Category Archives: Recycling

Smart Packaging Conference 2019

There’s more than one kind of smart, but the key to sustainability in packaging is value. This week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Smart Packaging 2019 conference in Hamburg. This was thanks to the kind people at AMI, following an introduction by Ophelie Gourdou at Cairn Consulting. It was an engaging and well-attended conference, with an innovative format including a mini-showcase at the end of day one. This was a great way to keep the audience actively engaged when they had half an eye on the cocktail reception.

I confess I did not know what to expect. We have researched potential competitors, but from years as an analyst, I know that active engagement is really the only way to understand what’s going on under the skin of an industry, and this was our first real chance to spend some time talking to others who are innovating.

I came back with two main conclusions.

Firstly, the smarts going into smart packaging are INCREDIBLY varied. Everything from advanced and highly flexible tracking and provenance services, to connected devices, to chemical engineering that stops food from spoiling (on a small sticky label no less!). I was pleased to present the Vesta solution following an industry introduction from Tim Paridaens of Delloite. One of his slides showed a conceptual model of automated refill ordering packaging of exactly the kind Vesta makes, which is a reassuring sign that the solution we’ve been building for 18 months is beginning to enter the popular consciousness.

The second is broader, but covers something fundamental. There is a clear paradigm shift around packaging, from a view that cost is absolute and must be reduced, to an understanding that cost and value can be balanced. It’s this which gives me great hope that the economic philosophy behind Vesta’s mission – that we don’t throw away things we value– is on a solid footing. By making the vehicles in which our products move and function an essential part of the value of the products themselves, we should start to see a rapid move away from single use disposable behaviours. This is cause for hope.

Thanks to all at AMI for a thought-provoking couple of days!

How Packaging Innovation is Helping Tackle the Plastic Problem

We founded Vesta in October 2017 on the basis that we believe that technology can be built into packaging to help remove the need for single-use plastic.

Since then, global awareness and action relating to the plastic problem has expanded beyond anything we could have imagined. The dominant users of packaging; manufacturers and retailers, have started to change their businesses in more dramatic ways than even we could have hoped. We’ve been watching closely over the last 12 months, and I’ll attempt to summarise some of it here.

I’ve identified four main categories of innovation, though this is not exhaustive and there are several innovations that cut across categories:

New materials

There has been enormous growth in the availability of short life packaging, including plant-based options (seaweed is looking promising). The ability to produce plastic-like packaging from sustainable sources that are completely bio-degradable is vastly encouraging, and the potential is there to do so at scale.

Upside – potential long-term large-scale solution, producing non harmful plastics. What’s not to like!

Issues – lifetime of bio-plastics, carbon costs of production, ability to scale, challenges to bio-diversity

Reuse

This year, and to great fanfare, Terracycle launched Loop, the first e-Commerce platform based on the ability to return packaging for cleaning and reuse. We at Vesta have already raised our concerns over the viability of Loop and I won’t do so again here, but if nothing else, it should be loudly applauded for its originality and the bold attempt to change consumer behaviour.

Upside –  increasing the number of uses of a plastic package has the potential to ENORMOUSLY reduce the amount of plastic we use overall. Put it this way – use the same package 10 times cuts plastic use 90%.

Issues – economics of pickup, increased demand on consumers, lack of convenience

Self-refill

Waitrose in the UK, along with a whole variety of others have started using the kind of refill stations we have only previously seen in health food shops. Ecover have also grown the availability of in store refilling stations.

Upside – similar to reuse. Plastic is not, in itself, the problem. It is that we misuse it.

Issues – taking large numbers of empty containers to the shop each time does not feel like a mass market sustainable solution. I believe a lot of us would like to do this, but it asks a lot of consumers.

IoT

Vesta obviously fits into this category, where connected packaging is used to help manage supplies. To date, we are the only packaging company we’re aware of that combine IoT technology with the drive to eliminate the requirement for single-use plastic. However there are other connected device companies out there using RFID and other tech primarily for provenance and tracking (if you are using IoT for packaging, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!).

Upside  – the meeting of sustainable reusable solutions with a convenient consumer proposition could mean self-refill achieved entirely in the home.

Issues – this is a new technology approach, so consumers will have to be willing to adopt new behaviour. Short-life refill packaging should close the loop allowing for manufacturers to avoid single use plastic all together, but we’ll need to make sure its impact is minimal. It should not be a surprise that we at Vesta think this is the way to go, but we are not complacent on the amount of work that needs doing to yield the benefits.

I am really excited by the number of companies making big strides in this area (including those we’re working with!). Honourable mentions also go to Iceland and Morrisons for both taking major initiatives to cut their plastic use.

However, it’s not all good news. Amazon are something of a laggard when it comes to a sustainable approach to packaging, and this week’s news that their latest envelopes are not even recyclable comes as a massive disappointment. We know now that in most markets, a sustainable approach to packaging is so popular with consumers that it comes with a price premium. It seems likely therefore that companies unwilling to make changes to help the environment will suffer correspondingly.

Companies begin revealing their Plastic Footprint

For the first time, The Coca-Cola Company disclosed its total plastic footprint. It revealed that in 2018 it used three million tonnes globally.

This included data on both virgin and recycled plastics use in a single year. A further 35 corporations, including Colgate Palmolive, SC Johnson and Unilever, published similar information in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report on New Plastics Economy Global Commitment (spring 2019).

Although the report only provides a snapshot into our use of plastics, from a limited number of companies, it does highlight the sheer volume that is used annually on global scale: and emphasises our need to cut back, recycle or reuse more of the product. Indeed, the impact of disclosing this information has resulted in many companies committing to increase the recycled content in their packaging, to end single-use plastic straws and carrier bags, and to increase their reuse and refill schemes.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a strong advocate for the circular economy (whereby materials can be reused and recycled, powered by renewable energy), has welcomed these efforts but calls for more action to eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging. As the first target within the vision statement states, companies should commit to the “elimination of problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging through redesign, innovation, and new delivery models is a priority”. Thus, to reduce their plastic footprint, companies need to move towards reuse delivery models that reduce the need for single-use packaging.

At Vesta, we agree that more needs to be done: and we believe that we can provide the necessary, radical overhaul required to address the logistical side of reusable plastic. We believe that with stronger and lasting incentives, that don’t just rely on consumers’ willingness to lower their environmental impact, is the way forward. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation report, and the commitment made by the signatories herein, is a positive step in the right direction: and we can help companies act on those commitments.

Coca-Cola admits it produces 3m tonnes of plastic packaging a year

Coca-Cola admits it produces 3m tonnes of plastic packaging a year

Revelation comes as report calls on global firms to end secrecy over plastic footprint

Source: www.theguardian.com/business/2019/mar/14/coca-cola-admits-it-produces-3m-tonnes-of-plastic-packaging-a-year

In a spin with the Loop

The latest announcement from Terracycle is the launch of a scheme called Loop—which will allow consumers to buy products in returnable reusable containers. It is a bold initiative, and is to be applauded for its commitment to cutting plastic waste. However, we at Vesta have a few concerns about its operational model and whether it can really be effective in the long run.

Is this just business as usual?

Customers buy online, and receive their product in a durable plastic package. They can leave it outside and it will be taken away once it’s empty. Sure—the scope for reuse is exciting, but there is no fundamental change in the overall model, and we think the scope for reuse might be limited (see below).

An operational minefield

The cleaning, sorting and management of each container is a pretty significant undertaking and will come with a fairly serious cost. At Vesta we looked extensively into the economics of pick up and re-use, and the costs were a real pain point for FMCG. Unless Loop seeks to provide massive infrastructure—akin to another municipal pick up system, it will be hard to reach cost efficiency

More dumb plastic

Plastic is cheap, it lasts for ages and you can make it strong in virtually any shape. That’s why it’s great. It’s not great if it’s used once, and the direction Loop is going in should be supported. However, how many uses do they expect to get from these refillable packages? Leaving them outside, picking up, dropping off, and industrial cleaning all take their toll. When they get damaged, will consumers still use them? There is limited appeal to dented, dirty, and and scratched shampoo bottle sitting on your bathroom shelf. How many will end up thrown away or chucked in the recycling?

Is this convenient enough?

Environmental credentials alone may not make for a sticky service. A lot of very worthy services have fallen into disuse as they offer no more than what’s available, while asking for extra effort on the part of the consumer. This service is heavily reliant on collection, which is always tough on logistics. That can lead to the kind of consumer pain that will quickly lead to churn. For example, if a pick-up is missed, we are effectively looking at rather a lot of litter on doorsteps.

At Vesta we believe that a more radical overhaul of the way products are provided to consumers will be necessary to address the plastic epidemic. Refillable, reusable plastic is unquestionably the right way to go, but without a stronger and lasting incentive—more than consumers’ willingness to lower their environmental impact—we are concerned that initiatives like the one announced today will struggle to gain and hold traction. It would be a tremendous shame if such a well-intentioned and well supported service created a range of even longer lasting plastic waste.

Amazon Dash breaks German consumer protection rules

It hasn’t been such a happy new year for Amazon Dash in Germany, which has lost a case brought against it by an advocacy group on the grounds of consumer protection.

As reported in Gizmodo , the watchdog was concerned that Dash buttons made it too easy to buy Amazon products, enabled the company to substitute ordered products, and failed to protect shoppers from buying things they were not fully informed about.

At Vesta, we’ve always been skeptical about Dash. Whilst we welcome IoT solutions that further empower the connected home, we worried about its environmental credentials. We feel that Dash embraces the technical and commercial potential of IoT – on-demand consumerism – without addressing glaring issues of sustainability. These range from the proliferation of the buttons – themselves made of plastic – to the abundant cardboard and plastic in which orders are delivered.

As a marketplace and distributor, Amazon is one of the giants of the linear economy (make-store-sell-discard). This has long been the dominant mode of fulfilling consumer needs, but its key players may begin to find, as Dash has done, that its structure and fulfilment models areincompatible with the evolution of a circular economy.

Vesta smart packages address both the need for consumers to have what they want when they want it, and an efficient and circular mode of fulfilment. By introducing intelligence to the edge of the network, we will help our customers provide the service their customers want – on demand, exactly as much as they need, and in no unnecessary packaging.

New Resources and Waste Strategy: what it means for you and your business

On the 18th December 2018, the UK Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, unveiled the Resources and Waste Strategy.

It aims to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by making businesses and manufacturers pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging. This ambitious plan is the first major overhaul of England’s waste system in over a decade, but comes at a price.

There will be a legal responsibility placed on businesses to take greater responsibility over the waste they produce. This will include large items, such as cars and electrical goods, as well as smaller items such as plastic waste and batteries.

Businesses will not be the only ones affected by the scheme though: householders will see a positive change to the current recycling system, with government plans outlining a more streamlined, consistent and simplified system to be implemented across the UK.

According to Michael Gove, the strategy “will go further and faster, to reduce, reuse and recycle. … We will cut our reliance on single-use plastics, end confusion over household recycling, tackle the problem of packaging by making polluters pay, and end the economic, environmental and moral scandal that is food waste.”

Businesses and industry will be expected to pay higher fees for products that are harder to recycle, repair or reuse. However, the money raised by this scheme will go back into the recycling and disposal system through “Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)”, which is predicted to raise between £500million and £1billion a year. EPR also aims to incentivise producer to design products that are easier to re-use, dismantle and/or recycle. This should extend the lifespan of a product and will encourage reform in the UK’s packaging industry.

The government has also proposed an introduction to more consistency in the recyclable materials available for collection, making it easier for businesses to know what products that can use to help reduce their costs. They also want to encourage manufacturers to design products that can last longer, to drive up levels of repair and reuse, and to explore mandatory guarantees and extended warranties on products.

At Vesta, our innovative product designs can assist businesses and homes adhere to the new government strategy. Using IoT technology, our smart containers know when they’re running low, and re-order their contents automatically. Our product can make positive changes to business resource and waste management by providing you with waste-reducing alternatives that are refillable, durable and in line with the new UK policy. Using Vesta products will reduce your costs because our products help eliminate the need for damaging single use plastics from global supply chains. We can assist you in creating an efficient and sustainable business models for the benefit of all.

Contact us if you would like to know more

[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]

Accountability and Convenience at the Heart of New Sustainability Initiatives

It’s been an exciting news day in the world of sustainability, with the announcement of several complementary schemes to tackle single-use packaging and the plastic epidemic. This got us talking at Vesta about accountability as an incentive to act in an environmentally responsible way, and about how easy it is to opt out of recycling if the local authority seems to have done the same.

A quick straw poll at Vesta HQ this morning revealed the vagaries of the postcode lottery, with widely different experiences of recycling across the three London boroughs and one county council in which Vesta staff live. Widening it out to family members revealed seemingly limitless permutations of coloured bins, separating, and effort involved, all of which acts as a disincentive to recycle household waste. In addition, blocks of flats and multiple occupancy buildings offer a further challenge, and often see anonymous piles of waste for landfill because services are stretched and there is no possibility of sanctions for failing to designate recycling.

When ease and accountability plummet, so too does the incentive to do the right thing.

The schemes announced today, broadly, are as follows:

  • Consumers will be charged a returnable deposit on packaging.
  • Household recycling will be demystified and streamlined, and county and city councils will aim to eliminate the postcode lottery of waste management services.
  • Businesses will be charged for using polluting and hard-to-recycle materials when producing and packaging their goods.

Done properly, with everyone accepting their share of responsibility for their consumption, these schemes could combine to offer a real alternative to the single-use paradigm. Recycling should be made clear and easy, and in turn there should be financial sanctions for those who fail to comply.

Vesta CEO Tom Mowat has talked here about the ways in which convenience and profitability offer one of the best routes to sustainability. This concept is at the core of our smart refillable containers and of everything we do: seamless services which allow people to make the environmentally appropriate choice.

Towels and Netflix: how hotel stays and film nights provide a model for sustainable change.

There have been major changes in my lifetime. My phone used to be attached to a wall in the hallway of the house I grew up in, for example, whereas now I don’t even have a landline. Technology facilitates changes in behaviour, so that what was once commonplace becomes rapidly antiquated.

At Vesta Smart Packaging, we are trying to facilitate one such change. Our packages monitor and report how full they are, reordering automatically. They will change the way that people and businesses shop for day-to-day essentials, so that we can cut single-use plastic out of the supply chain. It is an intimidating challenge, but we are encouraged by examples of changes made by other businesses which have had a major environmental impact (whether they intended it or not).

On a recent holiday, I saw the now-ubiquitous sign asking that the towels in the hotel be reused. All over the world, hotels now use these signs to save countless millions of unnecessary washes. And it feels like it happened overnight. A simple confluence of ideas that improved efficiency and helped the environment was enough to affect global change.

Later that evening, I watched a couple of episodes on Netflix, and was struck for the first time by the environmental impact that it and other streaming services have had. DVD sales, and trips to rental shops, have declined massively – almost completely in the latter case – and the plastic savings must be enormous. But it was never intended that way. Streaming services offered convenience, and choice, and almost immediately eradicated the old way of watching films on hard copy, which has gone from commonplace to exceptional.

The adoption and usage of smart packaging to cut single-use plastic in supply chains will be a similarly massive change. However, as we develop our product – combining convenience for consumers and efficiency for businesses, these two simple examples provide much needed encouragement, and demonstrate that behavioural change at this scale is eminently possible.

A step closer towards plastic-free shopping

According to a Guardian newspaper investigation, supermarkets are a major source of plastic waste. It is estimated that they produce 1m tonnes of plastic waste every year.

Thus, the news that the Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza has opened Europe’s first plastic-free supermarket aisle, has been considered a turning point by campaigners. As Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet stated: “for decades shoppers have been sold the lie that we can’t live without plastic in food and drink. A plastic-free aisle dispels all that. Finally we can see a future where the public have a choice about whether to buy plastic or plastic-free. Right now we have no choice.”

The store in Amsterdam has over 700 plastic-free products, including meat, rice, sauces, dairy, chocolate, cereals, yogurt, snacks, fresh fruit and vegetables: all available in one aisle. Ekoplaza has confirmed similar aisles will be created in all of its 74 branches by the end of the year.

Campaigners argue that the products will not be anymore expensive than plastic-wrapped goods. Furthermore, alternative biodegradable packing can be used, thus making the change more scalable and convenient.

The move to plastic-free shopping aisles will become more necessary in the UK due to the recent change in government environmental policies. Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, stated that the UK is committed to eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042; in particular, waste such as the carrier bags, food packaging and disposable plastic straws, would be abolished.

However, to ensure that a plastic-free future can be achieved, it is important for supermarkets, and other retailers, to find cost-effective ways of reducing waste and monitoring sales. Vesta Smart Packaging can help with this: their smart containers know when they’re running low and will re-order the contents automatically (i.e. when the products are required). This will make it cheaper and easier to re-fill the items found on plastic-free shopping aisles.

Post-consumer recycled materials: where do they go?

With the rise of global environmental concerns, the need to reduce our reliance on raw materials has never been higher. But such change will not be easy: it requires us to make pro-active adjustments to our lifestyles and positive improvements to the ways in which products are made, used and, most importantly, re-used.

A recent report commissioned by the WWF and Resource Association (produced by Eunomia Research and Consulting, 20th November 2018,  demonstrates current flaws in the UK’s recycling system and outlines policy measures that could be used to transform it. This timely document provides detailed analyses on the effectiveness of different policy interventions; ideas that could be essential for the implementation of the imminent Resources and Waste Strategy for England.

It identifies a short-list of four types of policy measures to increase demand for recycled materials:
– Materials taxation
– A fee-rebate (or ‘feebate’) system
– Tradable credits
– The establishment of a single Producer Responsibility organisation.

The report considers the ‘feebate’ system to be the ‘most attractive policy option’ due to its “versatility in design, the reduced administrative complexity relative to the tax-based measure, and the stability of the incentive it gives”. It involves placing a levy on all packaging, which can then be refunded to organisations that demonstrate their use of post-consumer recycled materials. Thus, financial incentives would encourage companies to use recycled products and (through a system of certified credits) encourage them to pro-actively explore green solutions to their business needs.

This is where Vesta Smart Packaging could help. Using IoT technology, our smart containers know when they’re running low, and re-order their contents automatically. This not only encourages the consumer to use refillable, durable and smart alternatives, but also reduces waste, thereby creating efficient and sustainable business models that would comply with a ‘feebate’ system, if (or when?) such a policy is implemented.

Change is coming: prepare your business for the future with Vesta Smart Packaging.