Flexible food packaging is a sticking point for baby food brands looking to reduce their environmental footprint.
Pouches are traditionally made from multi-layered packaging materials – notably aluminium sandwiched between layers of plastic – which impacts its recyclability. According to the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL), this type of packaging cannot be recycled by local councils due to a lack of resources, infrastructure and/or technology to deal with this type of material.
And yet, flexible laminate pouches are often deemed the best packaging option for such products.
“They keep food safe and fresh without the use of any preservatives, are the preferred packaging format for parents, and have a lower carbon footprint to create compared to glass or other alternatives,” explained Little Freddie’s Group Sustainability Manager Nicola Smith.
After ‘several years’ of testing and trialling alternative packaging materials, Little Freddie has found a solution: the brand is launching baby food pouches in mono-material packaging fit for kerbside recycling.
Zero waste to landfill
Amongst the alternative packaging materials reviewed, Little Freddie considered biodegradable pouches. However, Smith explained biodegradable materials often face an end-of-life issue. “These require specific conditions to degrade and often will still end up in landfill,” she told FoodNavigator.
Given that Little Freddie pledged a ‘zero waste to landfill’ commitment in 2018, and under its sustainability strategy has committed to ensure all packaging is 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025, the biodegradable option was off the table.
The brand has been working to limit the amount of packaging destined for landfill via a partnership with chemical recycler Enval. For the last four years, a closed-loop recycling scheme has seen Enval recycle Little Freddie’s pouches into reusable materials. So far, the scheme has saved 972,000 pouches from landfill.
“Disposing of baby food pouches in this way has a 90% smaller carbon footprint than current methods. Furthermore, the recovered aluminium has a 70% smaller carbon footprint than producing virgin aluminium.”
A fully recyclable solution
Little Freddie’s new solution is designed to make recyclability even easier for consumers. The mono-material pouch is made from polypropylene (PP), including the spout and the cap.
The pouches have been assessed by the OPRL scheme to meet the requirements of their ‘Recycle’ designation, meaning that these pouches will carry a recycle label. As such, they will be accepted by kerbside recycling.
OPRL said Little Freddie’s pouch has undergone ‘stringent’ testing to achieve its Certified As Recyclable marque. “As a result, it carried our ‘Recycle-Cap On’ label which makes recycling much easier for busy parents by adding these pouches to home recycling collections and preventing them from ending up in landfill,” said Alice Harlock, Membership & Services Manager at OPRL.
“This innovation is a fine example of brands helping their customers to do the right thing by making recycling simple.”
The new packaging has no impact on product quality, stressed Smith, who does not expect shoppers will notice the change. “Consumers will not notice any difference in size or shape. The key difference is the green banner stating ‘fully recyclable’ at the top of the pouch and the OPRL ‘recycle’ label of the back of the pouch. Customers can recycle the whole pouch with the cap on.”
A big win for Little Freddie is that the new mono-material reduces the product’s environmental footprint.
In partnership with CarbonCloud, the brand has identified a carbon saving of 0.1kg (of product produced) against the existing packaging material (aluminium laminate). “Scaled up, this carbon saving will make a significant difference to the total climate footprint, and this is before it is recycled,” we were told.
For Little Freddie’s Mighty Mango & Passion Fruit pouch, for example, the climate footprint in aluminium laminate packaging stands at 2.5kg CO2e/kg. In mono-material, the product comes to 2.4kg CO2e/kg.
Over the next 12 months, Little Freddie anticipates the new packaging material will save over 350,000 pouches from landfill – the equivalent of 2.5 tonnes of plastic.
Little Freddie’s decision to partner with CarbonCloud aims to increase climate footprint transparency through ‘farm-to-shelf’. Little Freddie claims to be the first baby food brand in the world to go ‘climate transparent’.
“No other UK baby food brand has labelled their products,” explained the sustainability expert. “Gerber (owned by Nestlé) in the US has certified its plant-based range as carbon neutral by the Carbon Trust. Little Steps (also owned by Nestlé) in Germany has also worked with Climate Partner to launch climate neutral infant milk formula.”
Yet Little Freddie is the only baby food brand committed to publishing labels across its range, we were told, “most importantly including those products that contain animal protein”. The brand has recently shared the climate footprint label for its Beef Lasagne product (1.1kg CO2e per pouch).
Smith continued: “We hope to inspire other brands not only in the baby food sector but within the flexible packaging industry to join us in adopting recyclable pouches as well as quantifying their climate footprints.”
A full-scale roll-out
Little Freddie is launching two flavours in its new packaging Super Strawberries & Bananas and Mighty Mango & Passionfruit into Sainsbury’s and Ocado, and plans to expand the mono-material and climate labels across its entire range.
“The roll-out of the new mono-material pouch across our other pouch ranges will take some time as we ensure product safety and quality,” Smith explained. “In the meantime, the entire pouch range can be recycled under our return pouch recycling scheme with Enval.”
Earlier this year, Little Freddie became the first UK baby food brand to have its entire packaging range completely recyclable when it added its finger food packaging to the Enval recycling scheme.