SUSTAINABILITY AND PRODUCT SAFETY IN THE FOLDING CARTON SECTOR
In recent years, sustainability and public health issues have become top priorities for consumer goods manufacturers, retailers and in EU policy making. As a result, packaging companies are approached more and more often to answer questions related to the CO2 impact of their product and processes, the suitability of specific materials for food packaging, their compliance with Good Manufacturing Practice, etc.
To allow ECMA members to improve their understanding of the issues concerned and their impact on carton businesses’ daily practice, ECMA organized a seminar focusing on sustainability and product safety on the 2nd of June 2009.
Mr. Clark, former president of Pro Carton and Chairman of the Board of the PEFC Council, opened the day by giving an overview of the important themes in the packaging industry over the last 40 years. Risk management, he argued, is one of the most important themes of this decade. Growing consumer awareness about issues like Global Warming, Sustainability and Carbon Footprinting has opened up a whole set of new challenges for the carton supply industry, often outside the normal competences of the sector.
The seminar, Mr. Clark concluded, would offer helpful tools to meet these challenges.
Session 1 Insides in the sustainability market requirements
Regardless of the current downturn in the economic cycle, green thinking has become an integral part of the corporate responsibility of retailers and brand owners towards society. This session dealt with the drivers concerned and their impact on the choice of packaging. As the Efficient Consumer Response (ECR) movement indicates, chain understanding, communication and collaboration is critical in developing the best, most adapted product offer. In this opening session key experts briefed the participants on the greening needs in the supply chain, among retailers and FMCG manufacturers.
The first speaker, Natalie Berg of Planet Retail, focused on consumer trends and retail policies. In the current financial climate, Mrs. Berg identified a shift from “green” to “value” with discounters posing a growing threat to traditional supermarkets. However, private labels of the supermarkets do hold their ground.
These developments have their impact on organic products, although discounters and private labels are increasingly offering these products as well to position themselves in a qualitative manner. In general, Ms. Berg found that as long as the price difference with normal products was small, organic foods still showed growth.
Likewise, more and more retailers are taking measures to improve their energy efficiency, as this can result in significant financial savings. It is one of the areas where environmental sustainability and business sustainability go hand in hand.
All in all, even with the current focus on value, green products are here to stay.
Julian Carroll, Managing Director of EUROPEN, then presented the outcome of the ECR (Efficient Consumer Response) packaging and sustainability initiative. Mr. Carroll noted a shift in Europe to soft legislation, with the individual initiatives in the seperrate Member States sometimes conflicting and confusing.
There is pressure on the packaging industry, as packaging is a highly visible residue, the majority of its functions are unclear to the consumer and effort is required for disposal.
To help companies to deal with this pressure, a high-level Strategy Guidance document was about the be released with as its key messages:
Mr. Carroll underlined that the fundamental role of packaging is to deliver the product to the consumer in perfect condition. Because of this, packaging can only be properly evaluated as part of a complete product life cycle and optimal performance is achieved when product and packaging are designed together from conception.
Session 2: Forest management and Carbon footprinting
Global climate change has reached the highest level of awareness, and carbon footprinting is increasingly recognised as a way of assessing the impact of products and processes on the atmosphere. This session highlighted the vast positive role of sustainably managed forests and explained how products made from renewable raw materials can demonstrate their specific, ‘natural’ carbon cycle. ECMA, in close cooperation with Pro Carton Europe, had commissioned a study on how to include biogenic carbon data in the carton carbon footprint. Participants had the ’grand première’ of the research results.
Paivi Harju-Eloranta, Director Environmental Affairs at Stora Enso, started the second session with a clear presentation on forest certification and sustainable forest management. As wood is the main raw material for the Carton Industry, sustainable forest management and chain-of-custody certification are of vital importance.
Forest management certification schemes provide the assurance of an external, independent organization that the management of forest meets certain standards. Chain-of-custody systems, on the other hand, record and report the amounts and flow of certified wood in a process and in products.
Stora Enso takes part in both major forest management certification schemes: the PEFC and FSC. After providing some information on these schemes, Mrs. Harju-Eloranta remarked that the perceived competition between PEFC and FSC unfortunately distracts from the positive message these initiatives should convey. To address this, Stora Enso establishes double forest certifications (both FSC and PEFC) whereever possible to promote mutual recognition.
In order to come to more complete methodology for Carbon Footprinting for the carton industry, ECMA Europe commissioned a study to IVL, a Swedish Environmental Research Institute. The developed methodology and the preliminary results were presented by Elin Eriksson and Per Erik Karlsson.
The researchers recommended to use the newly developed methodology to update Carbon Footprints (CFP) and develop individual CFPs for specific products. However, the presenters noted that to include sequestration in forests, it must be verified that the sequestration has not already been claimed by the forest owner. In addition, the forest should be managed in a sustainable way, as highlighted in the previous presentation. Finally, there should be intentions on a national level to keep a net growth of forests.
If these conditions are met, the newly developed method can be used. It gives important information to customers, can be used as a benchmark for individual companies and buyers, and may serve as a base for further improvements.
The researchers announced that the ground breaking results of the study were currently being ‘peer reviewed’ and the final results would be presented at the ECMA Congress in Istanbul next September.
Session 3: Product safety and Food contact
Among the many other important policy issues in areas like packaging waste and the EU Commission’s sustainable production and consumption initiative, ECMA selected product safety as the second key area to cover at this year’s seminar. The objective of this part of the programme was to explain the requirements of the Food contact framework regulation 1935/2004 and the Good Manufacturing Practice regulation 2023/2006, to present ECMA’s involvement and our position on 4-Methylbenzophenone, and to highlight all other food contact measures taken in the carton and the wider paper and board sectors.
Jan Cardon, Executive Director of ECMA, presented ECMA’s position regarding 4-Methylbenzophenone (4-MBP) and the actions taken by the association. In February 2009, traces of 4-MBP, a photoinitiator used for UV-inks, were found in cereal in Germany, which led to a rapid food alert. ECMA met with officials from the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers, where the need for clear communication within the chain was emphasized. Following statements of other organisations, ECMA released a statement of its own and contacted EuPIA and CEPIA.
Beginning of March, EFSA concluded that based on the limited available exposure data, short term consumption of the contaminated breakfast cereal should not pose a threat. In the following discussion with DG Sanco, it was stressed that benzophenone and 4-MBP should not be used unless a functional barrier was present, such as PET/SiOX/aluminium.
Among customers of ECMA, food safety was rated as the second most important issue in a customer questionnaire in the last two years. The necessary action was taken to position cartons as perfectly safe (primary) food packaging again immediately. To this end, ECMA recommended to stop the use of 4-MBP and benzophenone containing inks and varnishes. The association also called for a special meeting of its Technical Committee, with EuPIA and FEICA being invited as guests. Approved action points included: the development of contractual clauses, investigation of national initiatives and a risk screening of all substances uses in sheetfed inks.
Annette Schäfer from the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers gave an overview of the European legislation on food contact materials, paying special attention to the meaning of this legislation for carton manufacturers. She gave some points to consider for compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), how to start selecting materials and substances and what should be covered in the documentation. She ended her presentation with some of the lessons that can be learned from the 4-MBP incident. In particular, she stressed that information on migrating substances and the final packaging application should be available throughout the production chain: improvement of the information flow within the production chain is necessary.
Nigel Barnwell, Technical Manager at CEPI, gave the latest information on the industry guideline for the compliance of paper and board materials and articles for food contact. This voluntary guideline is meant for countries that do not have national legislation in place. It enables compliance with EU Regulation 1935/2004 and is designed for self or 3rd party certification. Above all, it provides consumer assurance and rational responses to food alerts.
The guideline was developed due to the fact that the plastics legislation was not suitable, and customers were uncomfortable with an unregulated product. Moreover, the initiative offered the opportunity to influence the direction of possible future legislation. The guideline working group consisted from players across the supply chain, such as chemical suppliers, paper makers and converters, and flexible packaging manufacturers. The revised guideline, which contains a list of approved substances, multilayer rules and recommendations amongst others, has been peer reviewed by PIRA and will be released in the fourth quarter of 2009.
Heinz Traussnig, Senior Advisor Product Safety from the Mayr-Melnhof Group and Chairman of the CEPI Food Contact Group proceeded to discuss cartonboard and cartons safety requirements and certifications. Importantly, he noted that the legislation in Europe is a mixture of general and specific legislation, with no harmonised regulation for paper and board. He gave a number of recommendations on how to ensure compliance the paper and board. However, this in itself is not enough to show compliance of the packaging. To this end, it is necessary to look at the whole package as converted and applied. Mr. Traussnig gave a number of actions that papermakers, converters and end users can already take today. As long as there is no harmonized regulation, he argued, the industry can only overcome the problem with closed cooperation and open minded exchange of knowledge.
Session 4: Practical experiences
The closing session of the seminar highlighted how two distinguished companies in the field of paper and board packaging adopted the wider concept of sustainability as part of their corporate strategy. Sustainability extends beyond the primate of profitability and adds the ‘P’s of people and planet to the company’s corporate responsibility towards its stakeholders inside and outside the company. The two speakers in this session explained how they see sustainable development and how they are using sustainability as an incentive to drive innovations and structural improvements, both internally and externally.
Elisabeth Comère from Tetra Pak explained the “sustainability journey” her company embarked on. In reaction to policy trends and growing consumer demand for sustainable packaging, Tetra Pak took action. Forest management and the traceability of the wood were independently certified. The company aims to cut 10 percent of its CO2 emissions by 2010 versus 2005 figures by improving energy efficiency and using renewable energy. Recycling is another area of attention, with Tetra Pak investing in increasing consumer awareness, collection systems and recycling capacity. Finally, environmental communication with customers, retailers, consumers and stakeholders plays an important role in the journey.
In the last presentation of the day, Sammy Hallgren from A&R Carton showed attendees how his company built a strategy for sustainable development. A&R Carton started a program to increase awareness within the company, which focussed on education, strategy, tools and organisational improvements. First, employees were educated on different aspects of sustainability, initially focussing on CO2. From here, a policy and strategy for becoming a more sustainable and socially responsible company were formulated. Tools to accomplish this included Lifecycle Assessments and Corporate Social Responsibility reports. Simultaneously, organisational changes were made to prepare the company for this new strategy. All of these measures helped to communicate the clear support of sustainability, coordinate the resources, and increase the pace of change and the quality of the sustainability program.
All in all, the diverse and highly informative programme gave the 60-strong audience valuable new insights in the various aspects of sustainability and product safety in the Folding Carton sector.
The presentations of this seminar can be found on the Members-Only Site (log in as a member and go to 'Events and Proceedings'.