October 9, 2018 Sustainability No Comments

I was honored to have attended the European Plastic Converters (EuPC) Conference “Plastic Packaging and the EU Plastics Strategy” on Sept 25 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. I cannot thank the people from the EuPC enough for the invite and hospitality. The conference was the end to a quest that began this past winter.

In January 2018, I was made aware of a “plastic- free supermarket” located in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Bans on single use plastic bags were the only action occurring that I was aware of in an effort to mitigate the use of plastic bags. The target of the bans I perceived were the carry-out thin bags we all get at the grocery store. We at Clear View Bag do not make that type of bag construction in high volumes and thus saw the bans as a non-threat to our business. While I did not like the negative publicity the bans triggered, the bans themselves had no tangible impact on our business.  

 

The “plastic free supermarket” idea in the Netherlands spoke to a much larger target. In reading about the market, it became increasingly aware that the supermarket’s aim was to bring heightened awareness to the issue of plastics and the end of life problem they present. With limited recycling streams and in some places no recovery infrastructure for plastic bags, bags end up in landfills, incineration plants or worse in our waterways and environment. The plastic-free supermarket’s aim was a potential threat as the bags being replaced are the same type of bags we make. 

In thinking about the plastic-free supermarket, I began to think about plastic bag converters like us in Europe. What are they doing to move forward in what seemed to be an increasingly hostile anti-plastic sentiment environment? Government bans are one thing, but private businesses promoting the negative perception of plastics creates a new paradigm. In looking for converters like ourselves in Europe, I found the EuPC. The organizers of the organization, Felix Miessen and David Baker, graciously invited us to their September conference that focuses on this very issue.

With a plastic-free supermarket to visit in Amsterdam and a 2 hour train ride south to attend a conference in Brussels with European converters, I decided to go and find out more. Before going, I perceived the trip to be a glimpse into the future as what was occurring in Europe seemed destined to make its way to the US at some point. My goal in going was to find out what converters were doing to combat the negativity surrounding the industry.    

Fast forward a week and now I’m back in New York reflecting on the experience. The stand-alone plastic free super market in Amsterdam (Ekoplaza chain of stores) was actually a small exhibition-pop-up space that was setup as a short store to maximize awareness. The pop-up store closed and the regular Ekoplaza stores have begun to pick up on the awareness by introducing plastic–free aisles within each store. In visiting one of their Amsterdam stores, I found a lot of compostable bag alternatives along with the non-use of bags when the product allowed.  “Plastic- free” logos were found throughout the store.     

The conference in Brussels began with recognizing the current state of how plastics are increasingly negatively viewed in the marketplace. The dialogue has changed. What used to be a scientific discussion in looking at the whole environmental impact of different packaging materials from how they were made, to the benefits of the package, to the package end of life is now a more sensationalized view of plastic pollution. 

Multiple people spoke at the conference from varied perspectives.  A member of the European Parliament from Greece spoke on the regulatory aspect of the issue.  A smaller food packaging business owner from Denmark spoke as to what they are currently doing to help clients design the most eco-friendly package. The head of sustainability from one of the largest raw material makers in Europe spoke about their goals of making recycled content material a long term equivalent to virgin resins. A member of the German plastics association spoke about design. Their design guide is able to weigh aspects of one package versus another to determine the best package in terms of cost, functionality, branding and the environment. Speaker after speaker provided perspective, ideas, and thoughts of things to do in terms of environmentally friendly packaging and promotion of sustainability within companies.

When the conference ended, I seemed to have more questions than answers in trying to figure out how to change the narrative surrounding plastics.  It is a superior material that helps so many aspects of our lives yet it is clear we have all collectively acted irresponsibly over the last 30 years in terms of its disposal. There seems to be no one answer.  Every industry, every company, every country is different in how to turn what seems a negative into an opportunity.  It is up to each of us to figure out the answer.

We have all viewed packaging as fulfilling the functionality of the product it holds, providing information about the product and branding the package a certain way. There is a vital piece to this view that we need to incorporate that we should have done 30 years back. Packages need a sustainability perspective from the beginning. We need to find a common ground for every package where functionality, branding and sustainability come together. The package needs to serve its purpose, brand the product and also be designed in the most environmentally cost effective way.             

The experience at the Ekoplaza store and the EuPC Plastic Strategy conference did provide the glimpse into the future I was hoping for. The glimpse leads to visions of the future.  Visions like plastic free supermarket aisles, companies seeking other companies with authentic sustainability policies in place, recycled content materials becoming more the norm, the world seeing an increase in recycling of all materials and a reduction in waste.  

What I thought was a threat prior is now a real opportunity to change. We at Clear View Bag will be part of this new vision. We look forward in time to share the journey with our suppliers, our clients and our employees.  

For more information on….

…..Ekoplaza, visit www.ekoplaza.nl/pagina/ekoplaza-lab-1 

…..the EuPC  (European Plastic Converters), visit www.plasticsconverters.eu 

Written by David Pugliese