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Intelligent Sustainability

Following Amcor’s continued presence in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices, Matthew Rogerson spoke with David Clark, head of safety, environment and sustainability, to understand more about how Amcor addresses the area of sustainability and how they will continue to find innovative and efficient solutions to tackle the issue globally.

What is Amcor’s approach to sustainability?

Our sustainability strategy is delivered through a framework set out across five focus areas: Environment, Community, Workplace, Marketplace and Economy. As one of the world’s largest packaging companies, we have extensive expertise in designing more innovative sustainable packaging solutions for our customers. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to packaging. That’s why the design and development of packaging needs to be considered from a holistic view. Life cycle assessments our customers the end to end information required to make informed decisions about choosing the most sustainable packaging options. We now have over 4,200 live cycle assessments in our ASSET database, and leverage these collective insights in the product development phase.
As set out in the Marketplace section of our strategy, to ensure sustainability is always a core consideration, we have integrated life cycle considerations into our packaging development process in major parts of our business.

We’re also taking a more active role in product recovery efforts. For example, we are currently collaborating with groups like the Redcycle programme in Australia, the REFLEX project in the UK, and the Recycling Partnership in the USA. By getting involved and sharing our expertise, we learn more about how we can increase recovery and make it easier for consumers to dispose of their packaging responsibly.

What are the most important aspects of sustainability?

When we over-simplify, we get unintended outcomes. More than just doing a carbon footprint comparison or looking at what materials can be recycled, it is important to take the time to understand the entire life cycle of a product from its initial design right through to end of life.

We also need to continue to work together to find new solutions. Many sustainability concerns are too complex to address by a single organisation. When our co-workers collaborate internally, and also externally with suppliers, customers and others in our value chains, we see some really amazing projects and results that we could never achieve on our own. These results touch all aspects of our sustainability programme, from reducing our environmental footprint and improving workplace safety, to investing in communities where we operate, lowering our business risk and improving environmental and financial performance.

What does the circular economy in packaging mean at Amcor?

Amcor’s approach to responsible packaging includes using a full life cycle approach to minimising environmental impacts. We consider total energy use, resource use, supply chain and other impacts in addition to the waste recovery.

We are involved in a number of groups that are collaborating to find new solutions for packaging end of life. For example, the Redcycle programme in Australia places bins to collect flexible packaging in local grocery stores. Creating opportunities for consumers to recycle, the programme collects material that would have ended up as waste and re-purposes it into new products.

Amcor is providing both funding and offering expertise to help the programme continue to grow and reach even more consumers.
In the UK there is the Reflex programme, which aims to create a circular economy for flexible packaging and divert it from landfill. To achieve this, innovative flexible package designs are required, where all the materials used can be reprocessed together. With the backing of global brands who see consumer value in offering recyclable packaging, industry-wide guidelines for recyclable packaging will be agreed and disseminated.

Is bio-based packaging taking off?

Amcor produces several products using bio-based materials. We make bags for fruits and vegetables which are bio-based and compostable. We worked on Seed Sensations, a Hovis product launched using renewable PE bags. This is really exciting as the bread bags made with renewable plastics have a 75% lower product carbon footprint than the former traditional bread bags made with plastics.

However, as I said earlier, it is essential that we consider all of the impacts when using new materials for packaging. One challenge is that with conventional materials from petroleum our LCAs have primarily focused on energy and carbon footprint. With bio-based materials we have to take agricultural feedstock impacts into consideration, like water use, land use, and other natural capital and social impacts.

It’s hard to say what portion of the packaging market will shift to bio-based plastics. Cost is certainly a consideration. I do anticipate that new bio-plastics on the horizon may have better performance characteristics that may help justify a higher cost.