Packaging continues to provide a significant challenge to companies looking to cut back on their environmental impacts, but new achievements in the tech and food industries indicate that progress is being made.
Two years after launching its forestry program, tech giant Apple has announced that 320,000 acres of forest in China are now certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and that it has enough sustainable working forest to cover the paper used in packaging for all of its products.
The program was launched in 2015 with a five-year partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to transition up to one million acres of forest across the southern provinces of China into responsible management by 2020.
The company’s first goal was to certify 300,000 acres of forests under the FSC system, which it has reached — and exceeded — in just two years. To achieve the goal, Apple worked with companies in the Hunan and Guangxi provinces, one of which will be the largest FSC-certified plantation area in the Chinese pulp and paper sector. The companies worked in partnership with WWF to create forest management plans and train their employees to identify High Conservation Value Forest, both of which are required for FSC certification.
In April, Apple released its 2017 Environmental Responsibility Report, in which it revealed ambitious new plans to develop a closed-loop model for its supply chain and pledged to focus on using only renewable or recycled materials. This latest announcement demonstrates an important step forward in achieving this goal and the company says it will continue to look for new ways to cut down on packaging and develop technologies that use paper more efficiently. In 2016, 62 percent of the 131,000 metric tons of fiber Apple used was recycled and 38 percent was virgin fiber from responsibly managed sources. Less than one percent was virgin fiber that did not comply with Apple’s sustainable fiber specification.
According to Mondelēz, improvements in packaging technologies that require less material were instrumental to the company’s success. Thinner packaging for its Oreo cookies resulted in 1,496 metric tons of cartons saved over a six-year period between 2010 – 2016 in the North America region, while the elimination of shippers in the Asia, Middle East and Africa market allowed Mondelēz to eliminated 1,297 metric tons of corrugated paper.
In addition to reducing waste at the point of production, the company favors materials that can easily be recycled by consumers and retailers. In Europe, 75 percent of Mondelēz’s packaging is made from paper, glass or metal that is either recycled or recyclable.
“Around 70 percent of our paper-based packaging is from recycled sources. The remaining 25 percent are predominantly thin, flexible films, which are optimized to limit food waste and spoilage,” the company told Confectionary News. “These films are already, in principle, designed to facilitate recyclability, where facilities exist. Over 80 percent of these films already meet these criteria and we are moving the remainder of our flexible packaging to single materials where possible.”
While the company has already achieved considerable progress in reducing the impact of its packaging, challenges remain — including current regulations which prohibit the use of post-consumer recycled materials for packaging that comes in direct contact with food. Mondelēz, however, remains hopeful and will continue to seek out new solutions that allow it to use materials more efficiently while working towards its sustainability goals.