Making the most of packaging, are incentives needed?
by Emma Mundy at 06:59 in Circular Economy, Environmental, Packaging

Last month our blogs focussed around disposable coffee cups and the amount of waste they produce in landfill, and in June we looked at the effect plastic packaging is having on our oceans. There is currently considerable publicity surrounding these topics and the media is quick to notice the environmental effects and their social issues. However, it's important to note that other types of packaging waste also contribute greatly to the waste stream.  This got us thinking about what the incentives are for companies to use recycled content, bio packaging and promote recycling and reuse to their customers. Because after all packaging would be much better for the environment if it was recyclable, or biodegradable, and not clogging up our landfills.

Producer responsibility for packaging in Europe dates back over twenty years now. The packaging and packaging waste regulations stem from an EU directive and many companies are obligated to comply with packaging waste regulations and the essential requirements in the EU countries that they sell into. To an extent companies should already take certain measures to ensure their packaging is environmentally friendly. The essential requirements part of the regulations lays down rules for reduction of packaging at source, better packaging design and making sure there are limited amounts of heavy metals contained in packaging.

Legislation

The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive was introduced to reduce the amount of packaging waste ending up in landfills across the EU. The Directive put the responsibility on producers to pay for the pollution caused by the packaging they placed onto the market. The first directive was introduced in 1994 and has been amended several times since, most recently to address the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags. Obligated producers often choose to join compliance schemes to recover and recycle their packaging waste on their behalf. Producers pay fees to the schemes which fund the recycling system and companies submit data based on the amount of packaging that they have placed onto the market to determine their fees. Whilst some schemes have started to introduce incentives for better packaging design and use of recycled or biodegradable materials, others have not. Some might argue that this is because many of the costs for collection and disposal for these types of packaging remains the same. There are also comparable packaging waste regulations now being implemented across the world and producers who sell outside of the EU will also find they have similar obligations.

Innovative Packaging

Innovations in packaging are happening all the time. Several new environmentally friendly packaging companies are now active in the market. Take Vegware packaging for example, they are a manufacturer of catering disposals and their packaging is completely compostable. Their packaging is also low carbon and made from renewable or recycled materials and can all be recycled alongside food waste.

Frugalpac​ is another company with sustainability high on their agenda. Frugalpac makes environmentally friendly cups which are made from recycled paper board without any added chemicals. The cups break down much more easily than your average take out cup and so can be recycled at normal paper recycling mills and do not have to be sent to specialist plants, of which there are only two in the UK.

Another company making headlines is New Zealand based Ethique.​ They not only make sustainable products but package them sustainably too. Ethique's body care products come in bar form, so by removing the excess water often contained in our usual shampoos and conditioners they need much less packaging and no plastic bottles. All their packaging is compostable with no chemical coatings.

Compliance Schemes

Most compliance schemes will advise companies on areas such as reducing packaging weight, swopping materials i.e. plastic for paper if appropriate, and recycling, reuse and waste management. All of which can have both environmental and cost benefits. However, offering additional incentives at the compliance scheme level is another way to encourage companies to make changes en masse. So let's look at a few of the scheme incentives already in place:

Many schemes do not differentiate between bio plastics and other plastics even though bio plastics have a lesser impact on the environment. Afvalfonds Verpakkingen the Dutch packaging organisation currently do have a separate category and lower fee for bio plastics which is a great step forward.

The French packaging scheme Eco-emballages has for a f​​ew years now operated a bonus and penalty system for household packaging placed onto the French market. The bonus and penalty system has been put in place to incentivise companies to employ eco design in their packaging and raise consumer awareness about the correct channels for sorting and recycling. Equally though companies can be penalised for any disruptive packaging. Disruptive packaging is packaging that is not connected with a specific recycling channel such as plastic bottles that are not in PET, HDPE or PP. Companies can also get discounts on their compliance fees for using recycled cardboard.

Since 2009 Eco E​​ntreprises Quebec​ offers a credit for post-consumer recycled content for the printed matter material group and since 2013 for the containers and packaging group. A credit of 20% of the payable contribution is offered to companies who market materials reaching or exceeding certain thresholds for post-consumer recycled content.

Circular Economy

The four pillars of the circular economy are efficient material management, reduction of toxic substances, energy efficiency and economic incentives. It makes sense for companies to address these issues regardless of any legislation in place, but do companies as well as consumers need extra incentives to improve packaging sustainability? Economic incentives can come in a variety of forms when it comes to packaging and packaging waste and perhaps with the implementation of the circular economy we will see more compliance schemes start to offer companies incentives for more environmentally friendly packaging.

Are you affected by the packaging waste regulations and would incentives help you with the eco design of packaging? Tweet us @loraxcompliance or email us at info@loraxcompliance.com and let us know your thoughts.