Packaging has been taking a lot of heat lately. This has come from politicians, consumers and environmental groups for a multitude of sins, including its contribution to litter, its burden on landfills, the cost of collection and recycling, and even the transfer of potentially harmful substances to the foods and beverages it protects. Reduce has supplanted reuse and recycle among the three Rs to the extent that some municipalities refuse to pick up packaging materials such as polystyrene for which there are recycling facilities and markets. And provinces are no longer satisfied with food and beverage manufacturers paying half of the costs of curbside recycling programs. According to Larry Dworkin, Government Relations director of the Packaging Association of Canada, “more provinces want us to cover 100 per cent of the costs.”
In response, packaging suppliers and their industry associations are countering popular myths with facts, while meeting with municipal councils and community groups to debate proposed taxes and bans. In June, for example, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association’s Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC) announced a proactive initiative to respond to some of the negative and false criticism being levelled at the plastics industry. Since then, Cathy Cirko, vice-president of EPIC, addressed a series of anti-plastics proposals that Toronto City Council had planned to consider in the fall, helped launch a coalition to promote energy recovery from waste across Canada, and made a presentation on the “Benefits of Plastic” to the annual conference of the Association of Ontario Municipalities.
We’ll be hearing more about these benefits as suppliers adopt new standards that emphasize the role packaging has in ensuring food safety. Consider, for instance, that the original raison d’être for food packaging was to minimize food waste, and that the United Nations today urges developing countries to adopt canning and other packaging technologies to minimize the significant loss of food and its related nutrients between field and market. Daniel Abramowicz, president of Philadelphia-based Crown Packaging Technology, notes the double waste of packaging and food when a steel or aluminum can is thin-walled to the point that dented cans must be discarded by the retailer.
Carol Zweep, manager of Packaging Services for the Guelph Food Technology Centre (GFTC) in Guelph, Ont., explains that there are multiple criteria for choosing the best packaging options. In the GFTC’s consulting work with manufacturers (now eligible for an Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Sustainability Program 50-per-cent discount for Ontario firms) in the development of sustainable packaging, the organization shows that it isn’t enough to be green if the package fails to protect the product through filling, storage and distribution, or if it costs more than the alternatives. Zweep cites the conversion of cereal-based products such as baked snacks from paperboard boxes to standup resealable multilayer plastic pouches as an example of innovations that fulfil all the criteria of minimizing costs and packaging while improving convenience for consumers.
This spring the GFTC became one of the first consulting organizations approved to assist converting firms to become compliant with the new PACsecure standards for packaging food safety. The program, developed by the Packaging Association of Canada (PAC) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) over the last six years, is designed to adapt the food industry’s HACCP standards to the manufacture and converting of packaging materials for the food industry. This November, PACsecure and similar HACCP-compliant standards will be endorsed at Pack Expo in Chicago by major food manufacturers.
According to Dworkin, Canada’s early lead in the development of HACCP-compliant standards for packaging firms will help early adopters among Canadian food manufacturers and their packaging suppliers resist and perhaps reverse the erosion in their market shares against U.S. and offshore competition caused by the Loonie’s appreciation against the American greenback. Dworkin expects food industry buy-in for the standards due to the early and strong involvement of Kraft Foods, Parmalat and other multinational food giants in PACsecure’s development.
“With the adoption of PACsecure you are no longer a packaging supplier to the food industry, you are a member of the food industry,” adds Dworkin. In practical terms, companies will adopt food grade oils for lubricating machinery, avoid adhesives that can migrate into foods, and other practices required of food manufacturers to become essential partners with their customers. So far the experience has been positive. For instance, London, Ont.-based Jones Packaging Inc. discovered that the extra expense of earning Canada’s first PACsecure Safety Certificate for Packaging Materials was worth the payback in customer goodwill and trust that the company received.
PACsecure and similar HACCP standards won’t by themselves end the calls for packaging taxes and bans, but they can rebalance the debate to recognize the benefits as well as the drawbacks of packaging. Food recalls in general and the recent Listeriosis crisis in particular serve to remind food manufacturers, their customers and consumers of the vital importance of due diligence. In fact, sustainable packaging manufactured and converted to HACCP-consistent standards may soon become a further extension of due diligence.