How to Make Multipack Packaging More Sustainable
96.6 billion. That’s the number of plastic packaging items we throw away every year in the UK. Yet with 92% of adults concerned about plastic pollution, more of us are making more conscious choices when it comes to the environmental credentials of the products we’re purchasing. And it’s no longer just the item we’re focussing on – it’s what it represents. From the materials that make up its packaging to the wider environmental mission of the brand, the greatest influence over whether we make a purchase isn’t just at point-of-sale.
Plastic Packaging Tax: A Year On
Nearly a full year has passed since the UK brought its Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT) into force. Plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled plastic, manufactured or imported into the UK is now taxed at £200 per tonne, an economic incentive for businesses to use more recycled plastic. And in October this year, the Government’s rolling out another policy to drive us away from one of our great polluters.
In England, a number of single-use plastics will be banned. Items like cutlery, balloon sticks and food containers will no longer be available to buy from retailers or hospitality vendors. Considering we use an estimated 2.7 billion items of single-use cutlery yearly (of which just 10% is recycled) makes this a welcome milestone on the journey to a greener future.
However, the particulars of the ban won’t apply to packaging in shelf-ready food items, like the trays that separate your korma from your rice. These will be covered by the Government’s Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme that will be implemented in 2024. It plans to use incentives to get producers using more recyclable packaging and meeting higher recycling targets in another positive change to one of the packaging industry’s biggest packaging challenges.
But while both the October ban and the EPR scheme are certainly huge steps to shift behaviours at point and aftermath of packaging use, one of the most influential steps is changing what happens before we get to that point.
The Changing Face of Walkers’ Multipacks
Many FMCG companies have been working away behind-the-scenes at adapting their entire supply operation to accommodate more sustainable practices. From materials sourcing through to factory energy supply and use, there’s a multitude of operations within the supply chain that can be adapted to have less harmful impacts on the environment.
Taking centre-stage are Walkers. In January, the beloved crisp producer unveiled new cardboard outer packaging for their 22- and 24-multipacks. By replacing the traditional plastic packaging, Walkers aims to rid its supply chain of 250 tonnes of plastic yearly. In addition to positively impacting the brand’s use of plastic, this change to its popular multipacks will ‘increase pallet load’ and ‘optimise supply chain efficiency’.
And it’s straight-forward to see how we can start to close the loop with multi-use packaging.
Replacing Plastic Packaging with Corrugated Cardboard
Cardboard is made in a range of board grades, with the choice responsible for the properties of the end product. Say you’re looking for a material that boasts durability – the corrugated cardboard that we specialise in is made of a minimum of three layers, which increases its resilience. A wavy material we call the ‘flute’ fills the inner and outer layers, providing strength that withstands more wear and tear than a traditional solid-board.
Naturally, a more robust material improves the lifespan of your packaging. When it lasts longer, you don’t have to replace it as often. You get to reuse the corrugated cardboard over and over, reducing how much production, transport, and storage you’re contributing to. And when it’s reached the end of its life, cardboard can be recycled, decreasing the impact of one of the most problematic parts of food and drink packaging for the environment: how it’s disposed.
(Click here to read more about sustainable packaging!)
Increasing Recyclability of Multipack Packaging
Most packaging still ends up in a landfill, where it releases a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide: methane. Despite a lot of packaging still unable to be composted or recycled, the majority of cardboard can. In fact, out of the 5.4 million metric tonnes of paper and cardboard packaging created by UK households in 2021, 3.8 million metric tonnes was recovered for recycling. That’s a rate of over 70%, close to double the rate of plastic packaging that was recycled in the same year.
Though corrugated cardboard can’t replace the entirety of packaging within the food and drinks market, there are certain adaptations it best lends itself to that support a more sustainable industry. And it’s identifying where materials in the overall supply chain can be replaced, whether that’s the outer packaging to safely transport multipacks or separators made from cardboard to separate trays of fresh produce at point of sale.
It can also biodegrade, a packaging trend that’s set to spike in the next few years – $126.85 billion is the value the biodegradable packaging market’s predicted to reach by 2026. Watch this space!