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CPMA Corner: The Plastics Discussion Continues

CPMA Corner: The Plastics Discussion Continues

A new year is upon us, and finishing the holiday season presented a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the growth and changes achieved in 2019. The fresh fruit and vegetable sector continued to accomplish remarkable transformations in the area of technological innovations, but one of the major topics stealing headlines was, and continues to be, global pollution. As an industry, one particular target that has been identified as an opportunity for improvement is our utilization of plastics.

In my last CPMA Corner article in The Snack, I covered many of the significant measures implemented globally, nationally, and municipally to address plastic waste. While the produce industry only accounts for two percent of Canada’s single-use plastics consumption, we remain dedicated to reducing our footprint in this domain and believe we can achieve significant change within our industry.

On December 5, 2019, the CPMA Plastics Packaging Working Group was proud to unveil our complete Technical Report, titled “A Landscape Review of Plastics in the Canadian Fresh Produce Sector,” and a roadmap outlining our next steps for 2020 as we move toward a more sustainable plastic packaging system. These documents represent the consolidation, analysis, and synthesis of many months of research and education.

The Technical Report, developed in collaboration with Value Chain Management International, was completed in four phases. The first phase involved a review of existing literature on plastics, secondary data analysis, and consultative interviews with key players in this domain. The second stage initiated our primary research, including industry surveys and direct consultation with companies throughout the produce supply chain. The research methodology facilitated an assessment of the comparative impact that a lack of effective plastic packaging could have on the industry, consumers, and our environment, along with causes and effects impacting the volume of packaging materials recycled, reused, or composted.

Following that, data was analyzed and extrapolated in step three to establish conclusions and recommendations. Finally, the report was developed and communicated out to key stakeholders. Within the report, the goals of the Plastics Packaging Working Group are clear: creating a green economy by identifying concerns around fragmented systems, classifying unnecessary and problematic plastics, recognizing the benefits of plastics when used within the appropriate system, and balancing the need to ensure food waste and food security in our efforts around sustainable packaging.

In order to achieve the strategy outcomes identified in the Technical Report, the conditions need to be created to enable and support the strategy action items that apply to one or more of the desired outcomes. The conditions for success will be achieved by way of three pillars, which themselves are composed of key action items.

The first pillar recognizes the need to establish guidelines, standards, and best practices. This includes standards in the language we use with respect to definitions for key plastics terms, protocols created to reduce the use of virgin plastics and increase the content of post-consumer recycled plastics, and global standards to address plastic pollution across the planet. Additionally, we look to packaging industry stakeholders to develop guidelines to implement sustainable packaging that recycling systems can utilize, seek to unite key markets and jurisdictions to harmonize recycling standards, and pursue international partners to mobilize support to address plastic pollution by way of emerging or evolving global standards.

The second pillar targets the numerous ecosystems and stakeholders operating within the plastics sector. Presently, most plastics and recycling networks operate in isolation. We must continue to engage with provincial and federal stakeholders through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) to obtain national outcomes, such as harmonized recycling standards and other best practices, including Extended Producer Responsibility to ensure that companies that manufacture plastic products or sell items with plastic packaging are responsible for their collection and recycling. It is also imperative that we enhance collaboration with the recycling and waste management community to support and accelerate key innovations, pilot projects, and other industry-enabling activities.

Pillar number three of our roadmap emphasizes education. Our aspirations within this strategy cannot be achieved without focused consumer engagement pertaining to concerns, viewpoints, and overall packaging trends regarding adoption of new packaging and related consumer behavior. It will also be necessary to balance support of community-led action to reduce plastics with a general public awareness campaign of the benefits of plastics packaging, including success stories achieved within Canada’s produce sector.

Our completed produce packaging strategy will be released this summer. At the time of release, the intent is to align the strategy’s action items with the most up-to-date plans and priorities of Environment and Climate Change Canada and the CCME with regards to addressing the use of unnecessary and problematic plastic packaging.

Together with our members and partners across the fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain, and with our colleagues throughout the food system, CPMA hopes to be a catalyst for positive and viable change that enables businesses to thrive, communities to flourish, and consumer preferences and demands to be met. Our planet’s natural resources are finite, and change is necessary to ensure we are stewards for a sustainable future 

CPMA Corner: The Plastics Discussion Continues

Contributing Author

President, Canadian Produce Marketing Association