The Southern Exposure 2020 trade show was held in Tampa this past weekend. The day before the trade show several educational sessions were held. The first of these sessions was entitled “The Plight of Plastics,” and consisted of a panel of five people: Janis McIntosh of Naturipe Farms, Natalie Shuman of Apeel Science, Brad Dennis of CKF Inc., Kathy Lawrence of Proseal and Elizabeth Yerecic of Yerecic Label. The panel was led by Anabella de Freeman of Walmart Stores.
De Freeman opened the session by explaining the initiatives taken by Walmart for reducing the use of plastics. She said: “Walmart has made the commitment to have 100% recyclable packaging for all our private label products by 2025. Our call to action consists of three parts: use less plastics, make it recyclable, and label it.”
After de Freeman’s introduction, each of the panelists received some time to explain how their company views the plight of plastics and what they are doing to help improve the situation.
Commitment to reduction of plastic
Janis McIntosh of Naturipe Farms started by saying: “I like to call the situation not the plight of plastics, but rather the opportunity of plastics. Recently, the CPMA released their Plastics Technical Report which showed that plastics is needed in berry packaging. So we need to take this opportunity to innovate our plastic use. The issue doesn’t require us to eliminate all plastic, but it does require us to eliminate all plastic waste and make it recyclable. We at Naturipe commit to reducing plastic and increasing recyclability.”
She added: “Change is good, but it’s better together.” To have the most impact, everyone needs to work together and competitors need to ally themselves with each other. This was an important message reiterated by each of the panelists. An example of this cooperation is the commitment of North American berry growers to use 100% recycle-ready packaging by 2025.
Shelf-life and product protection
“Panels like this help us realize how we can evolve and innovate as an industry. At Apeel Science we work together with nature to reduce waste and ensure an abundant future for our planet,” said Natalie Shuman of Apeel Sciences.
Plastic packaging is often used to elongate a product’s shelf life. Apeel Sciences works to extend products’ shelf-lives through a natural, plant-derived product which helps fight food waste and plastic use. While food waste is a sustainability and environmental issue, it is also an economic issue. Shuman explained that US food businesses lose millions of dollars on food waste.
She says: “Plastic packaging has multiple purposes: grouping, protection, marketing and shelf-life extension. At Apeel, we tackle this last purpose to help reduce the need for plastic packaging. Our technology uses the molecular building blocks of plants to help create the optimal microclimate within foods. This helps extend the product’s shelf-life and gives the industry more time at each step of the supply chain.
Alternative packaging options
Brad Dennis represented CKF Inc., a Canadian packaging company that offers alternatives to plastic packaging. “We work with packaging made out of molded pulp. One of our product lines, EarthCycle™, uses an optimal blend of virgin hardwood and recycled corrugate. Each of our products are made in North America, and all the materials are sourced from North America as well.”
Besides being made of recycled, non-plastic materials, the company goes a step further: the packaging is certified home-compostable. “Other benefits of this type of packaging is an up to 20% shelf-life extension, a reduction of over 90% in single use plastics, as well as a 5% sales increase for retailers,” Dennis concluded.
Panelist Kathy Lawrence represented ProSeal, a company originating in the UK, whose range of top seal machinery includes 20 different machines specializing in sealing processes. She said: “One of the ways we can reduce plastic is by replacing a clamshell lid by a top seal. Not only does this reduce the amount of plastic in the packaging, it also helps reduce warehouse space. We also work with shelf-life extension solutions. Specific top seal materials help control respiration rates and this can help fight food waste.”
Elizabeth Yerecic of Yerecic Label helped explain to the audience the issues they may run into with their product labels. “While labels themselves do not contribute to the high source of single-serve plastics, they do contribute to the lack of recyclability of single-serve plastics. In order for labels to be sustainable, they need to have aspects such as degradable additives and friendly inks,” said Yerecic.
Another issue with labels is the adhesive. “The adhesive needs to be able to wash away during the caustic bath at the recycling facility. This is something that is largely the responsibility of the brand owners to ensure that the labels they use in their packaging has all the right components,” Yerecic explains. If a label doesn’t meet all the necessary requirements, then it is possible that the entire package will not be recycled.
In order to make headway on the plight of plastics, people in each step of the supply chain need to take responsibility. The general conclusion of the panel was that plastic is a necessary material in the industry, for product protection and other purposes, but the way in which it is used needs some major improvement. While many changes have already been made, the best way to move forward is by allying with competitors. While they might be your competitors within the industry, the goal of creating a better and more sustainable future is a shared goal that can only be reached through combined efforts.