pack4sustainability: synergised knowledge regarding sustainable packaging

The VDMA’s Association for “Food Processing and Packaging Machinery” has posted on the net a new knowledge portal themed around sustainable packaging and the associated technologies. Why and what for – Project Manager Margret Menzel explains in an interview.

Ms Menzel, the knowledge portal has been created within the framework of the “pack4sustainability” initiative. What is the goal involved?

The poor image of packages, and  plastic packages in particular, the unclear outcome of legislatory initiatives – like the EU’s plastics strategy and the German Packaging Act – and the increasing pressure from consumers are meanwhile also affecting packaging machinery manufacturers: they are not only seen as co-responsible for the incidence of plastic waste, but their customers are anxious and holding back with capital investment.

We are also observing that the discussion about plastic packaging is being very emotively conducted. The pictures of dead fish in the sea with plastic in their stomachs, and of rubbish-strewn beaches, are indubitably alarming. But the issue is multi-layered and complex, and needs to be considered as an interconnected whole.

Our new knowledge portal is accordingly adopting a holistic approach. We are aiming to approach things from different viewpoints and perspectives, to underpin information with data, facts and vivid graphics, and thus to make an objective contribution to the plastics debate.

What information can be found on the portal, and for whom is it intended?

On our portal, you will find in summarised form relevant laws and ordinances from Germany and abroad, general information on sustainability and the circular economy, and on the functions and value of packages, plus vivid informational graphics and above all examples of sustainably operating companies.

The primary target group is our member companies and their customers. For them, we’ve edited the relevant knowledge dispassionately, and synergised it as a compact source of information. What’s more, the portal is intended for anyone interested who wants neutral, objective information themed around sustainable packaging. After in the first step making available a broad spectrum of basic knowledge, we shall in the next step be shifting the focus to technologies and to what is currently happening on the research and development scene. So it’s well worth while taking a look quite often.

The issue of packaging and sustainability  is the subject of heated discussions. What is the VDMA’s stance in this debate?

In the public’s perception, packages are now mostly regarded merely as waste. But that is short-sighted. Packages are not evil in themselves; it’s humans who are polluting the natural environment through careless disposal. In the discussion, the function and value of packaging are often underestimated. Because without it many foods and beverages couldn’t be used for consumption at all, in fact they wouldn’t even reach the consumer. Without packages, moreover, the shelf-life of many products would be severely restricted. This would lead to further losses, which in the overall life-cycle assessment often have a more  deleterious effect than the package itself. Thus the package should never be considered in isolation, but always in connection with the product being packaged.

The VDMA is not advising in favour of or against a particular packaging material. This is because the packaging machinery manufacturers offer innovative technologies for all packaging materials and a highly disparate array of needs. Rather, you should take a careful look at what packaging material is the right choice in which application category and in what composition. There are numerous aspects to be considered here, like safety, hygiene, product protection or the weight, which in its turn is reflected in  the figures for transportation and C02 emissions. You have to loo k at the  life-cycle assessment as a whole.

Irrespective of the packaging material involved, the packaging machinery manufacturers thus offer fit-for-purpose solutions and technologies that are mandatory under statute law, that the market needs. and that minimise environmental impact. The sector’s innovative vigour is primarily aimed at repeatedly making a new contribution towards ensuring that less packaging waste is produced, more packaging is recycled, and sustainability is already incorporated in the package’s design.