The packaging reduction policies implemented by manufacturers and distributors have received little media attention and yet they represent a real breakthrough in approaches to packaging. To prevent waste generation, efforts have been ongoing in product design, manufacture, distribution and use. In 2010, the CNE launched a working group to identify and promote current or potential preventative measures. Philippe Joguet, Head of the Regulations and Sustainable Development Department of the French Federation of Trading and Distribution Companies (FCD) and CNE Board Member, who has contributed to the studies, shares his views.
Newsletter: What is the challenge facing the initiative?
Philippe Joguet: We’re facing a constant increase in the amount of packaging for various reasons, mainly relating to changes in modes of consumption. The challenge is therefore to reduce packaging at source to reduce generated waste by the same amount. That’s why we’ve centred our work on the notion of prevention, which conveys the wish for upstream action from manufacturers and distributors so as to optimise every stage in the lifecycle, from design, production, transportation and use through to disposal. It’s joint action that allows for an effective prevention initiative and so a reduction in packaging waste. One of the CNE’s aims is to encourage this partnership-based initiative by involving all links in the chain: packaging manufacturers, producers, distributors, consumers and environmental bodies. That’s what motivated the creation of the working group in 2010.
Newsletter: So why refer to “breakthroughs”?
Philippe Joguet: For several years, we’ve managed to maintain, if not reduce, the tonnage of packaging when the overall amount of packaging is constantly increasing. Why? Because numerous prevention initiatives have been introduced, particularly through technological advances. To give just one example, the weight of bottles of mineral water has been halved in fifteen years. All these efforts have borne fruit, so now there’s less room for improvement. We have to find something else, innovate, break with convention and take another look at things at all levels in the chain. It’s to promote these initiatives that the CNE refers to “breakthroughs”. What we tried to do with this working group is promote and publicise all the innovative actions in the hope of seeing them come into general use quickly.
Newsletter: Can you give an example?
Philippe Joguet: As we’ve mentioned the packaging of water, offering consumers three-litre bottles of mineral water for family use or encouraging water fountains in meetings rather than individual bottles are prevention initiatives that are part of a breakthrough dynamic. There are often more cultural breakthroughs than technological!
Newsletter: What do trading and distribution companies have to gain from taking part in such initiatives?
Philippe Joguet: Distribution has a central role in the packaging chain. Upstream, it influences the manufacture of products, whether branded or own-brand goods, which account for a growing proportion of our sales. Protecting resources (the raw materials used as energy for manufacturing), choosing less composite materials and designing packaging that can be taken apart more easily for recycling are just some of the relevant parts of ecodesign. Downstream, distributors can steer and guide consumer choices to encourage them to use products with optimised packaging and sort their waste to recycle more packaging. Offering ecodesign products is central to our initiative, not only out of collective responsibility, relating to environmental impacts, but also because saving materials, using less energy both in production and transportation, optimising logistic flows and so on, all these prevention initiatives represent financial savings for companies.
Newsletter: Which prevention initiatives reducing packaging waste at source do you think are the most relevant?
Philippe Joguet: The CNE working group focused its analysis on high-consumption sectors: food, hygiene products, household appliances and toys. Then it identified good prevention practices that could be generalised or extended to other products. The idea was to promote them to encourage their widespread use. For each example, we estimated the potential packaging saving (in tonnes per annum) if the concept was extended to the entire sector in question. We identified five good prevention practices:
– Yoghurt pot boxes, which can be removed when yoghurts are packaged in fours, or even in sixes for compotes.
– Plastic bottle caps can be made lighter, saving over 5,000 tonnes of materials every year.
– Plastic yoghurt pots, whose weight could be reduced by the use of expanded polystyrene (EPS). For 850,000 tonnes of yoghurts produced, we could save 2,000 to 3,000 tonnes of plastic every year.
– The packaging of toothbrushes, which are sold individually with a plastic cover and cardboard backing. The idea is simply to reduce the width. With 33 million toothbrushes sold in individual packs, we could save forty tonnes of plastic and nearly sixty tonnes of cardboard.
– Revise the entire system of packaging tubes of toothpastes to remove the cardboard box.
We’ve also identified five other avenues for innovation that deserve further examination:
– Optimise the content/container volume ratio for boxes of breakfast cereal.
– Consider selling products loose where possible: cereals, dried fruit and pulses.
– Offering large-format products where suitable.
– Redesign eco-refills.
– Optimise the weight of glass bottles as has been done interprofessionally for champagne (CICV) or voluntarily for wine by some of our members.
Newsletter: What are the challenges for 2011?
Philippe Joguet: Whilst 2010 enabled the CNE to identify the practices and potentials of prevention, 2011 must make it possible to promote good practices and bring them into general use through collective initiatives that limit the competitive risk. In short, it’s necessary to concretise on a large scale. That’s the meaning behind the slogan “Prevention in action”.
For more information, you can download the report by the working group “Prevention in action; towards a breakthrough dynamic” on the CNE website: www.conseil-emballage.org