Data drives new approach to packaging

It seems the entire country is getting involved in discussions on packaging, with good debate and challenges being aired around extended producer responsibility reform. There are a wide range of views, but many agree that – especially when focusing on the issue of plastic packaging – there is a great deal of confusion over what can and cannot be recycled. Consistent messaging and advice on plastics are important but, first, we need to consider what the message is and how to make the advice easier.

A couple of ways of doing this are to make systems of recycling across the UK more consistent in terms of the materials collected and, of course, to be more consistent when it comes to the materials used to package items. The first change is closely linked to the second.

Producers and retailers have started to take steps to remove non-essential packaging and, also, to try to replace non-recyclable plastics with recyclable alternatives. This sounds straight forward but, first of all, they need to identify which product packaging to change, which elements of packaging can be removed without compromising the integrity of the product or purpose of the packaging and, finally, what the new product will consist of.

Valpak has always collected packaging data as a requirement of the packaging regulations. However, it has now formulated it to try to guide product manufacturers on where to direct consistent design and purchase activity. As part of this work, we are developing a recycling index.

The aim is to:

  • assess recyclability of packaging placed on the market (in detail as a %);
  • identify target areas for change;
  • prepare for PRN reform; and,
  • assess future recyclability.

The index will use current local authority collection coverage to identify the recyclability of packaging, but at the % level, so that retailers and brands can really pinpoint the packaging that needs to be targeted to support recycling. It will allow the industry to prepare for PRN reform, which could take account of the recyclability of packaging within the system and directly affect members’ compliance costs and calculations.

Finally, we intend to develop a ‘future scenario’, so we can show members which packaging remains disruptive to recycling even after any potential increased investment and extension of local authority collection infrastructure which may result from initiatives such as PRN reform and deposit return schemes.

Our packaging data is already helping retailers to gain insights into their plastic streams; by working collaboratively, we aim to foster a more sustainable, manageable approach to packaging.