Packaging alternatives to benefit all stakeholders

Certifications in the UK for COPAR’s recyclable fibre-based packaging is a positive step in the companies push to reduce packaging waste.

Recent certifications in the UK for COPAR’s recyclable fibre-based packaging is a positive step in the companies push to reduce packaging waste.

Representatives from COPAR recently participated at London Packaging Week where they received a large amount of interest from the food and produce packaging market. 

Colin Farrell, Business Development Manager, COPAR, was at the event and said the feedback and questions received about the company’s alternative fibre-based packaging were very encouraging. 

Farrell said changes to legislation in the United Kingdom meant many food producers and brand owners were eagerly looking for alternatives to plastic-
based packaging. 

“The UK extended producer responsibility makes the brand owner responsible for the costs of dealing with their packaging waste,” he said. 

“We manufacture packaging that is compostable and now certified recyclable.  It is made from wheat straw – an agricultural waste product.   Our wheat straw packaging has just been certified as recyclable in the UK, and we now must work through that process in Australia with the ARL.” 

Farrell exhibited at London Packaging Week with COPAR’s international business director Vishnu Ramasamy who is also the founder and director of Hexcore, and packaging specialist. 

Ramasamy’s innovative work with paper and fibre-based packaging has been invaluable for COPAR and their latest findings have given rise to a great opportunity for these packaging specialists. 

“Today the entire concept for COPAR is about substituting plastics in food packaging and at the same time, maintain high levels of food safety to ensure there is no risk of contaminating the food,” he said. 

“We created the concept of substituting plastic with a natural source that is also agriculturally based, and wanted to upcycle something that was initially thought of as waste and move it over into a viable packaging scheme.” 

Ramasamy said that while many products, such as soft drink and milk bottles, can be reused and are being promoted as such, there were still areas in food packaging where this was not the case. Particularly with meat. 

“Meat is generally limited to one-time packaging, and this is a huge opportunity for us. Meat is something that can require a lot of customisations primarily because it actively contains microorganism growth, and we want to innovate a new packaging option for meat,” he said. 

“Most meat packaging is flushed with gases via the MAP process which preserves the food and protects it from harmful microorganisms.

“However, combining MAP compliance with both compostability and recyclability has proven to be challenging. 

“Our meat packaging concept is innovative because in addition to being both recyclable and compostable, it can be both MAP compliant and contain an anti- microbial treatment.  The anti-microbial treatment prevents the growth of microbes and can potentially extend the shelf life of the packaging and the product.”

“This is important because meat packaging is hygiene critical and opens up further opportunities to create packaging that reduces both food and packaging waste.”   

“The concept has been soft-launched in Sydney and London, and we have received a tremendous amount
of interest.” 

The interest spiked when Ramasamy announced they had come up with an alternative packaging solution for meat which could be recycled and even composted. 

“We had great conversations in London with stakeholders that are looking to change their packaging,”
said Ramasamy. 

“When we created this package, we had three important principles. Reduce, recycle, and repurpose. We had a lot of conversations with supermarkets who want to move away from plastics where possible.”

Ramasamy reiterated that changes in legislation around manufacturer responsibilities in packaging were key drivers behind the tremendous interest in COPAR and its alternative packaging options. 

Both Farrell and Ramasamy anticipate the same responsibilities will be imposed on Australian based manufacturers soon. 

“In Australia the Federal Government is currently devising the latest layer of strategy around plastic packaging and they have given some indication of what they wanted,” said Farrell.

“These laws will have implications for the design of the product from the start.” 

If this is the case, then as in the UK, COPAR will be perfectly placed to capitalise on the changes with packaging that will already help meet expectations. 

“We have a product that uses recyclable plastic but also plant based polymers,” said Farrell. 

“When supermarkets come to us, they talk about their commitments to reduce plastics. At the same time, they have declared reduction in carbon emissions. I saw this as an opportunity,” added Ramasamy. 

He said the product offers an 80 per cent reduction in plastics, which appears to be very attractive to major supermarkets that have already made public commitments to reduce plastic use and increase recyclability. 

“The next big option is recyclability, they don’t want plastic or fibre to go into land fill,” said Ramasamy. 

“What we did is recycle and repurpose packaging and our packaging has been lab tested and certified by the paper industry in the UK to accept our packaging across all paper mills for recycling. 

“We were able to solve those important aspects which is a big advantage.” 

And being a fully vertically integrated facility, the product can be manufactured from A to Z in one place, helping keep costs competitive. 

“Eventually we will be an equal price to what a recycled PET tray would be, which makes us a great option for supermarkets,” said Ramasamy. 

The meat tray product again provides a good example of the innovation created by the COPAR partnership
with Ramasamy. 

“The package is 100 per cent wheat straw and then we implant an innovation that heat seals in a PP or plant-based PLA lining onto the tray. That can make it MAP compliant,”said Farrell.

“What generally happens in the UK, if you want this tray, you rip off the PP or PLA lining which are both capable of being recycled, and the remaining tray is fully recyclable in a paper waste stream.

“Now, the PLA lining and wheat straw tray are still compostable too, which is even better because they naturally degrade with no harmful residue or microplastics impacting the environment.  A disadvantage with recycling food packaging is that if it is contaminated with food residue such as grease or fats, like what happens with a pizza box, it cannot be recycled and adds to waste. 

“However, our packaging can be composted, irrespective of whether it contains food waste or not. You have both compostable and recyclable capabilities which combined provides no excuse for why our packaging should disposed in landfill.” 

Another advantage created by COPAR and Ramasamy’s innovations addresses another common concern with recycling. In particular, recycled plastic packaging for reuse with food products. 

“It has been recently reported, that recycled plastics contain high levels of toxic chemicals, that means when heated, these chemicals can be released in high concentration and can contaminate food products,” said Farrell.

“This means, when you heat the same plastic over again, the chances of toxic gases being emitted increases. This is where we have an advantage, so when new legislation comes in, we think this will be addressed. 

“This is where the difference between why recycled plastic is good for a bottle and recycled plastic is not good for ready to meal products.” 

Farrell said because of this, their recyclable-compostable packaging concept would provide a great alternative for food markets such as ready-to-eat meals, because it mitigates this risk, by focusing on plant-based feedstocks and not using recycled plastic in the design.

“We already had recyclability initially certified at the start of this year, the progression in the product looks great, and we are very close to releasing it to the Australian market,” he added. 

Ramasamy said these were also prime examples of the proactive nature of what they have achieved and will continue to achieve. 

“We have been very innovative in developing products and remain proactive. We want to replace existing packaging with our alternatives. We see this as a big opportunity to reduce both plastic and food waste that will benefit the environment and safeguard future generations,” he said. 

“There is a benefit that is created for the consumer in terms of safety, and in terms of brands, it’s helping to reducing packaging waste along with a recyclability option.

“In terms of food manufacturers, it provides benefits in reducing the food waste. Every stakeholder is getting benefited by this packaging.” 

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