Plastics & sustainability: With bag ban as backdrop, processors consider extended producer responsibility

Sixty CEOs and other top executives from some of Europe and North America's leading food and beverage convenience and service packaging companies met last month in Barcelona, Spain to talk trash, specifically the trash created when their products are not properly disposed. The meeting, organized by trade groups representing the convenience and foodservice packaging industry, was held as EU legislators debated a continent-wide ban or tax on thin plastic shopping bags.

The legislators have asked for comment on the possible ban/tax from industry and others, and are still collecting data, but the packaging processor executives who met in Barcelona realize their products are under the watchful eye of lawmakers around the world who often view plastic packaging, and especially shopping bags, as an easy mark in new laws designed to protect the environment. But Daniele Simonazzi, owner of Italian plastic cup/plate/cutlery processor FLO Spa and current president of trade group Pack2Go Europe, argued at the meeting that legislation is not the answer to litter. "The solution is to change the attitudes and behavior of people who deliberately or carelessly dispose of waste in town and countryside and to improve waste collection and management everywhere," said Simonazzi. "Putting in place legislation that discriminates against, for example, certain types of packaging is going to displace the problem, not solve it."

Simonazzi was joined at the vent by executives from packaging processors including Europe's deSter, Nupik, Seda and Solo Europe and North America's Cascades, Fabri-Kal, Georgia Pacific, International Paper, and Pactiv; this was the sixth joint European/North American packaging processors' summit in the last ten years. The event was organized by Pack2Go Europe, Europe's convenience food and beverage packaging association, and North America's Foodservice Packaging Institute.

Another item on the processors' agenda at the meeting was the topic of extended producer responsibility. European packaging processors have dealt with this since the 1994 European packaging directive, which forced food and beverage suppliers to set aside funds to help support recycling initiatives, with the obvious implications for processors of packaging.

Packaging processors in the U.S. face a similar challenge - not nationally, yet, but rather in the growing number of uncoordinated local and state initiatives. Steve Claus of Belgium's Fost Plus green dot recycling scheme told the executives attending that the lesson from Europe was that effectiveness and cost efficiency stem from industry and government working together. Above all, separate collection, sorting and recycling should be introduced in a step-by-step manner.

Executives at the meeting also agreed that a clear, simple and unique set of definitions and measurements for sustainability was essential to work in a focused way towards the environmental goals set out by governments in the EU and North America. "Governments, manufacturers, brand owners, NGOs and consumers all have their own definition of sustainability and their own ways to measure it. Each of these players can contribute in its own way towards a sustainable world, but we all need to speak the same language to do so," stated Tony Waters, CEO of Solo Cup Europe. "There is a need to create a coherent network of physical infrastructure and education, so that efforts can be channeled in the right direction," he added.

 

 

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