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Packaging Today Ask the Expert

National Flexible are a renowned purveyor of sustainable manufacturing processes. What steps have you taken to put this at the forefront of your business model? 

It’s a good question. The original mantra devised by WRAP was ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’. The primeobjective being to reduce food waste and packaging waste. As a consequence, in 2008, NationalFlexible introduced ‘free’ packaging audits for customers and others who wanted to meet the WRAP Packaging Waste Reduction target.  

Subsequently, we have had literally numerous packaging audits, carried out by our packagingengineers and technologists. Thus, over a period of 11 years, we have focussed on not only reducing pack size, thickness and material content of the packaging web supply, but also, wherever possible, increasing the food shelf life. 

These audits have been incredibly effective at achieving the original WRAP food and waste objectives of reducing packaging food and waste. Thus, we were very well positioned when considering any material changes now needed, to alternative films should the customer wish to do. 

There is a lot of ‘noise’ in the market that plastic simply is not a sustainable material. What are our views? 

Some of the most knowledgeable Food Packaging Technologists work in the supermarkets. As a consequence, they know plastic is by far the most cost effective, lightweight material for food packaging. It is easily heat sealable, peelable, able to withstand moisture penetration or / able to be made breathable as well as being able to act as an oxygen barrier where necessary.

In summary, plastic is the perfect packaging solution for protecting, preserving and presenting food. Unfortunately, as supermarkets are in the eye of a media storm, created by Blue Planet II the supermarkets know PE, PP and PET are 100% capable of being collected, separated, and mechanically recycled. Meanwhile, the more sophisticated laminates can either be converted back into oil by pyrolysis, or at worst, used as fuel in combined heat and power plants. Millions of tonnes of difficult to recycle paper and board go into these plants, why single out plastic for criticism? 

However, there are two major problems with the current situation;

1) The facilities are not there yet to separate and recycle all plastics

2) Whatever alternative material to plastic is chosen as a substitute, be it glass, paper, board, aluminium, compostable, etc, will use more of the Earth’s resources and create more CO2 emissions and thus add to climate change. 

The historical lack of investment in plastic collection, separation and recycling is simply because aluminium and glass recyclate are higher value.  

Perversely, the money to build plastic recycling infrastructure is currently being collected. In 2019, the plastic packaging suppliers will pay £250 - £300 Million in Packaging Recovery Notes (PRN) – why doesn’t the Environment Agency (Govt) ensure this money is spent on plastic recycling? Taxing companies into alternative materials will simply generate more CO2 emissions and adds to climate change. 

That said, we now have available an OPP with 30% recycled content (ready for the new tax), an orientated PE, for flow-wrap and FFS applications, plus 100% compostable, high barrier film along with a range of plastic free films for those companies wishing to use them.  

How do National Flexible go that extra mile for customers? 

Our annual customer survey tells us Quality is our customers number one priority. Thus, we guarantee 100% quality compliance as well as a 100% guarantee that all deliveries are made on time, in full, within three days. If we fail to meet this target, we refund 20% of the order value. 

Our packaging audits, providing free customer Technical Training Workshops and a full Film and Print technical support package are unique in the industry.  

What can the industry expect in 2020 and beyond? 

We provide ‘The Academy’ presentation, ‘The Future of Flexible Packaging’. This is a 2 ½ to 3-hour presentation which has been seen by some 80 companies and 600 delegates. We recommend it to anyone genuinely interested in the future for food packaging as it deals with both the current challenges and future opportunities in the flexible packaging industry.