Protect and serve

31 October 2019



There’s no hard sell when it comes to paper and carton. Consumers keen to live responsibly are already on board, particularly those who are keen to limit their dependence on plastic, and with paper easily recyclable in standard collections, it’s not hard to keep it in the circular economy. But what are its limits? Emma-Jane Batey asks brand-owners, retail giants and associations their thoughts.


Paper, board and corrugated board are widely used across sectors, from low-cost to luxury, and FMCG to fragrances. Offering excellent protection in transportation, multiple branding opportunities and easy consumer engagement, this responsible substrate family is relatively cheap and highly flexible.

Responsible incentive

For major UK retailer Marks & Spencer, its appreciation of paper and board is a key element in its widely praised ‘Plan A’ initiative that commits to reducing reliance on plastic across its global operations. Plan A supports M&S’s target of becoming a zero-waste business by 2025, with considerable achievements already such as phasing out 75 million pieces of plastic cutlery, offering a £0.25 incentive to customers using reusable cups at its cafés, and eliminating over 1,700t of harder-to-recycle black plastic packaging.

Louise Nicholls, head of food sustainability at M&S, says, “We’re proud to launch a series of market-leading initiatives to help our customers take home less plastic. We know our customers want to play their part in cutting out plastic, while as a business our goal is to become zero-waste by 2025. That’s why we’re working hard to reduce the amount of plastic we use without compromising on food quality and contributing to waste.”

$85.24 billion
The predicted value of the global paper packaging market by 2024.
Mordor Intelligence

Currently, M&S offers widely recyclable single-use containers in its Market Place locations, primarily made from Forestry Stewardship Council-approved (FSC) cardboard with a plastic lid. But as the retailer steps up its commitment to cutting singleuse packaging, it has trialled lines of completely packaging-free fruit and vegetables at its Tolworth store. The successful trial introduced trained greengrocers to help customers select their produce and includes compostable punnets for perishable items like soft fruits and berries.

4.1%
The expected CAGR between 2019–24.
Mordor Intelligence

Nicholls explains, “Our trial at Tolworth is an important milestone in our plastic reduction journey and bringing back the traditional greengrocer will play a key part in educating our customers. Our plan is to create long-term impact in the future using tangible insights from the Tolworth store trial.”

M&S is vocal with its Plan A initiative, stating clearly its goals and time frame, with many of the aims focused on cutting single-use plastics, reducing packaging overall, and introducing more responsible packaging options where no packaging is not an option. It’s ‘ultimate goal’ is to achieve a circular economy where ‘we use less plastic and any we do use gets reused or recycled’, with its three key actions listed as ‘reducing the plastic we use in our business, working collaboratively to reform the UK’s waste and recycling system, and making it easier for consumers to recycle and reuse plastic’.

Paul Willgoss, director of food technology at M&S, says, “Our priority is to reduce single-use packaging and ensure any we do use can be reused or recycled, as we work towards our 2022 target for all our packaging to be widely recycled. Food-to-go is a growing market so finding solutions in this space in an important part of our wider plan. Our Market Place containers are already widely recyclable, but we want to go a step further with the introduction of an incentive to encourage customers to switch to reusable containers.”

“Our priority is to reduce single-use packaging and ensure any we do use can be reused or recycled, as we work towards our 2022 target for all our packaging to be widely recycled.”
Paul Willgoss, Marks & Spencer

The new paper packaging

Going a step further seems to be a popular refrain across brand-owners, retailers and manufacturers. Everyone knows what the legal requirements are, but isn’t doing a little (or a lot) more something to celebrate? That’s certainly what disruptive packaging producer Vegware believes. Vegware develops and manufactures compostable, plant-based packaging for food service applications as a high-performance alternative to plastic with all the consumer appeal of paper and carton.

Offering hot and cold drink cups, takeout boxes and food containers made from renewable, lower carbon or recycled materials, all of which can be easily recycled or composted. Distributing worldwide with operational bases in the UK, the US, Australia and Hong Kong, Vegware prides itself on being both ‘a manufacturer and a visionary brand’. Lucy Frankel, environmental and communications director of Vegware, states, “Broadly speaking, Vegware’s product range is a combination of plant fibres and compostable polymers. Given the recent awareness in the challenges of conventional plastics, we have seen a huge shift towards plantbased materials.”

Frankel continues, “Paper products do a fantastic job of visually communicating that they are different. A good example is our colourful Hula paper cold cups, which are lined with PLA, or our new premium paper straws. Compliance is vital to a trusted brand like Vegware – we sell to 70 countries around the world. We have the deepest set of compostability certification in our sector, and run composting trials to ensure our products work with local waste infrastructures.”

In the true spirit of going one step further, Vegware has also set up its own composting collection service, called Close the Loop, in order to make it as easy as possible for its customers and their consumers to do the right thing. Frankel adds, “Close the Loop sees us collect clients’ used Vegware and food waste for commercial composting, creating high-grade compost in a matter of weeks. So your catering waste helps to feed future crops.”

Any virgin card or paper used by Vegware comes from a responsible forestry source with a recognised chain of custody, and the brand loves to use recycled card and paper wherever possible to ‘save virgin materials’. All its products are certified food-safe, certified compostable, and have a traceable supply chain. Frankel adds, “We are proud of our sustainable supply chain. Our fully traceable products are made in quality controlled conditions from sustainably sourced or recycled materials. Minimising waste and maximising transport efficiency gives benefit all round.”

Perhaps ‘benefit all round’ could be an effective call to action across the packaging industry? We all know that the positive focus on creating and actioning a circular economy is crucial to achieving the global directives for single-use plastic reduction as well as increasing use of renewable packaging substrates such as paper and carton.

For leading global food and beverage giant Danone, its strategy of focusing on ‘inspiring healthier, and more sustainable eating and drinking practices’ comes together under its ‘One Planet. One Health’ vision.

Virtuous vision

Danone’s ‘One Planet. One Health’ vision includes a set of defined goals to be achieved by 2030 and is building on health-focused and fast-growing categories in three business areas – essential dairy and plant-based products, waters and specialised nutrition. Based on the belief that the health of the people and the planet is interconnected, ‘One Planet. One Health’ aims to bring to life ‘super, sustainable, profitable value’ for its stakeholders while delivering innovative, sustainably packaged food and beverages for its customers worldwide.

Danone’s portfolio includes household names including Volvic, evian, Activia and Cow & Gate. With more than 100,000 employees worldwide generating €24.7 billion in sales in 2018, Danone is clearly achieving its long-term mission of ‘bringing health food to as many people as possible’.

As global packaging quality assurance manager at Danone, Patrick Pagliarani is dedicated to supporting the global giant’s mission and vision through sourcing innovative packaging solutions. “In the journey to get away from plastic packaging, Danone has chosen paper as one of its paths to follow,” Pagliarani says. “Various packaging formats fully or partially composed of paper will replace plastic, upgrading Danone products in sustainability and making them more premium.”

Danone is already using an average of 14% rPET in its water and other beverage bottles, with the expectation of this reaching 50% by 2025. Its evian brand already uses 30% rPET, with the aim of reaching 100% by 2025. Emmanuel Faber, chairman and CEO of Danone, said in a statement, “We believe the time is now to step up and accelerate, embrace our responsibility and work with others to engage a radical shift that will help free the world from packaging waste. We will be acting both at global and local level to ensure circularity of packaging becomes the new norm. Today, we are announcing a series of investments and commitments that – I believe – will have a concrete impact. These will be amplified as we collaborate with industry peers, governments, NGOs, start-ups and the finance sector; harness new technologies and invest in new solutions.”

Out of the box

The increasing awareness and importance of environmental issues has led to some of the biggest brands switching to alternatives to plastic, and creative packaging supplier BoxMart has rapidly emerged as a leader in providing award-winning cardboard packaging using both cartonboard and corrugated board.

Jo Offord, BoxMart managing director, says, “Like most people, I think we’d have to say that the David Attenborough Blue Planet II documentary caused everyone to think about plastics in a different way. Thankfully, we’ve always been a forward-thinking business and, being focussed on paper-based packaging – both cartonboard and corrugated board, we were already established as a key supplier of environmentally friendly alternatives. This, coupled with our infrastructure and extremely innovative development team, has meant that we’ve been ideally placed to recommend options and solutions to our clients whether in materials, print finishes or constructional design.”

Offord continues, “We have seen a dramatic increase in enquiries and demand for alternatives to plastic. Plastic-free drinks packaging has become a significant growth area for us and it is a trend that is replicated across different sectors such as beauty, gifting and ecommerce. Though there has been some controversy around packaging generally in recent years, I think the industry is starting to communicate its value to the public, as well as striving to address their sustainability concerns. Take corrugated packaging for example, it’s associated with values of strength, versatility, durability and renewability; who wouldn’t want to be associated with that?”

For all stakeholders in the packaging value chain, the common denominator is a willingness to change and an understanding that change is required. While there may be differences in how that change should be implemented – from defining what responsibility lies with whom at each stage of the circular economy’s value chain – we can all agree that standing still is not an option. By choosing responsible, sustainable packaging that is made from substrates that meet the changing demands of the world’s leading brands as well as the expectations of conscientious consumers, the packaging industry can be truly part of the solution. 

M&S is striving to reduce packaging for its fruit and veg selection.
Vegware produces compostable, plant-based packaging for food service applications as a high-performance alternative to plastic.


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