The challenge of sustainable packaging
Climate Change has become the defining issue of our time, especially in light of statistics such as those released by the European Parliament last year which revealed that only 30% of Europe’s plastic is recycled. Consumers are urging for change. Demand for sustainable packaging has therefore taken centre stage and, with an EU directive on single-use plastics set to come into force in 2021, organisations are already looking toward the plastic alternatives which they can begin implementing now.
Single-use plastic alternatives are under the spotlight and companies are focusing on alternatives. Dr Stefan Stadler, Team Lead at Domino’s Laser Academy, looks at why brands need to work closely with coding before they start looking at greener options, and marking experts to ensure that their new packaging alternatives will meet all of their requirements.
With an EU directive banning single-use plastics – such as cutlery, cups, cotton buds, straws, and balloon sticks – set to come into place in 2021, more environmentally-friendly options are already being evaluated. Petroleum-based material and multi-layer plastic films for food packaging are examples which are already in use. However, bio-based and recyclable alternatives are still being explored for their viability.
Despite the availability of numerous packaging alternatives, these substitutes can also present their own challenges. Respectively, the modifications to material can impact coding and marking operations, making the possibility of roll out even more complex. Due to this, many organisations begin to question whether it is possible to become more sustainable, meet the legislative demands, and keep their current coding and marking set up intact; doubts which can ultimately hold brands back from pursuing these options.
With companies setting ambitious sustainable packaging goals in order to get ahead of the competition and meet regulatory requirements, there has been a surge of new organic materials gaining recognition among manufacturers. To date, few of these materials have been fully adopted industry-wide, and there’s a reason for this. Although plant-based materials – such as starch – present themselves as an operable and sustainable solution, when it comes to an important stage of the packaging process (coding) the issue stands as to whether they can be coded to the same standard as their plastic predecessor. It is this factor which can ultimately stand in the way of commercial adoption.
A coding and marking system fit for use
A change in packaging material can pose some challenges to laser marking technology. Because of this, having the ability to understand how different substrates respond and react to light enables companies – depending on what the process uncovers – to select an appropriate laser setting for testing.
Post-laser, evaluation of the code quality as well as how the material has withstood the process needs to be measured through a range of scientific technologies. Code quality is analysed using barcode systems and camera validation, and powerful 3D microscopes determine how the laser has impacted the substrate. This will ultimately dictate whether it is a material which can be used in production.
Currently, code-ability and printability do not form part of the material’s specification for packaging suppliers and, due to this, there have been instances where the material composition has been slightly changed. From compound unavailability to simply being a cost-saving measure, there can be many reasons for this change; but to omit coding and marking from any material specification change conversation is to put production in jeopardy. This decision will be reflected within the coding, which can ultimately lead to downtime. However, by working with a trusted coding and marking partner, organisations will be able to access the information they need. This way, companies will know which substrates allow for the creation of clearer, higher quality codes and, more importantly, they will have the security of knowing that, if a setback is on the horizon, it can be identified and resolved before it becomes a hindrance to production.
It is clear there is a growing public awareness of single-use plastic waste and its environmental impact. In response to this, many brands are already leading the way for more sustainable ways of working, with large manufacturers attentively exploring alternatives to petroleum-based plastic packaging. However, the replacement of plastic isn’t without its challenges; the commercial viability of any proposed change to substrates is contingent on its ability to pass packaging regulations. Companies need to understand their options and, in partnership with their coding and marking supplier and through thorough testing, determine their optimal coding solution. Doing this will enable companies to remain competitive without sacrificing quality or value. Taking this step will enable packaging to finally become a solution rather than a challenge when it comes to the future of sustainability.
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere