Tetra Pak report shows there’s a long way to go for sustainable packaging

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Tetra Pak finds that there is a high level of public support for sustainable packaging. Source: Daniel Grizelj/Getty Images
Tetra Pak finds that there is a high level of public support for sustainable packaging. Source: Daniel Grizelj/Getty Images

Related tags Packaging Sustainability Recycling Climate change Supply chain

A new report from Swedish-Swiss packaging company Tetra Pak revealed high levels of consumer support for sustainable packaging. However, due to supply chain issues and high prices, many companies are nevertheless struggling to implement changes to their packaging to make it more sustainable.

The report delved into consumer responses to the use of sustainable packaging, as well as the impact of high prices on the supply chain and of government legislation on packaging as a whole.

Despite widespread public support for company initiatives to make packaging more sustainable, the report showed some difficulty in actually implementing these initiatives, due in large part to economic factors affecting companies’ supply chains and changing their priorities.

Power to the people

According to the report, people are becoming far more concerned about sustainability in packaging.

Fifty-six percent think the government should be raising more awareness of sustainability issues such as sustainable packaging. Furthermore, 70% of consumers think companies have a responsibility to do more to make their packaging sustainable, and 69% value companies who do so.

Sustainable packaging innovations have been ‘driven by growing consumer pressure’, Alex Henriksen, managing director for Tetra Pak UK and North Europe, told FoodNavigator.

Despite strong public support, supply chain issues have challenged company efforts to be sustainable. Source: MediaProduction/Getty Images

According to our research, two thirds highly value those taking steps to provide recyclable food and drink products, meaning leaders have had to innovate to keep up with changing consumer expectations.

Decarbonisation efforts and sustainability credentials now also have a bearing on purchases made for over half of consumers across the UK and Ireland, meaning failing to establish a clear commitment to more sustainable packaging may not only impact brand reputation, but also the bottom line for businesses.​”

The industry, he told us, can “build on this progress by educating consumers on the importance of reducing waste, for example, by improving environmental labelling​.”

Global crisis

However, due to supply chain issues, as well as high prices, this is easier said than done.

While 36% of food and drink manufacturers consider sustainability important, 41%, are hindered by supply chain issues making it difficult to implement sustainable packaging.

Shortages of raw materials, for example, or price increases, are standing in the way of businesses making their packaging more sustainable. Twenty-eight percent say that the rising cost of fuel in particular proves to be a barrier.

Our research has shown shortages of raw materials and price increases remain two of the biggest supply chain challenges facing businesses today​,” Henriksen told us. “Both are hindering the investment in the development of more sustainable packaging by preventing access to materials that are renewable and low carbon​.”

Leaders’ priorities are changing too. While 70% of business leaders still believe they should be doing more to address climate change, 93% put other priorities first as a direct result of the current socio-economic situation.

In order to mitigate this​,” said Henriksen, “it’s vital that we work with partners across the value chain and with government to build a more sustainable, circular economy.

This will help improve the resilience of global food systems, as careful consideration of materials, alongside further innovation and collaboration on recycling infrastructure will improve both food access and security. This will reduce resource dependency and ease these pressures in the long-term​.”

Recycling and climate in government

The report also outlined the government response to recycling, pointing out that their policies surrounding it are being developed ‘in silos’ from policies around the climate crisis. This, they said, is a problem. “So far government has looked at issues such as climate change and waste in isolation​,” said Henriksen.

However, there are ways to get around this. “These issues are interlinked and there’s an opportunity for effective policy to drive change across industry,” ​he said.

One such example is the proposed Plastic Packaging Tax, which has an important role to play in driving more sustainable practices from industry. Currently, proposals for the tax include plant-based plastics within scope, which means that they would be taxed in the same way as virgin fossil-fuel based plastics.

By including low carbon, plant-based plastics within scope, the Government risks disincentivising their use, thus losing the benefits of their lower carbon emissions. A dual approach in public policy and regulation is needed, combining more stringent recycling policy with the decarbonisation of packaging materials​.”

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