Packaging – getting up to speed with issues in today’s packaging industry

PRN prices are rocketing

Packaging Waste Recovery Notes, or PRNs, are issued by accredited waste processors and can be purchased by producers through compliance schemes in the UK, of which there are around 50. The price of PRNs is driven by the trading market and only companies with a £2 million turnover generating more than 50 tonnes of packaging annually are mandated to comply.

Due to shrinking volumes of waste exports to China and increasingly stringent domestic regulation, PRN prices for plastic have recently skyrocketed. They peaked at £450 in July, and presently stand at £311, up from £75 a year ago. These prices could mean a potential crisis on the horizon, when there won’t be enough PRNs for compliance schemes and producers to meet their obligations.

The flaws of the system have already been extensively discussed by industry experts. Some say it doesn’t truly engage producers and turns compliance into a low-cost box-ticking exercise without incentivising businesses to develop eco-designs and use recyclable products. Others point out the paradox that lies at the heart of the PERN (Packaging Export Recovery Notes) system, namely, that they are issued once the waste is sent abroad, which does not cover what happens to the waste once it arrives at its destination, resulting in overstated national recycling rates. You can read more here.

The Environmental Bill looks shy of targets

The UK government’s draft Environment Bill, announced in the October Queen’s Speech, has yet to become law – partly because that government was dissolved to hold a general election soon after. Even so, the proposal has come in for some criticism, as prime minister Boris Johnson’s proposed Brexit withdrawal agreement contains no mention of environmental protections. Any such measures have been moved to the accompanying political declaration, which is not legally binding.

Although one of the main areas the bill deals with is waste reduction, many environmental experts feel it doesn’t go far enough. With the bill only creating powers for the government to introduce measures rather than mandating them, and the government giving itself until 2037 to meet any reduction targets, experts feel it lacks the sense of urgency the climate crisis calls for. The bill makes provisions for the new environmental watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), to enforce targets. But its lack of independence and accountability has raised concerns. “At the moment we have the European Commission judging whether we meet environmental targets, and they are clearly independent and can use a judicial route,” Environmental Audit Committee chair and Labour MP Mary Creagh told New Scientist. “We are very concerned the OEP will be funded by government and with a chair appointed by government.”

Many other questions remain too. When the bill mentions drink bottles, does that refer to bottles of all shapes and sizes? When it gives the government powers to make producers pay for cleaning up their waste, does it imply covering the full cost of it? The suspension of parliament before the elections and the uncertainties about the environmental commitment of any newly elected government further call into question the reinforcement of what many would call too little too late anyway.

Removing the pain point from e-commerce with returnable packaging

With e-commerce generating sometimes as high as 50 per cent return rates, the growing popularity of returnable containers has recently pushed reverse logistics – the return and reuse of products and materials – to the forefront of retailers’ minds.

The all-important customer experience now extends beyond delivery and appealing branded packaging – today’s customers also factor in the ease of return into their purchasing decisions. The first, most obvious step towards enhancing return experiences is using reusable corrugated paper boxes, which open without damaging the packaging itself and have double-sided tape to enable resealing. Leading British corrugated packaging manufacturer GWP, however, upped its game when it launched its new returnable packaging system made of extruded twinwall corrugated polypropylene sheets called Correx. GWP claims its Correx boxes can provide up to 75 per cent cost savings when compared with single-use card boxes, and are easy to transport and clean. Read more here.

Meanwhile, US company Happy returns! is trying to liberate retailers from managing product returns altogether by offering them an online return-and-exchange service. Customers of retailers using Happy returns! can choose to return in-person via Happy Returns’ nationwide network of 300 Return Bar locations, through the retailer’s own stores, or by carrier. Happy returns! also launched a cardboard-free returns programme this summer, which reduces the amount of cardboard that would be required for return shipments by nearly 73 per cent in weight and 92 per cent in area. See here for more details.

The Packaging Federation is the trade association for the UK packaging manufacturing industry. It aims to provide a balanced picture of the role of packaging in society and lobby for a balanced debate on its environmental impact. In pursuing this, it has regular and vigorous dialogue with government, politicians, the media, supply chain partners and the wider public. Membership of the Packaging Federation is open to manufacturers from all sectors of the UK packaging manufacturing industry, packaging design companies, sector trade associations, recycling organisations, compliance schemes and other bodies associated with packaging. On the federation’s website you can find a list of packaging companies, as well as one including major trading associations in the packaging space. See here for more details on how to become a member.

© Business Reporter 2021

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