Why a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing
Attendees of the recent excellent annual Recoup conference will have heard a plea from a speaker calling for packaging manufacturers to be forced to include a minimum percentage of recycled content in their packaging. As we have seen from other issues raised in similar forums, it is not inconceivable that such a proposal eventually enters into the thinking of at least one of the devolved Governments. What the proposers of this policy neglect to consider is that even above environment there is an even bigger issue namely the protection of public health for which packaging plays a crucial role. Responsible packaging producers spend considerable sums to ensure their packaging meets the requirements of food contact material regulations. The imposition of a minimum recycled content would therefore lead to uncertainty as to whether the resultant packaging would meet the regulations. A number of FPA members have directed me towards packaging produced outside the EU that contains recycled material which has been ‘modified’ by the use of optical brightening agents to look like packaging made from 100% virgin material. This, of course, is likely to breach regulations and the FPA is working hard to gain the attention of Governments in ensuring food contact material legislation is enforced. FPA members by agreeing the FPA Code of Practice undertake not to place on the market packaging which does not meet regulations.
By working to protect public heath and safety and also reducing food waste (again an objective I believe transcends other issues) the foodservice packaging sector is able to answer the criticisms that are lobbed our way. A recent example is a Times article with the double whammy headline “Worse packaging crimes than plastic bags”. The author takes a swipe at Happy Meals, cucumbers and Easter eggs. Sadly the author feels its worth trading less packaging for an increase in food waste as in the case of cucumbers the reduction of the ‘condom’ (Times’ words) lead to the life of cucumbers being shortened and so wasted while an experiment to reduce the amount of packaging on Easter eggs resulted in unsurprisingly smashed and unsellable Easter eggs.
Food safety and food waste are the critical issues and go along way to explaining why packaging is what it is. Both the minimum recycled content proposer and the Times author could benefit from the work of INCPEN and the Fresher for Longer campaign. A little more knowledge might well be of benefit.