Packaging firms and plastic manufacturers stress need for holistic approach to ban single-use plastics

Emma Mattei - 10th November 2019 

‘Plastics are only part of the sustainability effort, since changing materials will not change matters unless customer and consumer habits are also altered.’

Local plastic manufacturers and packaging companies have emphasised the need for care and investment at every stage of the product cycle, from pre-production, through to consumer habits and post-consumption recycling, if the ban on single-use plastics is to be truly effective by 2021.

Their comments, made to The Malta Business Observer, are in response to the latest Budget measures which have stepped up plans to ban single-use plastics within the time-frame, and outline the changes the firms have already taken to adopt more sustainable approaches and practices.

In this regard, Stephen Bonnici, HR and PAC Manager for General Soft Drinks (GSD) Co Ltd, stated that the company is well-placed to deliver on the objectives of the ban, which addresses, he specified “single-use plastic cutlery; single-use plastic plates; plastic straws; cotton bud sticks made of plastic; plastic balloon sticks; oxo-degradable plastics; food containers and expanded polystyrene cups.”

Indeed, the ban is set to have an impact on the firm, which is responsible for manufacturing a wide range of soft drinks for brands owned by The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) including Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Fanta, Dr Pepper, Sprite, Schweppes and Kristal, among others.

Mr Bonnici also made reference to the introduction of a beverage container deposit system in 2020 – also announced in the recent Budget – which “will target the collection of beverage containers made out of plastic, glass and metal,” saying that the company is well poised to achieve the set targets, which include a 90 per cent collection target for plastic bottles by 2029 set by the EU.

plastics

“GSD Marketing has been a leading force in bringing together all major stakeholders involved to set up a not-for-profit company that will be owned by three associations – namely a beverage producers’ association, a beverage importers’ association and a beverage retailers’ association – which will deliver the set collection and recycling objectives in the most effective and efficient way possible,” he explained.

Describing the firm’s current offering, Mr Bonnici was at pains to emphasise that “all our primary and secondary packaging are 100 per cent recyclable.” In addition to the EU targets James Quincey, President and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company announced a bold, ambitious goal – “to help collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell by 2030, as well as to have the primary packaging of our beverage containers to be made of at least 50 per cent recycled material by 2030.”

The single-use plastic EU legislation is very specific in the products it is aimed at. Olaf Zahra, Chief Officer, Technology and Sustainability at Toly Group explained that primary cosmetic packaging, which is what Toly produces, is not considered single-use.

“Cosmetics have a typical shelf life of one to three years and a life-span, once opened, of between 12 and 18 months,” said Mr Zahra. Toly has recently introduced a number of products in materials that are either recycled or recyclable, bio-sourced or bio-degradable, he explained.

“Although we are not a producer of single-use plastics, I would say that our industry is ahead of EU trends in the area of sustainability. The situation is very volatile as there is a lot of confusion about the subject,” he continued.

plastics

“However, plastics are only part of the sustainability effort, since changing materials will not change matters unless customer and consumer habits are also altered,” stated Mr Zahra. “At Toly, we have focused our considerable innovation and creative talents on the subject of sustainability. We need to, and are, designing products that make it easy for the consumer to re-use or recycle.

Making it easy will help change ingrained, bad habits. Plastic is not the issue per se. The over-use of packaging and treatment at the end of its life is the real problem,” said Mr Zahra. Moreover, the products and materials used are only part of the picture.

“At Toly, we take a holistic view to sustainability. From June this year we have moved into a new factory. It is a €20 million investment and a large part of that investment has gone into making sure that we reduce our impact on the environment,” said Mr Zahra.

In this regard, Toly has taken an in-depth look at where they were consuming the most electricity and improved their figures, where possible, using geo-thermal principles to maximise the efficiency of water cooling, which is the biggest single consumer of electricity.

“We have changed the design of the system so that we can use rainwater recovered from our roof for cooling,” said Mr Zahra. “We are recovering the heat from our chillers and compressors and using it in other processes. We have introduced LED lighting throughout, and a BMS to regulate and optimise all. We are currently in the process of adding photovoltaic panels that will produce up to 20 per cent of our electricity demand,” he concluded.

plastic bottle

In the meantime, F.S. Engineering and Plastics Ltd, which specialises in plastic food packaging, and has evolved to offer a proprietary line of polyethylene food-handling material products, compliant with international standards, has also been seeking alternatives to plastic.

Catering and confectionery companies, as well as companies trading in spices and herbs, are among the industries that rely on their market-specific products. “We’ve been looking into alternative materials even though the price is high, but so far the national body has rejected them on the grounds that they leave micro plastics,” said Derek Saliba, the company’s Director.

Recyclable plastic is currently heavy and opaque, not suitable for use in certain aspects of the food industry, where the packaging needs to be transparent which would involve using chemicals, he also explained. The alternative products for food packaging, such as glass and metal, also require energy to produce and recycle.

“Glass bottles, for example, when collected and reused, consume high quantities of water, and the process involves chemical use,” said Mr Saliba. “What we need is a circular economy, with the authorities working to incentivise recycling locally. Why do we just blame plastic? It’s also about how we dispose of these single-use products, which currently are imported. Should we not also ask, what do we gain from plastic? There are still a lot of questions marks.”

F.S. Ltd will not be affected by the ban per se but has undertaken many changes. To this end, Mr Saliba explained that all their machines “are electrical and no longer hydraulic, so consumption is very low, and we’re looking to install solar panels on the roof; we have been doing this for 10 years and we were the first in Malta to make these changes, which means we now use 70 per cent less energy.”

He also advocated for further clarity and more information.

This article initially featured in the October edition of The Malta Business Observer. 


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Packaging firms and plastic manufacturers stress need for holistic approach to ban single-use plastics