Opinion: Sharon Humphreys, executive director, Packaging Council of New Zealand
Packaging, which surrounds almost every consumer product, is in the hands of consumers fleetingly. But, in the moment before you dispose of it, think about the journey it took to create, make and apply that packaging... and how you will dispose of it.
That's exactly what our designers, brand owners and manufacturers do every day - from start of the product's life to the end - they have to balance what resources are used in manufacturing while ensuring the packaging is fit for its purpose and ultimately they consider how it will be disposed.
Here in New Zealand we have been working to lead the way in ensuring the packaging sector plays its role in sustainability. That is where The Packaging Council of New Zealand (PAC.NZ) fits in. It represents companies operating across the packaging supply chain, with members contributing approximately $20 billion to the economy.
The Council and its members advocate for a lifecycle approach to packaging and start with the fundamental principle that good packaging design prevents more waste than it creates. A lifecycle approach optimizes the overall environmental impact of packaging and the Packaging Council has been at the forefront of promoting and educating on the role of packaging and how it contributes to a sustainable society balancing the three pillars of planet, profit and community.
Recycling remains Kiwis' tangible contribution to preserving and protecting the clean, green image of New Zealand. With over 90 per cent of Kiwis having access to either kerbside or drop-off recycling facilities we have wide-spread, mature collection facilities for post-consumer packaging material. PAC.NZ members are committed to providing innovative solutions to maximise the collection of post-consumer packaging materials.
Alto Packaging - behind the new Foodstuffs meat tray, Miltek and Flight Plastics are all taking leadership positions on providing solutions to the issue of packaging waste by redesigning products to fit with existing recycling operations, or making recovery easier and cost effective for business through baling solutions and creating markets for recovered packaging materials and using these products for new packaging material.
Functionality is the key criteria in all packaging design. Consider the demands we consumers place on the packaged goods industry today. We expect access to global merchandise and no matter how far-flung the origin of the product, and no matter the time and distance in transit, we nevertheless expect it to arrive to us in perfect condition. We require food and beverage products to provide us with choices to suit our tastes, our beliefs, our lifestyles and our health. We further expect value-add such as convenience formats for preparation, usage, portion control, safety features, closure features, anti-tamper evidence, theft deterrent.
Without compromising on the functions and expectations of the packaging there is a growing call to meet these demands within the parameters of a circular economy. The Packaging Council has members leading the way in providing circular solutions.
It is in the area of science and R & D where the step-changes in packaging will come. Already we are seeing advances in technology, and innovation in packaging design that are enabling development of new packaging materials which address the concerns voiced by society for alternatives to traditional fossil fuel based packaging materials. The Packaging Council benefits from the strong science focus provided from Scion, who sits on the Executive Board, and partnerships such as Auckland University's Biocide Toolbox. The future of packaging is exciting and, in New Zealand, where there has always existed a strong innovation spirit we are seeing our scientific institutions rise to the challenges of producing advanced materials to meet the needs of tomorrow's society.
These stories provide a small snapshot of the work of the Packaging Council members. Members who are committed to New Zealand Inc. economically, socially and environmentally
Case study: Carter Holt Harvey packaging
Carter Holt Harvey (CHH), in conjunction with Carter Holt Harvey Packaging, is a truly circular business. Virgin timber from sustainably managed forests finds its way into a multitude of products and, in the case of the packaging division, is turned into over 100 million 'multiwall' bags and 120 million paper cups each year, along with its specialty cardboards used in many packaging types.
Alongside, CHH also runs Fullcircle Recycling, which re-collects those items, along with 300,000-tonnes of recovered paper, processes it all, and the cycle begins again. It's a long way from the humble beginnings of the original 'Paper Chase', a community based recycling initiative kicked off by the Scouts over 50 years ago.
What makes this all the more impressive, is that CHH generates nearly 80% of its electricity internally by using renewable sources such as wood processing residues and geothermal steam. "We have a bio energy resource available and we utilise it," says Murray Parrish, environment manager at CHH. "Also grid electricity used at CHH manufacturing sites is largely hydro, geothermal, and wind generated." The upshot of this energy innovation is a much smaller amount of carbon is embodied in the production of every individual piece of packaging, and a hugely competitive offering for companies looking for an eco-friendly option for packaging their products. This is ultimately good for business, the environment and for consumers.
Case study: Scion Research
The Manufacturing and Bioproducts division of Scion Research is at the forefront of global research into bio-based alternatives to traditional fossil-fuel-based products, with packaging alternatives high on the list.
"This is not about trying to get rid of packaging," says Elspeth MacRae, general manager of the division. "Packaging is vital. You couldn't sell anything without it. For New Zealand, with our geographical isolation, it is even more important to protect our products, particularly for our export markets."
MacRae says that in the last 5-10 years Scion has 'upped the game', working on lightweight biopolymer products, hybrid fibre-bioplastic products, bioadhesives, bioplastics and biofoams.
Much of the work is finding favour overseas where progress on waste management is more advanced. For example, Scion is currently working with a Finnish company on adapting a technology which makes a polymer from trees to produce plastic wrap, a product which could have wide packaging applications. Also biodegradable bioplastics, which are rare here due to the absence of any commercial composting plants. Hopefully this will change in New Zealand over time.
Scion's most highly publicised product application in New Zealand is perhaps that of Zespri's 'spife' - a cross between a spoon and a knife, specifically designed for eating a kiwifruit on the move. The original was made from standard plastic, but has been redesigned to be made from kiwifruit waste mixed with a bioplastic.
Scion also works with the Biopolymer Network, which is working on bio alternatives to hard foam packaging materials, much of which ends up in landfill.
Woodforce is also one of the latest developments, which uses wood fibre and bio plastics and can be used in a range of products (pallets, boxes, casings, cars, appliances). Tests have shown this material can be recycled six times without loss of performance.