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Unpacking Klöckner Pentaplast’s Positive Plastics Pledge

kp Positive Plastics Pledge- SQ small
The company’s global sustainability director discusses plans to have 100% recyclable and sustainably sourced polymers by 2028.

In mid-September, Klöckner Pentaplast (Montabaur, Germany), a global plastic packaging and film provider, announced a new Positive Plastics Pledge, outlining a commitment to develop and manage its products for a sustainable future. Where possible, kp plans to increase to 100% the company’s usage of recyclable and sustainably sourced polymers by 2028.

“We have big ideas about reducing littering, ensuring that used plastic is appreciated as a valuable new material and addressing climate change, whilst continuing to protect products and prevent food waste through our packaging,” said kp CEO, Daniel Dayan. “We have long recognized the challenges when it comes to the life cycle of plastics and believe a transformational shift is required in the way plastic is managed by our industry, by consumers and by society in general.”

kp’s Positive Plastics Pledge centers on four key areas of commitment and action:

  • Innovate – kp is committed to doing more with less and conserving the planet by reducing the weight of its packaging and using up to 100% recycled content where possible.
  • Accelerate – By 2028, kp will only use materials that are practically recyclable or sustainably sourced and will simplify its polymer and material mix to ease recycling.
  • Educate – To highlight the benefits of plastic during and after use, kp is engaging with consumers and communities about responsible disposal and the value of plastic waste as a resource.
  • Activate – To help close the loop on plastics, kp is leading discussions and initiatives that will transform collection and recycling infrastructure around the world.
PLASTEC Minneapolis 2018 held October 31-November 1 is part of the Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event that also includes MinnPack brings you the latest in materials and additives, injection molding, rapid prototyping, coatings, automation, packaging and more. For details, visit PLASTEC Minneapolis.

Lubna Edwards, kp’s Global Sustainability Director, responds to PlasticsToday’s questions about this landmark pledge.

Is this a shift in policy or an extension or fine-tuning of the company’s direction in sustainability?

Edwards: We have long recognized the challenges associated with the life cycle of plastics and believe a transformational shift is required in the way it is managed by our industry, government, consumers and society in general. Leakage and littering of plastics and other materials in our oceans and land is unacceptable and the media have highlighted the impacts of this which has touched the hearts and minds of all of us. And although the current media scrutiny is healthy, the narrative doesn’t always reflect reality; there is a lot of inaccurate information and misperception that, through repetition, becomes viewed as reality or fact.

We have been working on many initiatives for many years: optimizing resource use, lightweighting, designing for recyclability, using a significant amount of recycled materials. These aren’t new to us, but we need to do a better job of communicating our progress and plans at a time when people are looking for answers.

That’s why we’re launching the Positive Plastics Pledge now: to dispel the myths. To restate our long-term aspirations in a clear, cohesive way, to ramp up our plans, taking them to another level that stretches far beyond the four walls of kp. And to turn up the volume on our call for a future with less waste and better recycling of plastics.

How much of a tangible difference can the company make beyond taking a prominent position?

Edwards: We are well placed to lead from the front, as we offer truly sustainable packaging solutions. We use up to 95% post-consumer recycled polyester (rPET) in many of our products which are also recyclable, creating a closed loop.

We understand our obligations need to go further than what we design and manufacture. We invest to educate and encourage others, but that will only take us so far. Other players within the recycling system need to do their bit. For example, some of our products use expanded polystyrene (EPS), a very sustainable material. It’s protective, lightweight and resource-efficient. It’s also easy to recycle, yet the collection and recycling infrastructure is not readily available in the U.K. due to it being so lightweight and tough to collect in large volumes.

Another example is the collection and recycling of PET pots, tubs and trays. PET is a valuable raw material and should not go to waste. Not enough is being collected, sorted and recycled despite there being a high-end market for rPET. We need incentivized mechanisms and investment in infrastructure to dramatically improve this situation.

So our Pledge calls for joined-up thinking within the entire supply and value chain—from raw material suppliers to plastics producers, food processors, retailers, brands, consumers, local authorities and waste management, recyclers, and governments—to collaborate in a considered, coordinated approach.  Only then can we achieve the much-needed transformational change.

Next: Unpacking the four key areas of Innovate, Accelerate, Educate and Activate

PLASTEC Minneapolis 2018 held October 31-November 1 is part of the Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event that also includes MinnPack brings you the latest in materials and additives, injection molding, rapid prototyping, coatings, automation, packaging and more. For details, visit PLASTEC Minneapolis.

Let’s drill down further into the four key areas that kp has identified starting with Innovate: What role has renewable resources played for the company? What role can bioplastics play in these efforts?

Edwards: Our Positive Plastics Pledge includes a commitment to use up to 100% recycled content where possible while ensuring the highest product and food protection. rPET, mainly made from post-consumer recycled drinks bottles and trays, is our main sustainable material of choice.  It is fully functional and protective, as well as having excellent environmental credentials. Our award-winning RFresh Elite trays (shown below), for example, are made with up to 95% rPET and are recyclable after use. We used 140,000 tonnes (154,324 U.S. tons) of rPET in our products in 2017 globally—that’s the same weight as 85,000 cars that hasn’t ended up in the oceans or landfill.

We’re also looking at developing new, more sustainable materials, some of which are already in the research pipeline. Scientific research is a critical part of ensuring we invest in the right solutions.

As for biodegradable and compostable plastics, they may bring advantages in theory but contrary to what many people think, they aren’t recyclable at the moment. The infrastructure to deal with them isn’t well established, and they would only contaminate other well established existing plastic recycling streams.

It is important that we make informed choices about the materials we use, ensuring there are no unintended consequences. For example, we must be sure there are no conflicts with the food chain when exploring renewables; we need to ensure there is a stable supply of the material; we must address the total life cycle impact so that there are no adverse impacts to other environmental aspects.

Accelerate: Please identify materials that may be substituted or prioritized. What guidelines will be followed or how will those determinations be made?

Edwards: We have pledged to increase our use of post-consumer recycled materials like rPET to reach up to 100% recycled material wherever possible, without contributing to food waste. We have also committed to only use materials that are practically recyclable or made from sustainable sources by 2028. 

We want to make it simple for consumers to recycle our products, so we’re reducing the number of polymers we use. By simplifying our range of materials and making it clearer how each of our products can be recycled, we hope to make post-consumer sorting and collection much easier for everyone.

There is clear differentiation among our customers already. For instance, local authorities, retailers and the NHS prefer rPET, while the traditional takeaway tray is still very much about expanded polystyrene (EPS), which keeps food warmer for longer which is very important in the foodservice sector. Deciding where to focus our efforts will require a delicate balancing act and market research between honoring the past, meeting current consumer needs and innovating for the future.

And while we’d like to substitute all materials that may be viewed as problematic from a “widely recyclable” perspective, some  plastics that are not widely recyclable are not replaceable today, especially due to the regulations surrounding pharmaceutical and medical products.

Educate: To what degree will these be kp-initiated efforts versus participating in existing industry programs?

Edwards: It’s imperative for people to understand the difference between littering and plastic waste; littering is a major societal issue with awful environmental consequences but it’s not the same as plastic waste which is a valuable material. Packaging is often discarded with no thought of the impact it might have on our oceans, land and wildlife. But products do not litter themselves: people litter. And simply banning packaging will not stop littering. 

The education element of our Pledge needs to be delivered at scale to achieve transformational change.  We are working on a combination of kp-led initiatives as well as industry wide commitments and programs. We are making every effort to highlight the many benefits of plastic through our own initiatives, using on-pack labelling to give consumers more information and in our own campaigning to reach people. We have recently launched a short video illustrating the journey of one of our plastic trays. From when the consumer buys the packaged product, through use, responsible disposal, collection, sorting and recycling. We then buy back that recycled material and create more protective packaging to meet the needs of our modern society. Our recycled trays are then packed by the food processor and then the packaged product is transported to the retailer, ready for the consumer to buy, and so the loop continues. We worked very hard on the development of that video, with the help of our partners, and aim to use it as a simple means to educate people on recycling.

Through wider engagement, we can promote recycling across entire communities. One UK pilot campaign kp are part of, #LeedsByExample, launches in October 2018 to increase on-the-go recycling and reduce litter in Leeds city centre through social media, an app and better recycling facilities. The initiative brings together leading companies, retailers and brands to trial a range of eye-catching messages and promote new recycling points in transport hubs, offices and shopping centers throughout the city. We will measure progress and upon success hope to replicate this to other regions.

Activate: Can you provide an example of what this looks like?

Edwards: There are many aspects of the plastics value chain that need to make drastic improvements. Manufacturers need to design plastic packaging that’s easier to recycle and uses more recycled material. Brand owners and retailers need to specify packaging made from recycled material. Governments should do more through regulatory mechanisms and financial incentives to drive increased recycling and have a zero tolerance to littering, and local authorities should provide more collection and recycling infrastructure that’s consistent across the country. We are collaborating with all of these stakeholders; we all have a common goal to stop plastics entering our oceans and landfills, and follow the waste hierarchy to reduce, reuse and recycle all materials, not just plastics. We want to live in a resource efficient society. A society and environment in which there is less avoidable waste.

Such ambitions require a coordinated joined-up approach among all members of the chain. So we’re leading discussions and initiatives that will help to close the loop on plastics. For example, we’re signed up to  the UK Plastics Pact led by WRAP, working alongside businesses, the UK government and NGOs to eliminate problematic and unnecessary plastics; to increase recycling and use of recycled material in new products.  We’ve also signed up to the European Plastics Industry Circular Economy Commitments which is centered on increased recycling.

Next: Where it starts—and consumers’ role

PLASTEC Minneapolis 2018 held October 31-November 1 is part of the Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event that also includes MinnPack brings you the latest in materials and additives, injection molding, rapid prototyping, coatings, automation, packaging and more. For details, visit PLASTEC Minneapolis.

Is there a particular region or product market where these initiatives will be more apparent sooner rather than later?

Edwards: There are great strides being made in Europe, for sure. The EU has made ambitious targets in that by 2030 more than half of the plastic waste generated in Europe will be recycled, and sorting and recycling capacity will increase four-fold, from 2015, leading to 200,000 new jobs. The EU Plastics Strategy was launched in January 2018, with the overarching commitment for all new plastic packaging to be either reusable or recyclable by 2030. Many countries within Europe are building upon this and have since developed and/or integrated their own targets.  Other EU countries have actually been targeting increased recycling for several years.

What kind of input or direction will the company be providing or soliciting from customers? Will consumers be directly aware of these efforts?

Edwards: We have always collaborated with our customers in working towards more resource efficient packaging solutions. Any sustainable business will use just the right type and amount of material to do the job. It’s a partnership between kp and our customers. Between us we continually challenge conventional thinking to integrate sustainable radical redesign that goes beyond incremental changes to packaged products. Packaging must never be viewed in isolation. Material selection and packaging designed is focused around the product or food we are working hard to protect and preserve.

We want to bring consumers into the process in a more meaningful way, educating them on recycling symbols and materials so they know what can be recycled and what can’t. We also want to make it simpler and more convenient for consumers to dispose of their waste responsibly, whether they’re at home, at work or on-the-go. We understand our responsibilities to reach the consumer and we’re taking action, but there needs to be an element of responsibility by the end user too.

Anything else of note for Plastics Today’s packaging audience?

Edwards: We are extremely proud of what we are achieving, but we realize more needs to be done. We are a purpose-led organization. By that I mean, we are not only a designer and producer of plastics packaging; we are an essential part of the supply chain for food and beverage, for pharmaceutical and medical devices, amongst other everyday products. We keep food safe, preserved and help reduce food waste. We help in the supply and access of food around the globe. It’s disturbing to know that 30-40% of good edible food is wasted, yet millions of people are starving around the world. But we don’t need to produce more food, we need to help in the supply and access of it safely. Packaging enables that. We also package pharmaceutical and medical devices so that the medical industry, patients and consumers have the assurance that their medication is safe to consume, and that equipment is hygienic and safe to use.

It’s important to help people understand that optimized, protective plastic packaging brings positive benefits.   Plastics save lives, and has solved social and environmental problems for generations, but society at large is turning a solution into a problem. Plastics have unique, versatile characteristics that no other materials can match today. There is considerable evidence that plastics are resource-efficient, hygienic, safe, flexible, durable light-weight and have superior barrier properties to improve product preservation—notably for food, beverages and in healthcare; all while meeting ever-growing consumer demands. We have high hopes of doing even more of that in a future where nothing goes to waste.

The new strategy builds on the collaboration kp has been endorsing for many years with businesses and local governments in many countries.

PLASTEC Minneapolis 2018 held October 31-November 1 is part of the Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event that also includes MinnPack brings you the latest in materials and additives, injection molding, rapid prototyping, coatings, automation, packaging and more. For details, visit PLASTEC Minneapolis.
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