What is the future for sustainable flexible packaging?

20th September 2018 Posted by

Posted by Dr Adam Read.

I spent the day yesterday with over 100 delegates from some of the biggest brands in the world of flexible packaging, and having had a chance to reflect on it as I journeyed over to Manchester, I thought I should share my experiences.

Brands associated with CEFLEXSUEZ hosted the workshop for the partners of CEFLEX, one of several meetings hosted in venues around Europe where delegates discuss progress towards their mission and to update members about the key work streams and outputs etc. We hosted delegates from 15 countries and leading companies who deal with flexible packaging at our operational transfer station in Darwen (Lancashire), including the likes of BASF, Bostik, Danone, Dow, DuPont, Haribo, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Marks and Spencer (M&S), Nestle, PepsiCo, Procter and Gamble (P&G), Saica, Smurfitt Kappa, Tomra, Total, and Unilever.

CEFLEX is the collaborative initiative, with a European consortium of companies and associations representing the entire value chain of flexible packaging. Their mission is to further enhance the performance of flexible packaging in the circular economy by advancing better system design solutions identified through the collaboration of companies representing the entire value chain. For more information check out their website.

SUEZ has been involved with CEFLEX and its predecessor Project REFLEX for several years, through my colleague Stuart Hayward-Higham, Technical Development Director at SUEZ. I was honoured to be able to join the workshop, and to help host the delegation at our site. Many of the participants have been working on improving flexible packaging design and recycling for some time now, I thought as a relative newbie in the space I might be in over my head, but the day was well-designed to enable everyone to catch-up, fill in blanks and all delegates were more than happy to repeat themselves or explain something in more detail over a cup of tea. So a big thank you to all the delegates who welcomed me in and helped me get up to speed quickly, so I could participate fully in the discussions as the day unfolded!

I was hugely impressed with the passion, commitment and effort that everyone was putting into the programme of work. We had updates from each of the major work streams including:

  1. Design Guidelines for flexible packaging in a circular economy
  2. Mapping the European flexible packaging market
  3. Develop sustainable end markets for secondary materials
  4. Develop a sustainable business case for collecting all flexible packaging
  5. Demonstrate proof of principle in a pilot region
  6. Facilitating technology development
  7. Communications.

CEFLEX - Value ChainFollowing detailed updates on these work packages, and it must not go unreported just how much work was being delivered by partners around the room between these meetings. Some of the output and progress was quite staggering! We then broke up into working groups to tackle some deeper questions that would steer the next phase of research and development. I sat in on a round table discussion on better communication and we spent a good 30 minutes discussing how to educate consumers about the benefits of flexible packaging, what the good news stories are in terms of recycling and the role of social media to help win over hearts and minds etc.

As with other delegates, I was equally exhausted and inspired, and my head is still buzzing hours later with some of the interesting case studies and new ideas that are starting to emerge. I was a little surprised that other UK-based waste and recycling businesses are not involved, but SUEZ certainly gained from our involvement, whilst equally sharing our experiences from both the UK and wider afield. These projects only succeed if the partners are willing to contribute time and resources, and the organisations involved are certainly doing that! The project is far from over, and much is still needed to be done in the next 12 months, so if you are interested than take a closer look at their website and get involved!

My final word goes to the SUEZ team at the Darwen site who took all this in their stride, as I said, not many sites can accommodate 100 visitors for a full day of workshops and breakout sessions without disrupting the operational business. So a huge thank you to all the team that ensured the site was clean and tidy, that the workshop ran smoothly throughout the day, and the transportation was on time to get everyone back to Manchester for their onward travel. I think we showed our partners what a great company we are, and we are all gearing up now for the follow up meeting in Dusseldorf!

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