Nestlé pushes for EfW debate on mixed plastics

Nestlé has called for more lifecycle assessment around post-consumer mixed plastics, arguing that a there may be greater role for energy recovery in dealing with this waste stream.

Speaking at the Resource Recovery Forum’s summer conference in London today (July 3), Nestle’s head of packaging for UK & Ireland, David Wiggins, said more open debate was needed around energy-from-waste in treating waste plastics.

“As a packaging scientist, when I look at a pile of mixed plastics waste, I see a shedload of calories with which [with recycling] we are putting in more energy to recover,” he told delegates.

“I’m aware that some people in this room would say ‘over my dead body’ when it comes to burning plastics, but should we be getting that energy back? I challenge you to ask, what should we recover and what should we recycle?

“We really need a scientist to do some independent lifecycle assessment work on this. We have not got clearly defined answers to those questions yet,” he maintained.

Wiggins said that around 90% of Nestlé packaging was now recyclable and that the remaining 10% was mixed plastics, such as confectionery film laminates and pet food pouches.

While the company is working with two partners, Enval and RPC, to examine the best way of recovering this complex material through closed loop models, Wiggins cautioned that any packaging minimisation drives had to be carefully thought out.

“We have done an awful lot of work to decomplex our packaging, but there is still a lot we could do better. But we can’t go too far – we could end up making a good product dreadful,” he told delegates.

In many cases, he argued, packaging needed to be complex in order to maintain shelf life and product protection – coupled with the issue of consumer engagement in using “the right materials”.

According to Professor Rob Holdway, director of design consultancy Giraffe Innovation, much of the packaging debate needs to move from end-of-life to start-of-life.

“We need to design the product right to begin with. So many companies are producing excess packaging and it’s costing them money to do this. Design products so we can keep and utilise that packaging,” he argued.

Holdway cited an example of how his company has worked with The Co-operative on portion size innovation for chicken products, designing tear-off packaging strips for individual pieces of meat, creating more convenience for the consumer and resulting in less waste.

“A lot of food waste is down to packaging because people are restricted by what portion sizes they can buy. If they only want one chicken breast, but have to buy two or three, they could end up throwing away the remainder,” he said.

Maxine Perella

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