The oceans receive about 8 million tons of rubbish every year. At the same time, knowledge on climate change and the impact that we generate on the environment has caused worry for both companies and individuals, who occupy themselves with how to reduce the damage being caused to our planet.
Sustainability and organic foods are a trend in the petfood industry, among others.
Is it possible to make a 100 percent biodegradable wrap/package? Is it economically affordable? What obstacles exist today in order to achieve it? Will the demand for my products increase? Is it worth it?
All of those who are participants in this industry have a role and a responsibility to implement actions to reduce waste, reuse and recycle materials and products, to the extent that businesses allow it, to create a more sustainable chain.
The increased awareness and involvement of pet owners regarding sustainability and caring for the environment forces the petfood packaging industry to look for more ecological alternatives.
Latricia Fry, from Constantia Flexibles, one of the most important flexible packaging companies, affirms that in North America there are already companies promising to be 100 percent recyclable or sustainable by 2022 or 2025, and that, consequently, the company she represents has noticed an exponential increase in the order for more sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging.
Sean Riley, from the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies (PMMI), says that pressure and the social demand for more sustainable petfood have led packaging manufacturers to seek options to reduce waste from their production chain and packages. Similarly, it ensures that consumption is leaning towards companies that use good production practices for the environment.
Likewise, the research firm Mintel underlines the importance of packaging in the sustainable life cycle of a product, which is why, like food, they should incorporate bio-based materials and increase the incentive to recycle said packaging.
Managing sustainability in this sector
The global reality is that sustainability involves costly and highly innovative processes, and even so, if implemented, there would continue to be downsides in terms of the environmental footprint.
In addition, companies participating in the petfood production chain have to analyse the impact from several angles. Regarding packaging, they would also have to improve the packages used in the logistics of shipping and distribution of products, trying to choose cardboard boxes and avoid plastic or plastic wrap or covers.
One of the main obstacles in the implementation of more sustainable materials and chains is the cost involved in implementing new processes that adapt to the standards of caring for the environment. The second main obstacle for producers and manufacturers is the need to find packaging that is safe to maintain the quality and condition of different types of food and candy, and that is more sustainable.
Solutions being considered
The pioneering companies in implementing more sustainable systems and materials (primarily located in the United States) have begun to develop and implement several alternatives:
- Some choose to replace polyethylene plastic (made from fossil fuels like oil or natural gas) with green polyethylene – a bio-based plastic made from Brazilian sugar cane. The use of this polyethylene has an extra advantage: the cultivation of this sugar cane uses carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing its carbon footprint
- Another alternative towards sustainability is the generation of flexible packaging that is 100 percent recyclable in pinch, folding and flat bottom formats
- The Constantia Flexibles company has developed an aluminium packaging system with a water-based coating that eliminates the emission of volatile organic compounds. In this way, they would be recyclable in the aluminium recycling chain
While it is true that each sector and industry must rethink itself in terms of the footprint and negative impact it generates on the environment, it is also important to affirm that any change and transformation that is implemented impacts on other sectors and/or related industries.
With regards to recycling, the key, beyond petfood packaging manufacturers’ improvement intentions, is how local municipalities manage and report on their own recycling chain. Another challenge to create a sustainable system within which packaging can be recycled to, is there must be someone willing to buy the material to use it to create new products.
Currently, in Latin America, only 14 percent of the population has recycling habits. Within the formal and corporate sector, only 2.2 percent of companies recycle products and materials. Also, most of the few people who recycle say they do not have recycling points or containers for recyclables near their home.
These numbers, unfortunately, only discourage and dismiss the idea of investing in research and machinery to develop more sustainable packaging. The most effective solution for the current situation in Latin America is to educate and inform.
Currently, there are two solutions that are positioned as preferrable among producers, even if they are still far from perfect.
One option is to develop a reusable and refillable container or container. It would be truly sustainable in a circular recycling economy, as recycled items would be reused and recycled over and over again. Its main disadvantage is that, in the short term, it is a rather expensive implementation and the infrastructure and machinery that is used mostly today is not capable of doing this.
The second option is to design post-consumer polyethylene recycling programs. However, there are challenges of a newly adapted packaging design and the fact that it perpetuates the use of plastics demotivate companies.
But not everything is a downside. There are some actions that can be implemented now, to lead the way to a more sustainable industry and packaging.
Achieving more sustainable packaging
There are some good practices that can be implemented in our current situation and context to the production chain of packaging for petfood, among them:
- Increase the recycled content used in the production of packaging and packaging
- Use larger containers and boost bulk purchasing to reduce waste
- Prioritise packaging made, to a greater extent, of cardboard, and secondly, of aluminium
- Carry out communication and awareness campaigns about the importance of recycling and how it should be done
This final point is essential: when it comes to recyclable packaging, education is key. People need information and resources on how to recycle and why it is so important to do so, as well as everything that goes into achieving more sustainable packaging.
Manufacturers of packaging for petfood that seek to achieve greater sustainability should focus on communicating it through the labels of their products, as well as through their various social networks and web pages.
Recyclable packaging appears as a great solution to reduce the negative impact of the petfood industry, but it requires a joint effort by the sector and the corresponding municipalities. Starting a strategic communication and dissemination plan is definitely a good alternative for all companies in the industry that want to begin this transformation but do not yet have the necessary infrastructure or investment to materialise it in all their products.