How Kellogg Europe is targeting a sector-wide shift to sustainable packaging

EXCLUSIVE: As consumer and investor demand for sustainable packaging rises, companies within the global food and drink sector must co-create solutions to resource efficiency and recycling infrastructure challenges with their competitors, consumers and supply chains.

That is according to Kellogg Europe’s senior director of sustainability and corporate communications Rupert Maitland-Titterton, who played an instrumental role in the company’s recent move to set a target of ensuring that 100% of its packaging is either recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

Announced in October as an update to the multinational’s Sustainability 2020 strategy, the commitment includes an interim goal of developing a bio-based material for its cereal pouches – which must be classed as recyclable in all Kellogg’s markets – by the end of 2019.

Speaking exclusively to edie, Maitland-Titterton explained that achieving a smooth switch from oil-based to bio-based pouches – and future successes with upcoming packaging changes – was dependent on both “forward-facing” conversations with consumers and “backwards-facing” discussions with packaging manufacturers and the waste management industry.

“In our current system, the moment someone opens up their regular household bin and puts the packaging in, it’s waste and there is nothing more you can do,” he said.

“The existing economics and value chain mean that item has no worth, meaning it will either get burnt or sent to landfill. So until that system changes, you have to create an awareness in people’s minds that once they are finished with that packaging, they must actively select to put it in a recycling bin.

“That said, it’s unreasonable to expect people to take all the action themselves. Food companies also need to work with suppliers, agencies, waste management firms and other stakeholders in order to design their packaging for recycling and play their part in improving existing infrastructure.”

In order to ensure that its packaging can be classed as recyclable or compostable within existing waste management systems, Kellogg Europe has begun auditing the recycling structures in its top 25 markets.

According to Maitland-Titterton, who is appearing at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum in February 2019 (scroll down for details), this exercise will ensure that the company has the maximum impact possible in diverting packaging from landfill and avoids accusations of greenwashing.

“We can’t just have a packaging solution that works in one region or country – it has to make a difference around the world,” he explained.

“The challenges that we face are big for companies like ours, so we – and others – are going to have to undertake ambitious projects in place to come up with equally big solutions.”

Communicating with consumers

Maitland-Titterton cited growing consumer awareness of the negative impacts of plastic pollution, coupled with falling awareness of the benefits of plastic use, as a challenge facing Kellogg’s sustainable packaging efforts.

The company is currently unable to remove the inner pouches from its cereal boxes as they prevent the product from absorbing odours and chemicals that would make it unsafe for consumption, for example, and uses similar packaging to protect from damage in transit, prolong product life and reduce food waste.

However, with plastic set to overtake price as the top concern of European shoppers, Maitland-Titterton said these benefits were often forgotten by consumers, leaving businesses at risk of making “knee-jerk” reactions which could lead to unintended negative consequences elsewhere.

“The issue is not as simple as saying that single-use plastic is bad and cardboard is good – it’s more nuanced, but the challenge lies in communicating this in a way that a child could understand,” he explained.

“Normally, there is the sensible interpretation that if you can use less packaging and the packaging you do use can be made more sustainable, why wouldn’t you make those changes?”

For Kellogg, this approach has led to a commitment to ensuring that all paper-based packaging is either recycled or certified as sustainably sourced, along with moves to “design out” packaging by reducing box size, thickness and weight.

It has also seen the firm commit to achieving the objectives of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which include the elimination of single-use plastic items.

Kellogg is one of more than 250 organisations to have signed the commitment, with other big-name signatories including Danone, Unilever, Mars, PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company. Major packaging producers including Amcor and Mondi, as well as waste management firms like Veolia and SUEZ, have also signed up to the commitment – signalling that change is underway in all areas of global packaging value chains.

For Maitland-Titterton, collaboration of this kind and scale is “fundamental” if the food and drink industry is to play its part in global preventing plastic pollution, which is believed to have reached unprecedented levels in recent years.

“The food industry can’t tackle this challenge on its own, but there’s a great sense of excitement and momentum about the scale of the opportunity the sector has here, because we want to make a difference,” he concluded.

Rupert Maitland-Titterton at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum

Kellog Europe’s senior director of sustainability and corporate communications Rupert Maitland-Titterton will appear at Day Two of edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum, to discuss how businesses of all sizes and sectors can embed sustainability into their core operations. 

He will be speaking alongside representatives from the Woodland Trust, IHG, Whitbread and Helistrat, who will debate what the future of sustainability leadership looks like. 

The two-day event, taking place 5 & 6 February 2019 at the Building Design Centre, London, will also include debates on how to solve the plastics crisis and the state of corporate action on sustainable packaging. 

For more information and to register for the Forum, click here.

Sarah George

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