Richard Pulfrey, Managing Director of Storopack UK, discusses the packaging industry’s role in sustainability.
Like many companies, Storopack have seen increasing demand to supply the e-commerce market. However, 2020 exceeded all forecasts as the global pandemic drove sales online as non-essential businesses were forced to close and consumers were urged to stay at home. In fact, total online sales growth in the UK rose by 36.6% year-on-year in 2020 – the largest growth seen since 2007, according to data from the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index1.
A change in consumer attitudes
Having previously seen a shift towards paper products, perceived to be more sustainable than plastic, during this period of high demand, sales of plastic protective packaging rocketed. Storopack saw an increase of 42% in 2020 versus 2019.
Before the pandemic there was huge media focus on plastic, particularly in the packaging market. As a supplier of both paper and plastic products our approach has always been to promote an objective and fact-based assessment of plastics. Based on our own research on the environmental impact of different materials throughout the supply chain we have been confident in the sustainability of the products we supply.
What was interesting last year was the shift in attitude of consumers. From seeing plastic as an unnecessary and wasteful packaging material, they were now looking for their goods to be displayed and delivered safely and hygienically. As a supplier to medical and pharmaceutical companies across Europe, Storopack have long championed the hygienic properties of plastic. Of course, there was also a large element of apathy as people became more concerned about getting their goods and less on how they were packaged.
The packaging industry must lead the way
It is this rapid change in attitudes that reinforces the responsibility of sustainability on manufacturers. Whilst we rely on consumers to responsibly recycle and dispose of packaging, it is the industry that must be accountable for the materials available on the market. According to the latest Global Commitment Progress Report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, recycled content in plastic packaging products has increased by 22% in 2019 v 20182. However, this still only represents 6.2% as a total so clearly there is much work to be done. Currently over 30% of Storopack’s products are made from renewable or recycled materials. By 2025 we will increase this share to over 50%.
The general public cannot be expected to understand all the factors that impact the sustainability of a product, such as water and energy usage in manufacturing, or fuel usage for heavier products. However, we are in a position to carry out this analysis and ensure that we are taking all necessary steps to produce materials with the least environmental impact, from cradle to grave.
Ultimately, consumers have very little choice of what packaging their products come in. It is the responsibility of the retailers, 3PLs and packaging suppliers to ensure their procurement departments understand the importance of choosing the most sustainable products over the least expensive. As manufacturers, it is our role to educate our business partners and ensure all packaging is clearly marked with recyclability, compostability or disposal instructions for the end-user to immediately know what to do with it.
To help our customers decide which packaging to use we have created the EcoDesign tool. It allows us to analyse all phases of a product life cycle, and the different environmental impacts at each stage. It not only examines the use of resources for the product itself and during its production, but also factor in the needs and specifications of customers. Factors considered include whether the customer would like a product made using bio-based or recycled raw materials or whether the product’s reusability is the top priority. All this is ensured with the EcoDesign tool, with various products and raw materials compared. The result represents the environmental footprint and is designed to help customers find the right product solution.
Sustainability goes beyond packaging products
It is important for all organisations, no matter what sector, to consider sustainability as a wider subject than their product offering. We are members of Alliance to End Plastic Waste, whose mission is to allow no plastic waste to enter the environment and clean up existing plastic pollution. Every year an estimated US$120 billion worth of plastic is lost to the economy after a short first use with only an estimated 14% of plastic packaging collected for recycling3. The majority ends up in incineration, landfills or in the environment, including open dumps. All Storopack’s locations worldwide, have committed to the objectives of Operation Clean Sweep setting themselves the goal of preventing any plastic particles used at production facilities from finding their way into the environment through water. As such, they are making an important contribution to preventing granule loss in the plastics value chain. Through the locations of their Molding-Division in Germany, they are a certified member of the Zero Pellet Loss initiative of the German Association for Plastics Packaging and Films.
Actions speak louder than words
With so much waste already in the environment it is important we look at how we clean up our environment as well as protecting it from further harm. Another organisation we are proud to support is ‘Big Blue Ocean Cleanup’, the international non-profit foundation. Since 2018 we have been an exclusive sponsor of the coastal cleaning program and have dedicated ourselves to a long-term partnership. Big Blue Ocean Cleanup makes an active effort to raise awareness of the current state of the world’s seas and is dedicated to protecting marine life and sustainability for clean oceans and coastlines – with initiatives dedicated to cleaning beaches, removing plastic from the ocean, offering training courses and informing partners, as well as the general public4. In addition to supporting Big Blue Ocean Cleanup financially, we also play an active role. For example, our employees voluntarily take part in beach cleaning initiatives in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Benelux, removing micro plastics and small plastic particles from beaches.
Moving forwards, it would be beneficial to join forces with other companies to actively support these environmental groups. The public perception is still that packaging, especially plastic packaging, is damaging for the environment. Many packaging companies are taking steps to improve their product portfolio, which is all very positive, but if we are going to change attitudes more widely, we need to be doing all we can not only to minimise our impact but also take visible action by getting involved in projects globally to clean up our waterways and public spaces. Companies need to have a real passion for making a difference and not just view sustainability as a good PR opportunity. By creating a culture of caring about our environment we really can stem the flow of plastic waste for the future.
To read Storopack’s latest Sustainability report visit: www.storopack.uk/fileadmin/06_Nachhaltigkeit/CI_EN-DE_Sustainability_Report_2020_web.pdf