At Mondelēz International, the company has been setting sustainability goals for years and has every intention of reaching its next major milestone.
“We have drawn a line for 2025 to design packaging for recyclability,” says Lou Fenech, principal engineer with Mondelēz, which has operations in more than150 countries and that owns brands such as Oreo, Cadbury, Toblerone, and Trident.
Fenech leads the sustainability efforts in the company’s gum, candy, and powdered beverage categories. The international snack company has other goals, such as “light and right,” which is an effort to reduce packaging overall. This year, Mondelēz will have reached a target of eliminating 65 million kilograms of packaging, Fenech said during a recent Global Pouch Forum event that was held virtually.
The forum included speakers from various stakeholders in the flexible packaging industry who offered updates on where the industry stands with sustainability efforts. The moderator was Dennis Calamusa, founder and president of ALLIEDFLEX Technologies, which is a Florida-based sales, marketing, and consulting group that provides flexible packaging machinery systems and technologies to markets in North and South America. He was joined by four other panel members in addition to Fenech: Brent Haynam, commercial engineering manager for Scholle IPN; Dave McLain, director of sustainability for Printpack; Brian Wagner, co-founder and vice president of PTIS LLC; and Alison Keane, president and CEO of the Flexible Packaging Association.
Calamusa suggests that modern sustainability efforts started years ago when Walmart implemented its sustainability scorecard, which was implemented to reduce packaging waste among its suppliers.
“That really shook the industry up,” Calamusa says, “because it really dictated a little bit how multinationals were going to send their products to the Walmart stores, which really was the start of a revolution in marketing and retailing.’’
Source reduction, packaging reduction, and logistics all became the basics of sustainability efforts that have since evolved to include the full supply chain from production to retail, he adds.
Keane, whose organization has 153 members, says that the industry has been working across the supply chain to take a holistic approach to sustainability. Recent reports commissioned by FPA have shown that flexible packaging has numerous benefits over other packaging, including reducing the packaging materials and shipping weights for numerous products from clothing to liquid detergents. And with recent trends increasing e-commerce activity, returns of items have been increasing, as well, with flexible packaging offering resealable packaging where consumers can easily send items back. She notes that sustainability has been just one part of the equation, with COVID-19 showing that there is a place for single-use plastics and for ensuring safety of food and medical products.
“It’s important to amplify that,” she says.
Flexible packaging plays a large role in protecting all kinds of goods, Haynam says. The opportunities with e-commerce include a reduction in the various layers of packaging for shipping, which consumers like because they don’t get a box that is 80 percent empty. “So, there are huge opportunities in e-commerce for flexibles,” he says. “I think that arena is massive.”
Several of the experts suggest that one factor is to make sure that the right packaging is being used for a specific product. “It is the one that does the job,” McLain says, noting that, after decades of innovation, the current packaging options are “very good.”
Haynam suggests that sustainability goals—whether by 2025 or beyond—will continue to steer innovations. “Those long-term goals are going to push the industry, but that doesn’t preclude us from short-term improvements in sustainability.”
Lessons from the Pandemic
More needs to be understood about the lessons from the pandemic as to whether the shifts in trends will have long-term impacts.
“We will look back 20 years from now and some will be back to normal, but a lot will be different,” says Wagner of PTIS, a Michigan-based business and technology management company that focuses on packaging. “Nobody really knows yet.”
While the pandemic led to new interest in single-use plastic bags, some of that already has started to shift back. For example, New York banned single-use plastic bags on March 1 but delayed implementation of the ban during the pandemic. In August, regulators began enforcing it, according to news reports at the time.
Haynam agrees that there was a growing appreciation for convenience, security, and safety during the crisis but that it is hard to predict what will have a lasting impact. And Fenech notes that responses from governments and regulators keep coming out, and the industry needs to be aware of that dynamic. The pandemic also has led to government budget shortfalls, so governments might start looking toward the private sector for funding recycling efforts, Keane points out.
Wagner suggests that, while the industry must plan and make predictions, it also must continue to adapt as situations and facts change. He quips that he has been talking about the future for 20 years.
So, when people suggest that the economy can be fully circular by 2050, the way to get there is to picture that possibility and start taking the steps in that direction, much in the same way President John F. Kennedy challenged the country with the moon landing.
“The way we get there is to envision a very different world and move toward it,” he says.
Thomas A. Barstow is senior editor of FlexPack VOICE™.