THOUGHT PIECE the carling team

Sustainability – How Are We Doing So Far? Part 3

Part 3 – The future for packaging

This turbine blade is on its way to the Muirhill wind farm in Lanarkshire gives you an idea how big these beasts are.

Renewable electricity generation in Britain reached record levels during the third quarter of 2023. Some 26.2TWh came from wind, solar, biomass and hydro facilities which was 52% of total consumption. It was windier than usual which contributed 61% of the total renewable figure. Happily the knock on effect was a 12% reduction in the wholesale electricity price. EnAppSys also reported an ongoing reduction in demand so we are turning the lights off and this counters other moves towards electricity rather than fossil power. Some politicians are wont to trumpet that wind power is cheap. Yes, the wind is free but the infrastructure maintenance and paying back the high capital cost is certainly not! It does appear that some of the larger turbines are suffering a lot of teething problems so we may have seen the size of these mammoths peak. That means we shall see a lot more smaller ones.

I picked up a copy of the Daily Mail on the train the other day, an article seemed to be lauding moves all across Europe to backpedal on earlier emissions saving targets. The crux was that UK emits 1% of the world’s CO2 while China puffs out 30%; there are coal fired power stations being built in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. In effect, why bother as we shall not be able to save the planet but will bankrupt the British people in the meantime.

I’ll leave that argument for Dubai to sort out and will now look at what the packaging end of our business has been up to. It too has been taking various steps to reduce CO2 emissions and minimise its environmental impact driven by regulatory pressures, consumer demand for sustainable products and a genuine commitment to environmental stewardship. Collaboration seems to be key to many current initiatives, whether that be with industry partners, governments or environmental organisations. Working together allows for the development of standardised sustainability metrics, the sharing of best practices and the development of collective solutions.

Lightweighting has been with us for years and has perhaps run its course as any thinner material is likely to lead to more breakages and spoiling of packs in transit.

From the top right A KHS machine using a paper wrap rather than shrink. Cardboard collation for cans of Bud Light, Carlberg glue cans together, details of a card slip over and a similar Heineken offering showing the carrying hole.

Plastic shrink wrapping can be replaced by paper rather than cardboard and the hicone collation for cans swapped for degradable or recyclable material although some customers reckon the pack is often less stable once a single can has been removed. What about the acres of stretchwrap used to stabilise pallets of finished goods?

Islay-based distillery Bruichladdich changed the packaging of The Classic Laddie, reducing the single malt whisky’s carbon emissions by 65%. It removed the secondary packaging and the new bottle is 32% lighter and made with 60% recycled glass. The disappearance of the encapsulating tin saves more than 1kg of carbon dioxide alone. Which other secondary packaging is unnecessarily cosmetic only?

Absolut vodka is trialling a paper bottle in Tesco stores around Manchester, the plastic lined bottle is from Paboco (the Paper Bottle Company) which is also working with Carlsberg and Coca Cola. Meanwhile cognac house A de Fussigny has a bottle made of flax.

It is estimated that the global spirits industry uses 40bn glass bottles each year generating some 22 million tonnes of carbon emissions. Brand owners will continue to worry that sustainable packaging could detract from the premium status of their products. However, according to Really Good Culture, consumers are influenced by the sustainable claims of manufacturers (56% of them) and that 69% would pay more for such products.

Australia’s Mandatory Spirits has one litre shocking pink ‘bag in the box’ offerings for its range of 30%ABV fruity vodkas. ‘Squarer‘ packaging means the ‘headspace’ in a load is reduced and the company cites a 72% reduction in fossil fuels compared to glass. Brands Unbottled and Hey Tomorrow are going down a similar BIB route.

Zero Waste Europe suggests that recycled glass bottles require 75% of the energy needed to make new bottles. In comparison, aluminium cans only use 10% so glass’s high carbon footprint makes it unsuitable for single-use applications. However plastic labels are often shrunk on to cans so that smaller brewers do not have to buy and store a million badged cans; this means that sorting machines cannot separate them from waste. Direct printing graphics on to cans also allows short runs and the technology is being developed.

Earlier this summer Scotland’s controversial deposit return scheme (DRS) was delayed until October 2025 following backlash from the trade, with claims it would be unworkable in its proposed format. Then Circularity Scotland, the body behind the DRS went into administration. The UK government needs to be firm and introduce a standard recovery system across the devolved nations to avoid internal borders as labels will have to incorporate the new recycling rules and they need to be the same all over.

Meanwhile the UK has recently added single use plastic items like cutlery, polystyrene cups and plastic bags to existing restrictions on microbeads in skin care, plastic straws and stirrers etc. Apparently only 10% of some 700 million plastic one trip plates get recycled so simplification of household waste recollection services into a single nationwide system is to be welcomed.

A flax cognac bottle, a 52% lighter bottle of Laddie without the outer packaging, the paper Absolut and English Vine bottles

PET comes from petroleum and is not biodegradable but most of the soft drinks industry relies on them. There will be plastic bottles behind the bar so bar equipment supplier Brewfitt has introduced Mr Fitzpatrick’s’ Aqua Spritz which can mix an impressive 25 flavours with soda water. Saves on bottled water too. There is also a draught cocktail mixer which will churn out an espresso martini every five seconds!

Flat plastic wine bottles and rPET beer can collation does not really solve the ongoing issues with plastics in packaging.

Rob Rubin Winery in California has rPET bottles lined with Plasmax said to be an ultra thin layer of glass. The bottles are 52.8g against 530g for glass. Interestingly the Wine Society has introduced rPET wine bottles with a flat profile made by Packamama. Being flat you can pack more wine into a box and the saving in weight allows fewer logistics journeys. The wine survived the scrutiny of an expert panel but it does not seem right to increase the use of PET even where it is recycled material and recyclable when every bottle which escapes to landfill or elsewhere will take ages to break down and produces dangerous microplastics in the process. The same argument must apply to Molson Coors carrying web which has moved from Hicone to rPET.

A recent survey by leading materials test and inspectors, Industrial Physics showed the biggest drivers of packaging innovation. While 50% said they were supporting sustainability issues, more were concerned about ease of consumer use and ensuring quality and safety of the product incapsulated. This leaves the question, can the novel material ensure the quality and safety required? For example plastic is currently used for food storage because it is effective at sealing the food and offers a lightweight barrier so if manufacturers select a less effective material just to support sustainability they risk triggering negative impacts on food waste.

Another topic for COP28 delegates to ponder at the conference in Dubai planned for the end of this month. More cash and less politics might be a good place to start.

Apparently encapsulated cucumbers are good because on balance they reduce food waste. This poorly looking sperm whale is a beach sculpture in the Philippines but it does convey a powerful message.