EY Entrepreneur of the year, UK Transformational Leader and Wired Trailblazer of the Year, David MacDonald is the owner of Cullen, Europe’s largest combined manufacturer of corrugated and moulded fibre packaging. Here he explains how food and drink producers and retailers can turn the new EPR and plastic waste challenges into a commercial opportunity.
The race is on to find sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging, driven by laudable sustainability targets and resulting regulations such as the new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation. We are also far too familiar with the headlines warning of the climate crisis reality, the most recent research stating that 171 trillion pieces of plastic waste now pollute our waters. All of this poses urgent problems for the food and drinks manufacturers and retailers alike.
Whilst this is a huge challenge, it is also an even bigger opportunity. The positive news is that there are already viable, cost effective alternatives available at scale, with scope for so much plastic to be removed immediately and the tax incentives for them make any price difference with plastic negligible.
Like many of the world’s leading FMCG brands and retailers, most of you reading this need to replace plastic packaging, but don’t know what can be swapped or who can help you do it. So here’s how you can replace your plastic with sustainable alternatives.
Solutions not stunts
You’ll see exciting ideas for plastic packaging alternatives, but you should separate fact from fiction. To make a significant impact, look for solutions that are already available at scale. My company Cullen Eco-Friendly Packaging has produced over 1 billion plastic free products in two years, that are recyclable and compostable. That number is accelerating as our innovation pipeline grows and we expand to meet surging demand from retailers and food producers.
There are simple ways to replace a large volume of plastics each year, look for easy wins in the supply chain. Start by looking at secondary and tertiary packaging, where barrier properties are less necessary, for example collation trays, protective inserts, transport packs right through to primary packaging, items such as trays and punnets. All of these items can be replaced with moulded fibre-based alternatives. Lastly, of course, our latest innovation the Fibre Bottle is currently being trialled with multinational partners and will be on shelves in due course.
With the new EPR legislation, you’re going to be liable for further taxation on harder to recycle packaging, including plastics, but less so with more sustainable packaging from the likes of us at Cullen Eco-Friendly Packaging. So, the more you can move to moulded fibre the better for your business in the long term.