Get rid of plastic waste, not plastic

TAMPA, FL — Last year Walmart announced a set of plastic-waste-reduction commitments, looking to achieve 100 percent recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable packaging for its private brand packaging by 2025. The retail giant encouraged its national brand suppliers to make similar packaging commitments, and those in the produce industry are always ready to take on a challenge — especially when it concerns the health of the planet.

The Southeast Produce Council hosted a standing-room-only educational session on the role plastics play in produce as part of the Southern Exposure 2020 agenda on Friday, Feb. 28. While the primary focus of the session, Plight of Plastic, was the material itself, the panel looked at the larger issue of sustainability and the need for an end-to-end approach to tackle problems with plastic and food waste in the industry.

Anabella de Freeman, senior manager of sustainable produce for Walmart, moderated the five-person panel, and the expansive scope needed to successfully address the issue was personified by the diverse backgrounds of panel participants: Janis McIntosh of Naturipe Farms; Natalie Shuman of Apeel Sciences, Brad Dennis of CKF Inc., Kathy Lawrence of Proseal and Elizabeth Yerecic of Yerecic Label.

“Eliminated plastic waste is the answer, not eliminating plastic,” said McIntosh, who spoke to the industry’s need for competitive collaboration. This sentiment is perhaps best encapsulated by major North American fresh berry producers’ recent commitment to use 100 percent recycle-ready packaging by 2025 in a step to reduce the produce industry’s environmental impact.

One key to making plastics recycle-ready is using the right kind of labeling on them. Yerecic described how paper labels complicate the recycling process, oftentimes resulting in an otherwise recyclable item being shipped to a landfill. “If there’s one thing you can take from this talk today in terms of labeling it would be that an easy change for you to make is to switch to film labels — they will always be preferred in the recycling stream,” she said.

Lawrence talked about how Proseal, which manufactures an extensive range of tray sealing machines, has seen companies make a tremendous reduction in their plastic use when moving away from traditional clamshell lids to top-seal film lids. “For every 1 million trays sealed, you can save 10 tons of plastic,” she said. Lawrence also noted that top-sealing helps extend shelf life, controlling air flow for product.

While plastic containers can reduce plastic use via top-seals, Dennis pointed to CKF’s Earthcycle line as an option to further reduce it since the containers are made from fiber pulp. The company’s clamshell hinged-lid containers are made from a blend of wood fibers, and he noted that Earthcycle is certified compostable, recyclable, renewable and is food grade.

Shuman noted that plastic serves many functions related to produce: grouping, protection, marketing and shelf-life extension. “The reality is that today we can’t eliminate all packaging because some of these functions are critical to how we deliver fresh produce, but there are areas where we can reduce reliance on plastics.”

For Apeel, that area of plastic reduction is shelf-life extension. Rather than use single-wrap plastic to retain moisture and prevent mass loss, the company adds a layer of plant-derived protection to the surface of fresh produce to slow water loss and oxidation, thus reducing spoilage. Shuman cited a partnership with Houweling's to demonstrate the level of success the product has. In one year, that lone supplier reduced plastic packaging by 85,000 pounds.

While each speaker brought a piece of the solution to the table, the need for an end-to-end approach was a common theme, and this includes educating consumers about what can be recycled and making sure companies are as invested in using recycled products for packaging as they are in making their packaging recyclable.

Source : Fresh Plaza

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