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The Case for Plastic in an “Anti-Plastic” World

With the wider population becoming more aware of environmental concerns, I spoke to Simon Burrow, Commercial Director at TrakRap, to discuss how the “anti-plastic” movement has sparked innovation within the consumer manufacturing businesses. 

plastic bag in ocean

Achieving a step change in plastic reduction needs genuine innovation, right now

I met with Simon on the 10th of December 2018, exactly 12 months to the day after David Attenborough’s Blue Planet episode “Oceans of Wonder” depicted in graphic detail, how plastic is severely damaging our environment. 

The first thing Simon said to me was, “that [the] programme changed all of our lives forever and specifically in the way in which we perceive plastic; plastic was made out to be the devil incarnate, but not all of it is bad. Used responsibly, the right sort of plastic can be more environmentally friendly than cardboard and this is particularly important in the food industry, where packaging is a key driver in meeting our everyday shopping needs and where one of the biggest opportunities lies to reduce the amount of plastic waste that we produce.”

Not all plastic is bad

Simon went on to explain, “In fresh food, plastic plays an important part in extending the shelf life of fruit and vegetables, which in turn reduces the amount of food waste that we create. We therefore have a dilemma, stop using plastic and save the oceans or keep using it and reduce food waste.”

However, he passionately believes that this dilemma is resolvable. He said, “There is ‘good’ plastic such as LLDPE that is ‘closed loop’ recyclable and ‘bad’ plastic like PVC that is not. By using the right sort of plastic and creating a ‘closed loop’ recycling regime, which effectively separates substrates and keeps them uncontaminated by non-recyclables (such as sticky labels and packing tape), we can use plastic responsibly to reduce food waste as well as keeping our oceans clean.” 

Most of us watch programmes like the Blue Planet exposé and agree that something should be done about the problem—but what are we really doing about it? Simon has personally taken action and said, “Blue Planet made me think carefully about how I could make my own contribution to plastic reduction and after much research, I took on the role of Commercial Director for TrakRap.”

Innovation is key

TrakRap is a highly innovative end-of-line packaging specialist based in Skelmersdale. The business is privately funded and for the past five years has been investing heavily in a new packaging concept which replaces the heat tunnel and/or corrugate case packer at the end of a production line and delivers some quite amazing benefits: 

  • c70% reduction in plastic/c40% reduction in corrugate usage
  • c90% reduction in energy consumption (with the associated reduction in CO2)
  • c20% average reduction in overall cost
  • Uses no heat and is therefore suitable for fresh/chilled/frozen goods as well as ambient
  • Has the potential to improve line speed
  • Reduces the time taken to merchandise in store, thereby generating savings in merchandising time for the retailer
  • Uses LLDPE, RPET and corrugate substrates, is fully recyclable and is aligned to the ‘closed loop’ utopia that we should all be striving to achieve
  • Pack size flexibility giving the ability to change pack sizes very quickly (almost at the touch of a button)
  • Can be funded on a ‘pay-per-use’ basis, therefore no need for Capex provision
  • Is fully Industry 4/IOT ready

Simon said that when he first saw the TrakRap business he was amazed at the level of innovation they had achieved, and I can understand why. Their relevance seems perfectly timed for the FMCG industry and the feedback that Simon received across the trade was very positive indeed. He said, “The proof for me was when one of the large supermarkets started installing these machines into their own cooked meat businesses and now want to roll them out further across the supply base. Given the pressures that everyone is under to reduce costs and take plastic and other waste out of the supply chain, and the need to become aligned to the goal of ‘closed loop’ recycling, I believe that what TrakRap have created is truly game changing for any industry that currently employs heat tunnels in their end-of-line packaging process.”

Change your thinking

Simon had a very clear message to all of us, “As TrakRap’s Commercial Director, I feel that I am now doing my bit for the environment by providing a very real alternative to heat-based shrink tunnels and am helping to deliver significant reductions in CO2 emissions at the same time. It is only through innovative thinking that we will change the way we operate today, and I would challenge everyone to think carefully about how they can do things differently in the future to reduce the impact of packaging waste on our environment.

After all, as Albert Einstein was reputed to have said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Final thoughts 

It’s great to see organisations like TrakRap investing in their processes to make an environmental difference by enabling FMCG manufacturers to significantly reduce their packaging waste while at the same time saving money. 

The big learning for me was that not all plastic is ‘bad’. Rather than just removing it at any cost, we should think carefully about using the easily recyclable versions such as RPET and LLDPE responsibly because if they are recycled properly, they can offer significant benefits in terms of reducing food waste without damaging our precious planet!

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