Food and beverage packaging and processing businesses can design waste out of their businesses and supply chains, improve reuse and recycling, and regenerate natural systems, says food processing and packaging company Tetra Pak Eastern and Southern Africa communications manager Stella Ondimu.
The five areas of operations are processing and manufacturing, equipment and resource efficiency, supply-chain efficiencies, reduction of food waste, and sustainable and renewable packaging materials.
Processing and manufacturing offer enormous opportunities to maximise efficiencies, reduce environmental impact and improve sustainability ratings, she says.
Production and distribution simulations can also help optimise equipment for future production runs.
Ondimu says resource and equipment efficiency can be improved, noting that environmental opportunity analyses can make operations more efficient and have led to reduced water use of 30% in at least one case. Additionally, remote monitoring and support using augmented reality make preventive and traditional maintenance and support available, regardless of where equipment may be.
Efficiencies can ratchet up in the supply chain, according to Ondimu. Carton packs, for example, are lighter to transport and are more compact than alternatives when empty, so they require fewer truck rolls, which lowers carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
She adds that food waste has a marked impact on sustainability and the environment. The United Nations says food waste accounts for 8% of greenhouse-gas emissions. Manufacturers must be able to transport and process food with minimal waste, and should also have reliable, real-time access to retail demand linked to production-planning systems.
Food waste is a financial burden to businesses and consumers. Ondimu says smallholder and other farmers must access markets reliably and quickly before their goods spoil.
An area that can also be improved involves plant-based renewable raw materials for packaging that can be reused and recycled, thus helping to lower emissions, she says.
Sugar cane has been used since 2011 to make polyethylene that is used to manufacture biobased caps for carton packs, with a higher renewables content and a lower environmental footprint. Such caps reduce CO2 emissions from 14% to 19%, compared with caps made from fossil-fuel-derived plastics, and the market for them grew by 86% from 2012 to 2014.
Manufacturers and producers increasingly source wood, pulp and other raw materials, such as sugar cane, from responsibly managed commercial forests and farms. Raw materials are independently audited and monitored through the supply chain, and commercial forests are replanted. Organisations such as the Forestry Stewardship Council are paramount to maintaining the integrity of this process.
“Innovative packaging also harnesses these materials to ensure that they are more recyclable and require less input to recycle,” she says.
Forests and the forest-based bioeconomy in Europe could capture as much as 25% of Europe’s CO2 emissions, according to the ‘JRC Science for Policy Bioeconomy Report’ of 2016.
“These five pillars are the focus of considerable effort by many stakeholders in the sector who are collaborating to optimise the value chain to minimise climate impact,” Ondimu concludes.