is why safe, sustainable food packaging demands a deeper future dive into innovation in operations, processes, materials, and services – in short, the entire value chain.

Solving for safety and sustainability

Technological advancements have played a major role in the progress already made in ensuring a robust, progressive food packaging industry. The impact of tech on design, too, cannot be overlooked: convenience, personalisation and aesthetics now play key roles in look, feel and usability of the end product. Then there is the role Artificial Intelligence is assuming in the entire product life cycle, with smart packaging providing full information on the journey and shelf life of the contents of a package.

Burning Issues

In 2021, we will no doubt see even greater progress in sustainable packaging. But we cannot do so without also paying closer attention to the burning issue of carbon recycling knowledge – and the effect that consumer demand has on ecological sustainability. Knowledge is key. In late 2020 Tetra Pak launched the Go Nature Go Carton campaign to address the disconnect between packaging and safe food provision – and emphasise the critical role that packaging plays in our global food delivery system. Given the startling insights reflected in our global Index report, education campaigns such as these – and the comprehensive, sponsored schools education programme we ran in in partnership with RecyclePaperZA – will prove as critical in 2021 as the innovations we introduce into the entire packaging ecosystem.

As a pioneer in providing safe food packaging solutions, Tetra Pak has a history of delivering advanced solutions to food, planet and future safety with a series of initiatives that strive towards an end goal of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 100% renewable energy by 2030. This applies to every aspect of our business, including operations. Our converting factory in Pinetown is currently running on 100% renewable energy. We have several other ground-breaking initiatives underway, including:

  • New uses for the polyethylene-aluminium (PolyAlu) component or foil lining of our food and beverage cartons: these can be further converted into breadbaskets, warehousing pallets, and roof tiles, thereby extending their lifespan.

  • The recycled paper board is used for a range of products, from making packaging for the food industry to comprising the inner cores for new reels of carton packs.

  • Maximising the use of materials that reduce the impact on nature – increasing the paper-based and plant-based content in our packages, and sourcing these raw materials in a way that protects biodiversity and natural environments

  • Continuing to relentlessly protect food, ensure food safety and availability for a growing number of people around the world while preventing food waste with farm-to-table processing technologies.

  • Developing a fully recyclable package supported by an established collection, sorting, and recycling infrastructure, to keep materials in use for as long as possible; and

  • Future plans aimed at reducing the amount of plastic and aluminium in our packaging, while increasing the paper-based content, since waste management systems across the world are far from optimal, and not all materials can be recycled.

South Africa has a robust and competitive packaging industry (valued at 37.3 billion units in 2019), thanks to progressive legislation, policies, a practice of responsible packaging and a well-regulated waste management plan. With a 61-year history as market leader in South Africa, Tetra Pak has invested in local recycling facilities and infrastructure to ensure more and more of our packages are recycled, and do not end up in landfills. Covid-19 has proved that crisis is a catalyst for change – and there has never been a better time to inform, collaborate and generate a wider debate about sustainability and the future role of packaging as we strive to meet the needs of people and planet.

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