By Natalie Martin, 3R Group Materials Innovation Manager

The past few years, and 2021 in particular, have seen the food and beverage industry in New Zealand working hard to increase its sustainability – both customer-facing and back of house.

This has come as consumers demand more ethical and sustainable options and practices, Government announces proposed action around new legislation and regulations, and many industry members show they are eager to lead in the sustainability space.

In terms of Government action, in the past year alone there have been significant signals that it’s going to not only use current legislation but make amendments and strengthen legislation to tackle problematic packaging materials and organic waste.

We saw the release of the Government’s National Plastics Action Plan in September, and the more recent consultations on the emissions reduction plan and proposals for a new waste strategy and legislation, in November. While these cover broad areas needing action, they all have relevance to the food and beverage industry.

The industry has also stepped up with a number of innovations, with work especially going into tackling packaging. Using recycled material for all or part of new packaging has been a particular focus as has simplifying packaging to use one type of material.  Other innovations, such as redesigning bulk transport packaging using cardboard rather than polystyrene have shown there are significant gains to be made from research and development.

We’ve also seen industry organisations investigating compostable packaging, and recyclability labelling, as well as their members pledging to make their packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.

The 2025 target is ambitious – only a couple of years away – but with action being taken by Government and industry I can see it being achieved. The road to achieving it isn’t simple. For example, a company can make all its packaging recyclable but if the collection and processing infrastructure doesn’t exist the goal of keeping it from landfills won’t be achieved.

Co-operation is therefore key, both between Government and business and between industry organisations.

This year is sure to feature even more innovation and sustainable solutions and, hopefully, investment in infrastructure to support reuse and recycling, and I’m eager to see what it brings.

Natalie Martin is the materials innovation manager at 3R Group in Hawke’s Bay. She has a background in food technology and over 10 years of experience in new product development for FMCG and still supports the industry as a consultant. At 3R, Natalie works in new product development for various waste streams, including packaging.

The information and opinions within this column are not necessarily the views or opinions of Hot Source, NZ Food Technology, or the parent company, Hayley Media.