Design for recycling at Foodstuffs New Zealand
An Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) report calls for the replacement of ‘uncommon’ materials such as PS and EPS to promote market convergence to a smaller number of recyclable materials.
This is exactly what grocery retailer Foodstuffs New Zealand has done to improve the recyclability of its meat trays and seafood boxes.
In 2012 the company received ‘awards’ for worst packaging in a public poll called the ‘Unpackit NZ Packaging Award’, organised by community group Wanaka Wastebusters. The awards were for two of its own-label products: fresh vegetables on a polystyrene tray with plastic overwrap (first prize) and multi-meat packs that contained four individually wrapped pieces of meat on a polystyrene tray that was then wrapped in plastic (third prize).
The reason given by the organisers for these awards was that foamed polystyrene trays are not easily recycled in New Zealand. According to sustainability manager Mike Sammons, the negative media publicity that Foodstuffs received as a result of these awards and additional nominations in 2013 provided further impetus for a packaging redesign. The company made a corporate commitment to shift to 100 percent recyclable packaging for own-brand products.
Two design projects illustrate the company’s approach to packaging sustainability and recyclability. Both involved extensive consultation to understand the fate of packaging at end of life and collaboration with suppliers to find a better solution.
RECYCLABLE CARDBOARD SEAFOOD BOXES
A waste audit in stores revealed the high costs of managing used EPS seafood boxes. These included storage space at back-of-store, time spent breaking up boxes for disposal and waste collection costs.
The search for a new solution started with a reassessment of packaging requirements. EPS had been used for a long time because it keeps the product cool during transport. Consultation with supply chain partners revealed that seafood was transported in refrigerated vehicles, which meant that the packaging did not require high levels of insulation.
Foodstuffs approached packaging suppliers with a specification for cardboard seafood packaging that was manufactured from recycled material, was 100 percent recyclable and had slightly better insulation than a conventional cardboard box. Prototypes were developed and then tested to ensure that cool temperatures could be maintained throughout the supply chain. Following these tests, a new seafood box was rolled out for all Foodstuffs seafood in the North Island, and is being considered by independent suppliers.
RECYCLABLE PLASTIC MEAT TRAYS
Meat is traditionally packed on a black, foamed polystyrene tray, which is not recyclable in New Zealand. It also has a separate soaker pad. Plastic recyclers generally don’t accept foamed polystyrene, and meat juices create additional handling issues because of the potential for them to contain pathogens and bacteria.
Mike Sammons began by speaking to local councils and recyclers to find out which materials were recycled at kerbside, and what their preference would be for meat trays. After that a decision was made to use polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and preferably recycled PET (rPET). After two years of development Foodstuffs teamed up with a local New Zealand company, Alto Packaging, for its innovative and recyclable tray with 50 percent rPET.
Another design innovation is the ability of the trays to capture fluid in the dimpled base. This allows the tray to hold meat juices even when tilted or turned upside down, eliminating the need for a separate moisture pad.
The new meat trays were trialled in selected New World and Pak’nSave stores, before being rolled out nationally to 190 supermarkets. Foodstuffs aims to eventually utilise the new tray for all own-brand and fresh produce packaged instore.
The initiative received a Green Ribbon Award from the New Zealand Government in 2016.
This article also appears in Issue 6 of CWS magazine.
Image: Ruslan / 123RF Stock Photo