EuroPack Sustainability Forum: McDonald’s, Nestlé & Sealed Air

‘People don’t understand packaging sustainability - they expect the big brands to take care of it’

By Jenny Eagle contact

- Last updated on GMT

Left to right: Huwyler, Roberts & Lundquist
Left to right: Huwyler, Roberts & Lundquist

Related tags: Sealed air, Sustainability, Recycling

The sustainability of packaging is a huge issue. People don’t really understand how all things work together but they expect big brands to take care of it and we are doing the right thing, says Dr Rolf Huwyler, senior manager environment & CSR, McDonald’s.

Huwyler made the comments during a Sustainable Forum, alongside Ed Roberts, regional sustainability director, Sealed Air and Lars Lundquist, senior packaging R&D & sustainability expert, Nestlé, at EuroPack, in Monaco, France, this week.

'What makes sense in terms of the future'

He has worked for McDonald’s for 15 years, first as a sustainable manager in Switzerland then Europe before being promoted to a global job title two weeks ago.

Many people are afraid to talk about sustainability because the issue is so complex, innovation is the same thing​,” said Huwyler.

It depends on so many areas you need to take into account. We should look for win/win situations and try to do a business case of material savings, the good story, what makes sense in terms of the future, plan which materials are available in the next five to 10 years. We need to understand it a little bit better​.” 

Lundquist joined Nestlé in 2002. He said where he works there is a strong focus on environment assessment systems to take sustainability into account when designing packaging and now to assess ingredients.

Packaging is a small contribution to the environmental footprint of our products. We need to act on the agricultural supply chain and help consumers to make a difference​,” he said.

Roberts agreed and added most people see sustainability as environmentalism which is more niche. They don’t see it as waste or about managing waste.

If you add the social and economic angle it becomes even more complex​,” added Lundquist.

It is finding a way to communicate this to consumers that is difficult. We have to address this complexity, we see people trying to take shortcuts and that’s where they go wrong.

"We focus on single issues, packaging has been on the environmental agenda for 20 years, it’s often seen as a wasteful squandering of material resources, but packaging contributes towards sustainable development​.

Packaging protects & prevents waste

It protects products and prevents waste. Without it, we would waste more food resources​.”

According to Lundquist packaging serves an important purpose and keeps food in good shape for the consumer.

He said there is a small fraction of the population who are really concerned and prepared to go the extra mile, but there is no way to get away from the price index.

Huwyler believes Millennials (the Millennial​ Generation or Generation Y) will become an important consumer segment. “They do care but they are not willing to pay more and they expect it,"​ he said.

Roberts claims the number of people interested in sustainability in packaging is bigger than we think but it’s a lack of education.

He said at the end of last year, beginning of this year, Sealed Air carried out a survey on two different meat packaging types.

When they told consumers  one had a shelf life of meat of three days compared to one which had a shelf life of 21 days if stored correctly, ‘the shift to the longer shelf life packaging was amazing’, he said: “But, we are not educating the consumer correctly they think a bamboo package is environmentally friendly and sustainable.”

It’s not just about the burger but the whole brand​,” added Huwyler.

'It’s easy to ‘bash’ the big manufacturer'

It’s very easy to ‘bash’ the big manufacturer. We need to build our brand in a progressive and modern way and it’s the brand image itself that needs to contain this message of sustainability going into the future​.

It’s a business necessity and McDonald’s understands this. We have a simple sustainability packaging strategy aiming for 100% renewable resources and we are already at 90%​.

We want to source from 100% recycled or sustainably certified fibres for Europe and we just reached this in Ukraine last week and now we are striving for zero waste to landfill although we are not there yet.​”

Roberts said in principle companies need to create bonus incentives for management but, for it to work it has to be led by the CEO and then his team have to follow.

There is an acknowledgement in Sealed Air that has to happen by 2016/17​,” he added.

“In many parts of the world now, the biggest problem is there is no waste management structure for people to get rid of waste in a sustainable way,” added Lundquist.

There are definitions about what is waste but there are different interpretations for different users. You have to be transparent – it’s crucial for our brands to ensure trust with our consumers​.”

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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