The simpler the material, the more likely it is to be used in a circular economy, says Andy Parton, Vice President Petcare Commercial at Mars Petcare. Advanced markets should move first.
"We want our packaging to be part of a circular economy where they can be kept in a loop for reuse, recycling or composting, even if it means redesigning much of our packaging or our business models."
Therefore, at Mars Petcare, three guidelines are followed:
Reduce unnecessary packaging
Redesign the packaging the company does need for circularity and
Invest in closing the loop.
"Redesigning packaging material for circularity - and understanding where or how it could be recycled in the future through technologies that aren't available at scale today - that's the challenges we want to solve."
According to Andy Parton, Vice President Petcare Commercial, reducing packaging is the easiest to carry out.
"If you're taking material out, the resulting packaging is more environmentally friendly and usually more cost effective," Parton says.
"Downgauging, removing edge trim and waste, getting rid of secondary or tertiary packaging components—these are relatively straightforward decisions to take and implement."
The more challenging part is redesigning packaging for circularity.
"Redesigning packaging for circularity—and understanding where or how it could be recycled in the future through technologies that aren't available today at scale—that’s the challenge we want to solve."
"The interaction between the packaging material and the product inside is quite delicate. The fundamentals of having a great quality product that pets enjoy must remain intact," Parton says.
For a closed loop, food packaging needs to be able to receive recycled material as well.
"You also need to be a recipient of the materials that come out of that reprocessing of your plastic packaging."
Simplification is central to designing for circularity
Generally, the simpler the material, the more likely it is to be used in circular economy.
"You have to go from asking ‘What do I have?’ through to ‘How can I simplify that to a point where it’s not bringing contaminant materials, complexity or yield issues into many of the recycling technologies that are becoming more abundant?’"
Some of the most promising innovations today revolve around how companies are moving to simplified packaging materials. Designers should always be looking at what isn’t working.
"How do I get the material from the recycling bin, for example, in France, the Netherlands, Germany or North America to a recycling facility somewhere else? How do I design that journey to make it work, whether it’s in terms of size, simplification or attributes in the material to make it more easily recyclable?"
If you have somebody not committed to collaborating, you have a break in the circle
The partnership between suppliers, procurement, R&D and supply chain is critical.
From Parton’s perspective, the biggest challenge is that circularity is seamless. Therefore, having all the players acting collaboratively, particularly in the development phase, and trusting each other is fundamental.
"Let’s say you’re inviting five or six major players looking for real strategic shifts in what they make, how they use it, and where they get the materials from. If you have somebody not as committed to collaborating, you have a break in the circle. All players need to work brilliantly together on a medium- to long-term journey."
Machines must be futureproofed to avoid double investment
Parton says that producing innovative packaging solutions with legacy assets is another difficulty.
"Many of those assets were installed at a time when people were not particularly concerned about single-use plastic. The flexibility, adaptability and agility of those machines may well be a constraint."
Packaging suppliers will then have to anticipate how those assets will be able to adapt to different substrates and materials in the future.
"The role of machinery and equipment suppliers in giving that window of flexibility, adaptability or capacity to futureproof assets and not risk double investment is critical," he points out.
Create circular economy in advanced markets and the rest will follow
To make this ideal innovation circle come to life, Parton suggests going where you have a bit of a tailwind from existing capability and infrastructure.
"You want to start in parts of the world where you can prove the model works physically and economically. If you can get this going in Germany, the Netherlands or Switzerland, for instance, and you can show that you can create a really outstanding circular economy that’s brilliant from a sustainability and economic lens, then people will copy—governments, sorting agencies, collection agencies, packaging converters, consumer goods companies in other parts of the world."