Come out fighting

15 January 2007

The New Year is traditionally a time to reflect on the past year and plan for the future.

2006 saw environmental issues to the fore in all aspects of our lives. Unsurprisingly, politicians, the media and NGOs are responding and there can be few who haven't heard of global warming and predictions that, within this century, hordes of wildebeest will be migrating up and down the M1 (bovine road pricing?). Seriously though. it would be interesting to ascertain how much the public actually understands about global warming.

Packaging and its environmental impact appears fair game in the media. Some articles are fair and balanced, whilst others are extremely critical and one-sided. Last year, NGOs campaigned against overpackaging. But what does the public understand about packaging's role and benefits? Many, I suspect, see it as something to simply get rid of. Recycling infrastructure varies dramatically from council to council. Residents must segregate their waste and distinguish between different types of plastic using recycling logos, so is it any wonder people are confused?

Is this something new to get to grips with? Back in May 1970 J Gilbertson from the British Plastics Federation wrote about disposal of plastic packaging waste. David Tanner, a Ph.D. research student, wrote an article on litter in 1973 and a conference on the “Unending story of recycled packaging waste' was held in 1974, the same year Incpen (The Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment) was formed.

So what have we achieved in the past 30+ years? There are numerous good examples of weight reduction. Smart materials are being developed. Many companies use lean manufacturing techniques to eliminate waste, the supply chain is extremely sophisticated, and RFID technology is helping drive better communications and goods tracking.

The major retailers and brand owners have a significant impact on the type and amount of packaging used. Some argue that the customer drives the packaging type used, others that packaging itself “adds value” and drives sales.

Whoever is right we must all take responsibility for getting packaging a fair hearing. Late last year the Packaging Federation laid down an Early Day Motion calling for “Support for the UK Packaging Industry” to allow parliament to debate the topic. Incpen promotes the use of environmentally responsible packaging and bodies like WRAP assist in projects to reduce the environmental impact. Finally, IOP: The Packaging Society stands at the forefront of education and training with modules on packaging and the environment.

So what is your New Year resolution for 2007? Will you sit quietly by and let others do the talking or will you speak out, stand up and support our industry?

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