Label and packaging consultant Mike Fairly looks at the changing character of environmental requirements, evolving sustainability standards and legislation, brand owner waste management responsibility, and assesses some of the actions that converters should be taking.

There can be little doubt that global label and packaging companies are comingunder ever increasing pressure in terms of their environmental performance. Butthe challenge is much wider than just environmental performance. It’s about waste streams and documented waste management programs; packaging disposal, global supply and distribution chains; pack and label sustainability; issues of excess packaging; the recycling of used packaging and label materials; development of on-pack recycling logos and consistent consumer labeling schemes; pack and label reduction targets; increasingpotential pack re-use; and the building of waste composting targets. Almost every month sees some kind of new initiative.

This mountain of proposals is now becoming part of the problem. Consumer and ‘green’ groups are pressing for specific things, but perhaps do not always consider the commercial issues that converters and packers have to face. Governments and local authorities are introducing legislation or proposing something else - reduction of landfills, promotion of home recycling, raising revenues, and encouraging improved resources management. Packaging and label companies want to comply with requirements, but need to protect their business and margins. In any case, which requirements do they comply with this month, or next year? Paper, film and labelstock suppliers are looking at a bigger materials picture: How to better manage resources andprovide sustainable materials that will ensure their future.

Global brand owners

Talk to some of the major global brand owners and retail groups about what quality, sustainability, waste or environmental requirements they expect from their label and packaging suppliers, and there is the beginnings of a consensus. They increasingly expect them to have ISO 9000 as a starting point. Then they need to be working toward attaining ISO 14000 in the coming year and, in the food/supermarket sector, also have the increasingly international BRC Global Standard accreditation.

ISO 9000 quality registration has already long been a necessity for many converters to do business worldwide. Similarly, the ISO 14000 standards are expected to become (indeed are already starting to become) the primary requirement for doing business in many regions or industries- such as packaging and labels. So what are they about? Well, this new series of ISO 14000 standards are designed to cover:

  • • Environmental Management Systems;
  • • Environmental Auditing;
  • • Environmental Performance Evaluation;
  • • Environmental Labeling;
  • • Life Cycle Assessment; and Environmental Aspects In Product Standards.

Typically, ISO 14001 requires an environmental policy in existence within a (packaging or label) company, fully supported by senior management, and available to customers, staff and the public. This policy sets out the company’s compliance with current environmental legislation and also stresses a commitment to continuous improvement. Like ISO 9000, the Environmental Management System requires a periodic audit to ensure that it is effective, meets specified goals and continues to perform in accordance with all the relevant legislation, regulations and standards.

The other standard becoming increasingly more common in the retail supplier field is the BRC Global Standard - Packaging and Packaging Materials. Originally created by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) in the United Kingdom to establish a standard for the supply of packaging and packaging materials for the food industry, this standard’s publication has rapidly become global, adopted by major retailers, packaging and label businesses around the world. Certification to the standard verifies technical performance, aids manufacturers’ fulfilment of legal obligations, and helps provide protection to the consumer.

Put together, ISO 9000, ISO 14000 and the BRC Global Standard are becoming a core basis by which increasing numbers of global label and packaging buyers are judging their suppliers’ competence and commitment to quality, to the environment, to the fulfilment of legal obligations and to consumer protection.

Standards can benefit bottom line

Undoubtedly there will be converters that say meeting all these global standards is just another cost to them. Yet there is already documented evidence from converters that have implemented ISO 14000 and/or the BRC Global Standard that they have been able to significantly reduce materials (substrates and inks) wastage, have improved their manufacturing efficiency and reduced downtime, have helped their customers to reduce or lightweight their packaging or labels, created a better partnership with customers in solving joint environmental problems, found new solutions for, say, label matrix waste disposal and re-use in fuel efficient energy (pellets) or building materials. In short, meeting the standards is proving to be a good business decision.

If converters, industry suppliers or the industry’s customers wish to go even further in enhancing their sustainability, recycling and packaging focus, then they might decide to look at or implement BS 8900, which focuses on developing procedures and ways of working that do not produce negative environmental effects or impossibly high costs for those involved. It works towards providing for the needs of the world’s current population without damaging the ability of future generations. Issues such as climate change, energy and waste are just a few of the areas of concern.

Similarly, if biodegradability and composting of packaging/label materials are issues, then BS EN 13432 might be of further assistance. This standard sets out the requirements for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation: organic recovery of used packaging is one of several recovery options within the overall lifecycle of packaging.

Sustainability issues grow globally

Environment and sustainability issues are certainly not going to go away. Theycan only become more intense globally. Even the Chinese government is aboutto introduce far-reaching legislation requiring all product packaging materials to be recyclable, degradable or recoverable, while some plastic materials are to be banned altogether. Package light-weighting and reduction will become mandatory, research intomaterials and technology is to be incentivised, waste recovery and recycling systems are to be established, and transport and storage of recyclable and recycled materials are to beregulated. A range of penalties for infringement are also specified.

It would be possible to go on and look at what each particular country or region is doing in terms of the environment. Certainly any label or packaging converter who has somekind of global customer base will have been facing differing requirements or demands. Yet they all have most elements in common. Brand owners, governments and industry suppliers are generally all working toward common requirements, although they may be implemented in slightly different ways.

Actions of global brands

So what are some of the big global brands doing themselves? Wal-Mart for example, started a one-year trial of a packaging scorecard scheme in February 2007 as part of its plans to cut packaging across its global supply chain by 5 percent by 2013. The composition of the scorecard, which will also be introduced in Wal-Mart’sUK Asda stores from early 2009, requires suppliers of packaged goods to submit data on their packaging and its environmental performance, including the percentages of greenhouse gases, material value, product/package ratio, transportation, recycled content, recovery value, renewable energy and innovation.

Marks and Spencer - a UK and international retail group - launched its Plan A environmental scheme in January 2007. The group started to use more recycled content in its packaging and is now aiming for its recycling of food packaging to rise from 68 percent to almost 90 percent if there is a wider range of plastics recycling facilities available. In addition, it is planning to extend onpack recycling logos to its clothing and home packaging in 2008.

United Biscuits, whose brands include Penguin, KP Nuts, Twiglets, Jaffa Cakes and Hula Hoops, is aiming for zero landfill waste and a total packaging waste reduction of 20 percent by 2015. It has also reduced packaging by 7 percent since 2003, while more than 80 percent by weight of all of its packaging is recyclable.

It must be obvious to nearly everyone in the label and packaging fields that the issues of sustainability, environment and waste are only going to intensify in the coming months and years. Those converters already working toward or implementing ISO 14000, who achieve environmental management certification, or can meet customer environmental and scorecard compliance schemes, are undoubtedly at the forefront of this global revolution. Label and packaging converters are also best placed to obtain new business in this fastchanging world of ever-more demanding environmental issues.

Proactive or reactive?

One school of thought on this issue is that many countries or regional groupings are generating their own requirements for environmental improvement and that the convertercould decide to wait until the issues become clearer before taking action.By then it may well be too late for those converters who find some of their accounts slipping away because they are unable to comply with new environmental demands. At least one single international standard - ISO 14000 - ensures that there are noconflicts between regional or country interpretations of good environmental practice.

There is no opt-out choice for label and packaging converters now. They must move forward and meet international environmental standards, develop more sustainable ways of working, find new materials and solutions, and change the way in which they manage their business.

The label and packaging industries have faced challenges before, and emerged stronger and fitter. They will do the same with the environment and sustainability challenges, hopefully sooner rather than later.