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By designing solutions that meet market needs and address social issues like climate and food security, companies have the chance to unite profit with purpose and find that sweet spot where they can simultaneously do well and do good, writes Adolfo Orive.
Climate change is a topic on everyone’s mind, and rightly so.
But although climate awareness has increased significantly in recent years, many still fail to understand how it is closely connected to food security, food waste and circularity.
About a third of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by food systems. At the same time, around a third of global food production is lost or wasted, which also has an impact on the climate.
To support a growing population, we need more food, about 60% more by 2050. But more food means we need more land, which can damage ecosystems that absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Furthermore, a greater quantity of food also requires more packaging which must then be recycled to avoid an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
What we therefore need is an integrated vision to redesign our food systems, optimizing how we produce, process, package and distribute food, aiming not just for healthy people, but for a healthy planet.
While food packaging ensures food availability, it must be designed and recycled appropriately to reduce climate impact and avoid adding to the global waste pile.
The world already generates 2 billion tonnes of waste per year and this figure is expected to increase by 70% by 2050 compared to the 2018 baseline.
If a circular economy is to become a reality, a global effort is needed across the value chain, where products and materials continuously circulate, reducing dependence on virgin sources.
In this context, decision-making can play a key catalytic role, if designed with a holistic impact assessment. In the case of perishable liquid foods, such as milk, juice and plant-based drinks, this means treating the packaging and the food inside as a unit, thus considering the importance of both food protection and environmental sustainability.
It is essential to establish a regulatory framework in consultation with the industry. It can provide legislative reassurance for companies to continue to invest in sustainability solutions with confidence.
Because it is precisely investments that catalyze progress. In the case of the beverage carton industry, the overall investment of €200 million in recycling infrastructure in the European Union has led to extensive recycling of carton packs in 20 specialized factories located in several EU countries, with PolyAl currently processed by seven plants (and another six under development).
Tetra Pak’s €100 million annual investment in improving the environmental profile of food cartons is enabling the testing of 25 million aseptic cartons with a paper-based barrier in Europe. These are the types of initiatives that will accelerate much-needed change.
Access to food, and the related issue of food waste, is naturally high on the sustainability agenda. This has prompted many producers to reconsider their by-products as a resource.
For example, the WaSeaBi project aims to reduce waste in the seafood sector. It is developing sorting technologies, storage solutions and decision-making tools to enable commercial fishing fleets and seafood producers to stop viewing by-products as waste products and instead develop them as new food products and ingredients.
Meanwhile, we are experimenting with a “whole soybean” processing method, using the whole soybean in production and increasing the fiber and protein content of the drink accordingly.
And it’s not just about the environmental sustainability of these production processes. They also lead to greater efficiency, meaning fewer resources are used and lower costs are incurred.
Minimizing food waste is a primary function of packaging and has been for many years.
Technologically proven solutions, such as aseptic beverage cartons, play a vital role in improving access to food and reducing food waste in countries without extensive cold chain infrastructure. These cartons protect perishable liquid foods and keep them safe for up to 12 months, without the need for preservatives or energy-intensive refrigeration.
The power of the collective
By uniting different players in the value chain, incremental and ultimately transformative change can be achieved. This requires mobilizing both suppliers and customers, for upstream and downstream impact.
For example, IT companies are focusing on improving the sustainability of the production and extraction of materials, while others are accelerating innovations to reduce carbon emissions caused by the use of their products and to facilitate their recycling.
Another example in the F&B sector is the program we are carrying out with our suppliers to support our journey towards net zero emissions or solutions that help customers reduce the climate impact of their activities. Value chain efforts like these are critical to realizing our collective power to accelerate change.
Unconventional collaborations can also bring new perspectives to solve complex problems.
For example, a major European frozen food company launched the Open Innovation portal for academics and start-ups to address specific sustainability challenges. By sharing resources and expertise, innovation is accelerated and all parties benefit.
Collaboration is key to agreeing standards for large-scale solutions. This includes a material-independent, evidence-based definition of what constitutes a recyclable package.
Steps have already been taken in this regard to bring organizations together and maximize the impact the sector can have. For one thing, the 4evergreen alliance – a cross-sector platform that aims to enhance the contribution of fibre-based packaging in a circular economy – recently added a beverage packaging design guide to its fiber-based circularity toolkit. on the fibers.
In summary, the enormity of the challenge before us is undeniable, but with it there are also some promising opportunities.
By designing solutions that meet market needs and address social issues like climate and food security, companies have the opportunity to unite profit with purpose and find that sweet spot where they can simultaneously do well and do good.
Adolfo Orive is President and CEO of Tetra Pak.
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