Article appeared in issue 5, 2020

A force for change

Collaboration and innovation across industry is changing the way we approach plastic packaging

The Plastics Action Alliance (PAA) is a collaboration of market leaders from Ireland’s beef, poultry, lamb, dairy, fruit, vegetables, and packed salad sectors that aims to keep plastic in the economy and out of the environment. Plastic packaging poses significant challenges and collaboration is mutually beneficial for all according to John Durkan (chair member of the PAA from ABP Food Group) who sees it as a partnership that encourages creativity, leverages experience, and maximises resources. The move from a linear plastic economy towards a circular structure is helping to achieve the group’s vision. The companies work together as a group to eliminate, innovate, and circulate plastics in each of their supply chains.

 

Objectives

A reduction in unnecessary, single-use and non-recyclable plastic packaging is a vital step in the movement towards sustainable packaging, while still recognising the role packaging plays in food protection and preservation. Clearly defined outcomes are essential for this process and the PAA members have established key objectives:

•    Reduce the use and quantity of plastic packaging without compromising on quality, shelf life and consumer experience;

•    Eliminate unnecessary single-use plastics from everyday activities across all member sites by the end of 2020 – water bottles, straws, coffee cups etc;

•    Eliminate use of PVC in packaging where viable alternatives exist with the required functionality by the end of 2020;

•    Ensure 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging by the end of 2025;

•    Use cardboard packaging that is certified PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) or FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) by the end of 2020;

•    Proactively search for new materials from renewable sources;

•    Redesign packaging to reduce the amount of plastic in each pack;

•    Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through improved design, innovation or alternative renewable options by 2025;

•    All plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025;

•    No packaging waste from any participant sites will go to landfill by the end of 2020.

Aidan Cotter, independent chairman of the PAA, says: “It is important to demonstrate that we have a real and binding commitment to the reduction of the use of plastic across our member companies. The objectives we have set are a tangible demonstration that the PAA intends to take meaningful action with the introduction of further sustainable processes across their businesses.”

One of the group's recent successes was the collaboration with researchers in Athlone Institute of Technology around sustainable packaging. Areas of interest for research included the circular economy, soaker recyclability, multi-laminate plastics and polypropylene recylate. Companies hope the research in these areas will help with making future material decisions, and the research is now in its final stages.

 

Activities

PVC elimination

Monaghan Mushrooms have moved more than 60% of their UK/Ireland-supply products out of PVC film. The company is now working with remaining retailers to move their products into a non-PVC alternative. The company has also introduced a new rPET punnet (with 80% post-consumer recycled content) to almost half of its products, with further rollout planned.

New reduced pack designs

PAA members have worked with their suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging needed in packs for their product without compromising on the quality or shelf life of the product and have been able to save over 155 tonnes of plastic packaging. Nature's Best reviewed all PET packaging, identifying, testing and validating gauge used. In review, the company was able to reduce the gauge on 10 products after shelf-life and transit testing.

A full review took place in Manor Farm for PP trays used for product and changes were made in tray sizes, weights of trays and thickness of material to make plastic packaging reductions. They are on target to save in excess of 28 tonnes of plastic in finished goods for 2020.

Reusable packaging

Companies have looked to reusable packaging to replace single-use packaging that would have previously been wasted. Irish Country Meats worked with a number of key customers to introduce reusable trays instead of single-use plastic liners in boxes for their meat packs. They installed in-line air dryers which eliminated the need for the liners in cardboard boxes. These changes contributed to a 36% reduction from the overall packaging weight consumed, a total saving of 9.5 tonnes.

Reductions in secondary and tertiary packaging

Aurivo has completed work on reducing secondary packaging within its business, making reductions by down-gauging the thickness of pallet hood material used for milk powder transport. They have been able to reduce material use by 25%, or circa 17 tonnes annually since 2017.

C&D Foods worked to reduce the thickness of pallet film which resulted in a 25% reduction in plastic usage. Ballymaguire Foods has vastly reduced the use of plastic pallet wrap film within the business and have eliminated it completely in its high-care facility, saving 4.3 tonnes annually. The company has also introduced a fully compostable tray to certain prepared meal lines, removing 4.99 tonnes of plastic packaging annually.

Alternative materials to plastic

The County Crest Group identified areas that could have a viable alternative to the use of plastic. The group was able to offset seven tonnes of plastic per annum by switching from plastic trays to cardboard for their potato baker line. It has also eliminated the plastic net window used on certain paper potato bags so that they now feature a fully recyclable, mono-material paper pack that can be put in the recycling bin.

ABP introduced an alternative recyclable card coupled with a thin film of peel-away plastic on its Good Herdsmen organic meat products. The move will see a reduction of 70% in the amount of plastics used to package its meat products. The card is sourced from PEFC-certified (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) forests and is recyclable with paper and board.

These initiatives show that companies are committed to making change and are working towards achieving a circular economy. With continued work and collaboration, the PAA hopes it can make more sustainable changes in packaging.

 

The members of Plastics Action Alliance represent different sectors of the agri-food landscape.

ABP (beef)

Aurivo (dairy)

Manor Farm (poultry)

Irish Country Meats (lamb)

Keelings (fruit) 

Monaghan Mushrooms (mushrooms)

Country Crest (vegetables)

Ballymaguire Foods (prepared meals)

Nature’s Best (salads)

C&D Foods (petfood)

Bandon Co-Op (dairy)