• Manufacturing

Sustainable food packaging can support a rapidly changing world

Achieving circularity objectives  requires both systemic changes and a network of stakeholders working as one across the entire food value chain and driving a common understanding of sustainability, says Charles Héaulmé, President and CEO of Huhtamaki.  

As significant links in the food value chain, packaging companies are essential to the modern food supply system. They have an obligation to deliver a sustainable food supply system that meets the needs of consumers while providing a return on investment for shareholders.  

With increasing concerns on climate change and the impact of plastic on the environment, this path can seem difficult to pursue. But now is the time, and businesses that recognize and seize this moment early on will be at the forefront of a new Green economy. 

"We must ensure that companies that have been working to develop circular, fiber-based substitutes for single-use plastic products do not risk seeing their current investments become redundant."

According to Charles Héaulmé, President and CEO of Huhtamaki, customers, consumers, communities and the planet need sustainable packaging solutions more than ever before.  

"This gives us a profound responsibility as a business: to protect food, people and the planet. By protecting great products, food and beverages, we ensure hygiene and safety. By preventing food waste, our packaging reduces the biggest environmental impact of daily food consumption globally. By developing environmentally responsible products and processes, we ultimately protect the planet." 

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Collaboration can lead to significant breakthroughs by 2030 

Though many companies today generally understand the magnitude of these issues, making significant gains in the pursuit of sustainability is not an easy task. If food packaging companies have learned anything thus far, it is that achieving circularity objectives, developing plastic substitution solutions and focusing on low carbon emissions require both systemic changes and a network of engaged stakeholders working as one and driving a common understanding of sustainability.  

"Without collaboration across the value chain and partnering on innovation, even companies that are making steady progress today will not be able to go much further. Only together can we deliver innovation for generations to come," continues Héaulmé.  

"We are fully committed to playing our part in building a circular economy. Strategic partnerships can result in breakthroughs that deliver significant progress in our journey to designing 100% of our products to be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2030."   

Huhtamaki is a founding member of the European Paper Packaging Alliance (EPPA), which has committed to finding concrete solutions to increase recycling and to reduce the carbon emissions of food and foodservice packaging without compromising food safety and human health protection.  

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Better, clearer regulation is needed to enable environmental innovation  

Of course, while companies learn from one another—especially from those furthest ahead on the sustainability journey—they also need policymakers to support these common priorities. 

"We must secure regulation that provides a clear and predictable framework to enable us to move in this direction together. Otherwise it may not encourage businesses to invest in the next generation of environmental innovation. And we will lack viable solutions to reach our goals," reasons Héaulmé.  

"We should make sure that we have better regulation which becomes a lever for the future, supporting innovation and the development of new, sustainable solutions. We must ensure that companies that have been working to develop circular, fiber-based substitutes for single-use plastic products do not risk seeing their current investments become redundant. Their plans for future innovations need not be erased," he says.  

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Education, innovation and incentivization are keys to delivering systemic change

Ultimately in Héaulmé’s view, sustainability now goes beyond license-to-operate considerations, increasingly becoming a key differentiator for companies. He also argues that innovation is the key to unlocking sustainable solutions needed to create a circular economy, reduce our carbon footprint and ensure plastic substitution. This is a crucial part of the equation for systemic change.

Two additional factors are crucial. One is having the relevant infrastructure in place for post-consumption collection and recycling. Of equal importance is education, which helps change behaviors so consumers sort and collect their waste and make the right environmental choices. 

"First, we need to set innovation targets to deliver a reduction in polymer content and lower carbon footprint. Next, collection and recycling infrastructure must be improved. For instance, we should explore the possibility of creating a deposit scheme for all packaging in line with German and Finnish models. Last, education must be rolled out to help change consumer behavior," Héaulmé concludes.   


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