Following Mintel’s London Bitesize Briefing on the evolution of sustainable packaging, Benjamin Punchard, Global Packaging Insights Director, answers a selection of questions posed by the audience.
People are interested in recycling at supermarkets/getting more information on local recycling – where do you see brands fitting in this?
In some cases recycling in store offers an important route for consumers to recycle materials like flexible plastics, that councils rarely collect. Some retailers, such as Iceland, have trialled reverse vending machines where shoppers can drop off recyclable plastic in return for incentives like shopping vouchers. More brands should engage in this process. This enables companies to show that they are supporting consumers at the point of disposal. Indeed, with many blaming manufacturers for the stream of plastic entering the sea, such actions can show that a brand doesn’t simply leave it to consumers to worry about how and where to properly recycle their packaging.
With recycling infrastructures varying greatly between geographies, how can a manufacturer claim that a pack is recyclable?
This is currently true, and yes, it’s frustrating for everyone – converter, brand owner and consumer. I do think this is going to change. As it’s no longer possible to ship recyclable packaging off to far away lands, domestic infrastructure is having to improve to compensate. This is driving legislators to recognise the huge benefits in unified collection strategies and I expect calls for a European standard for recyclable to grow. In the meantime, information on packaging needs to be clear and actionable, focusing on basic material information to enable the consumer to match the packaging that they have in their hand to the list of recycled pack types in their area.
As a brand, should we do the right thing, or the thing consumers clamour for?
Unfortunately the ‘right thing’ is not often a single clear course, and sustainable packaging is no exception. However, what should you do if a lifecycle analysis clearly shows recyclable packaging is the right solution, but consumers are calling for compostable? My feeling is that you should go with the data. To do otherwise is creating the potential for all sustainability activity to be labelled as greenwash, as consumers find that the great environmental solution they’ve gone along with isn’t delivering sustainable results. This is where communication is key. Consumers have shown that they are hungry for information and help when it comes to packaging decisions. A basic but actionable solution, well explained and supported, will have a greater long term impact and do more to build the brand than a short term eco-gimmick.