David Thomson: The food and drink industry is playing its part in reducing the impact of packaging

FDF Scotland and our members are serious about minimising the impact of food and drink production on our environment. We understand that reducing packaging and plastic is an important part of that – but we need to keep in mind the vital role that they play. Plastic packaging is very effective in making sure food and drink remains in a good, safe condition until the consumer eats the product. And importantly, they help avoid it ending up in the food waste bin! According to a recent survey – carried out by WRAP and the Industry Council on packaging and the environment – 40 per cent of consumers are concerned about food waste. This has increased from 33 per cent in 2012.

David Thomson, CEO, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland

The food and drink industry has been working hard on a range of sustainability issues for many years, long before Blue Planet II brought the issue of plastics to the forefront of everyone’s minds.

In 2018 FDF was a founding signatory to the UK Plastics Pact together with a number of FDF members, which aims to create a circular economy for plastics. The Pact aims by 2025 to ensure 100 per cent of plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable, and to eliminate single-use packaging through design and innovation.

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Many of our members across Scotland have taken great strides in reducing the impact of their packaging. Lanarkshire based Border Biscuits recently committed to eliminating 90 per cent of plastic from its packaging. This will save 537 tonnes of CO2 emissions from the manufacturing process each year.

Additionally, the overall weight of the packaging has been reduced by 50 per cent in the Ginger, Classic and Traditional retail ranges. This allows double the amount of packs to fit onto a single pallet, making the transportation of products more environmentally friendly and further reducing the company’s carbon footprint.

Suzie Carlaw, Marketing Manager at Border Biscuits, said: “Innovating to reduce single-use plastic has been a key focus over the last 12 months and our new packaging means we can address the environmental concerns of our customers without compromising on the high quality of our beautifully crafted biscuits.”

In another example Edinburgh based Stoats has revealed a fresh new look for the brand, including a revamp of its packaging, which is now 100 per cent recyclable or compostable.

The company has used Natureflex compostable film for its porridge bars and compostable lining in its porridge pots. The new look for the brand comes at a time of exceptional growth for the company, which now produces more than 20 million handmade Stoats Porridge Oat Bars each year. In addition, Stoats has invested in a carboard perforator which turns used cardboard boxes into packing material for their internet orders.

Tony Stone, Managing Director at Stoats, said: “We’re very proud that our independent company has become an industry leader by committing to using plastic-free packaging.”

Despite these successes there are challenges in replacing plastic packaging. For example, one of our frozen food members uses a combination of polyethylene film bags and cardboard cases to package their products. These materials are recyclable, efficient throughout the supply chain and protect the integrity and safety of the foods. They have worked with customers and agencies to minimise packaging, while presenting their products in the best way possible for retail and foodservice. As part of researching alternatives the company has put some new retail products straight into cardboard cartons. If this was to be extended a significant investment of around £500k would be needed on new packing equipment.

If they switched to paper packaging for all retail products our member estimates that almost twice as many pallets would need to be stored and delivered for the same volume. In this case moving away from plastics would not have the desired impact on reducing the company’s carbon footprint.

On top of that the UK doesn’t have sufficient recycling facilities in place. There is a real opportunity for Scottish and UK governments to work together to put in place facilities across the UK that would enable us to recycle all of our packaging.

The food and drink industry is playing its part in reducing the impact of packaging on the environment and will continue to do so. But Scottish and UK governments must support their efforts by providing funding and innovation support to truly enable us to become a circular economy for packaging and plastics.

David Thomson, CEO, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland