12 industry and research representatives met at the first of the DEFRA-funded, Warwick Manufacturing Group hosted, workshops on biopackaging on Wednesday 13 August.
The aim of the day was to work out how to increase the uptake of bio-friendly packaging in the UK.
Malcolm Harold from WMG and assisted by Mark Johnson, an Engineering Doctorate student, opened the day by explaining the problem: retailers and the supply chain can only adjust to real demand shown by consumer purchases.
Waste Disposal Infrastructure
Later in the day Maarten Van Der Zee, from the Dutch research and development institute ATO b.v., explained that “Even if there is an enormous market push towards biodegradable and compostable packaging there’s no infrastructure in the UK to do anything about it.”
This was a shock to me, I’d assumed that I was doing my bit by buying organic produce in biodegradable packaging. Apparently though, binning biodegradable packaging means that it has less benefit to the environment as it goes straight to landfill where it doesn’t get a chance to degrade. Of course its manufacture may have been environmentally friendly, as it’s less likely to have been made from petro-chemicals or other fossil fuels.
This is why Maarten said that he expects the focus to be on bio-derived packaging rather than composting or bio-degredation. We need to consider how a product might be disposed of as well as how it is made.
So, what can plastic-type packaging be made from if not from fossil fuels? I was shown a piece of plastic-looking film, which looked to me like the kind you pierce on your microwave dinner – it had been made from corn. The dextrinol is extracted from the corn, turned into lactic acid and then polymerised, you can then make it into any form or thickness.
Education, Education, Education
I only managed to catch a couple of hours of the whole event, but topics ranging from the consumer perspective and waste management to materials and research were discussed by a committed and influential group of people.
The recurring theme of the day was the need to educate you and I, and the general public about environmentally friendly packaging in order to create the consumer demand necessary to motivate the manufacturing, supply-chain and retail industries.
The Wider Context
The next workshop will be held on Wednesday 20 August, and based on the first event Malcolm and Mark are expecting another productive session. The workshops are part of a program of research led by Malcolm Harold (1000 consumer surveys are currently underway).