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Sustainable packaging: protecting products and the planet

Conference

July
022021

13:45 - 17:00

Overview

This Royal Society symposium brought together stakeholders from the packaging industry to highlight new approaches to replace, reuse, or remove plastic from packaging and discussed how green materials aren't so clear cut.

Recordings of the discussion are available online:

Compostable plastics: unlocking existing barriers to system change

Influencing consumer attitude and behaviour towards packaging

Credit: Waste recycling plant

Background

Packaging has transformed the manner and extent to which we can safely transport and store goods, but our current system is failing. Studies suggest that only 14% of plastic packaging used globally is collected for recycling and only 10% of all plastic recycled has been so more than once. Around 40% currently ends its useful life in landfill.

Tackling waste and establishing a circular plastics economy will play a vital role in making the packaging industry sustainable.

From designing effective and affordable materials to mining discarded plastic, this event will showcase global disruptors and policymakers who are working to reduce, reuse or revolutionise plastic at every level of the packaging life cycle.

About the conference series

This scientific meeting is part of the Royal Society’s Transforming our Future conference series generously supported by AstraZeneca. These meetings are unique, high-level events that address the scientific and technical challenges of the next decade. Each conference features cutting edge science from industry and academia and brings together leading experts from the scientific community, including regulatory, charity and funding bodies.

Event organisers

Select an organiser for more information

Schedule of talks

02 July

13:45-13:50

Opening Remarks

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Professor Jas Pal Badyal FRS, Professor of Chemistry, Durham University

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13:50-14:10

Developing, manufacturing and introducing new sustainable packaging materials and products into the food sector

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Peter Hargreaves, Partnership Business Development Director, The Alexir Partnership

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14:10-15:25

Emerging disruptive technologies

6 talks Show detail Hide detail

David Christian, Founder and CEO, Evo & Co

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Rhea Mazumdar Singhal, Founder & CEO, Ecoware

Abstract

Sir David Attenborough has described plastic pollution as an unfolding catastrophe that we ignore at our peril. We recognised this problem 10 years ago and founded Ecoware to provide sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic packaging. Ecoware repurposes common agricultural waste such as sugarcane bagasse and rice straw with little commercial value into hugely popular fully compostable products for use in food services, medical care and e-commerce packaging. Ecoware is a key stakeholder in the circular economy demonstrated by its success in creating positive outcomes for its shareholders, employees and society at large.

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Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, CoCEO and Founder, Notpla, Senior Lecturer, Kingston University

Abstract

Notpla is a London based start-up with the goal of making packaging disappear. Their product Ooho is an edible package made of seaweed that can contain water or any other liquid. Nowadays, it is used in several sporting events, such as the London Marathon and Roland Garros. The company is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, and won the World Technology Award by Fortune and TIME.

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Dr Sebastian Kernbaum, Founder & CTO, saperatec

Abstract

Within plastics packaging, the multilayer packaging has gained increasing volumes during the past years as they combine various advantages: light weight, stability, longer shelf time and barrier functionality just to mention a few. Unfortunately, the recycling of multilayer materials is not yet disseminated; most of the materials are incinerated. Saperatec develops recycling technology based on so-called separation fluids to recover individual secondary raw materials. It forms one approach to extend the state-of the art mechanical recycling to “advanced mechanical recycling” and enables access to the materials in the composite system without changes of properties. The technology as well as examples are presented; an overview of the qualities to be received is given as well as occurring plastic recycling technologies are classified.

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“Have expiry dates expired?” How to reduce waste, improve consumer satisfaction and boost the bottom line

Solveiga Pakštaitė, Founder & Director, Mimica

Abstract

Mimica is a design-led UK company with a mission to radically reduce unnecessary food waste caused by overcautious expiry dates. Mimica’s first product, Mimica Touch is a patented label/bottle cap that turns bumpy when food or drinks should no longer be consumed, based on actual temperature conditions.

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Dr Stuart Wagland, Senior Lecturer in Energy & Environmental Chemistry, Cranfield University

Abstract

There are over 20,000 closed landfills across the UK, many of which contain significant resources and/or are in locations suitable for redevelopment. The remediation of sites is challenging due to the costs and risks associated with legacy wastes contained within; the concept of enhanced landfill mining [ELFM] aims to maximise recovery of resources to offset the costs of site remediation. Resource opportunities exist in the form of metals, presenting potential for use as secondary raw materials; plastics are abundant in closed landfill sites and cannot be readily recycled in the same way source-segregated plastics can be. This presentation will explore the availability of plastics contained within landfills and discuss how they can be upcycled to produce new products.  

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Break 15:25-15:40

15:40-16:00

Compostable plastics: unlocking existing barriers to systems change

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Professor Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials & Society, UCL

Abstract

UK companies are now offering a vast range of biodegradable and compostable bioplastics that are designed to replace single-use plastic packaging in products such as nappies, wipes, and take-away food packaging and ready-meal trays. We report the results of our citizen science experiment, the Big Compost Experiment, that 84% of our participants are hugely enthusiastic about this and are more likely to buy packaging labelled as "biodegradable" or "compostable". However, our behaviour analysis show that most citizens are confused about biodegradable plastics, both in terms of what they are and how to compost them. We report on results which demonstrate that 68% of items remain intact or partially degraded within the home composting timeframes. We describe our ongoing research into the chemistry and biochemistry of biodegradation of compostable biopolymers using industrial processing methods and home composting methods. We also report on our systems analysis work which has led to our current policy recommendations for a functioning system for compostable plastics in the UK. 

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16:00-17:00

Panel: Influencing consumer attitudes and behaviour towards packaging

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Chairs

Dr Geoff Mackey, Corporate Affairs & Sustainability Director, BASF

Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, CoCEO and Founder, Notpla, Senior Lecturer, Kingston University
Professor Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials & Society, UCL
Matthew S. Seidner, Senior Advisor, McKinsey & Company
Claire Shrewsbury, Director Insights & Innovation, WRAP

Abstract

The panel discussion will focus on understanding and influencing consumer attitudes and behaviours towards packaging waste. From how we recycle to what we purchase, panellists will discuss how to best engage with the consumer to ensure the mass uptake and correct use of the most sustainable technologies on offer in the packaging industry.

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