I do not want to argue here about the relevance of eliminating single use plastic, there would be too many pros and cons to present, and I guess everyone is aware about the issues.
The root cause: Somehow, I do think decade of poor public governance about plastic waste lead us to this situation and transferred the responsibility to retailers, industries, and individuals. The problem must be solved now.
The current situation: The European Union has implemented a ban on certain single-use plastic items and one country, France, want to eliminate all single use plastics by 2040.
The observation: Can we change regulation now? probably not, so let see how to adapt for the next decade.
The solutions: How can we eliminate single use plastic in the food industry without increasing food waste and CO2 emission, that is the question? Let’s imagine some scenarios …
Low-hanging fruit: no single use plastic for any products which can be sold in bulk
Go to local farmer market as much as possible, with a (electric) bicycle … No need for single use plastic: we can have our own reusable basket and paper can be used to pack food, if necessary, moulded fibre or carton container with barrier (PE, paraffine, water-based coating) for wet or fatty food.
In supermarket or any stores: buy products in bulk and have our own container(s) or use supermarket reusable container(s) with deposit, buy fresh product at the butcher’s, dairy’s, or fishmonger's stalls. This may represent a lot of boxes …
Medium complexity: for meals served in quick service restaurants or catering business:
Use reusable containers with or with deposit system with traceability. Many suppliers are proposing reusable containers, traceability systems as well as cleaning operations. Having the right logistic may be the bottle neck. French market will be a good test as French law will ban all single use packaging (in paper or in plastic) from 1st of Jan 2023.
High complexity: Innovative materials and new supply chains: what are the solutions for ready meals, biscuits, long shelf-life products, or anything else who need food processes? What would be the solutions for ecommerce?
Replace plastic with another material (barrier carton, metal, glass)- check cost/CO2 emission/barrier: look at new materials, invest or monitor material innovation. (Warning: biosourced plastics are considered as plastic).
Work with reusable packaging /cleaning platforms with or without subscription: cost/water &detergent use /energy/supply chain/logistic & transport /traceability: look at innovative supply chain and collaborate. Many start-up companies in this area.
Out of the box solutions: what if supermarkets become copackers?
The question could become soon, and this is already the case for pastry, meat, fish stalls…in this case retailers could use #reusable packaging and create new supply chain.
Should food industry remove their sales packaging lines and deliver only B to B packaging to retailers?
Companies who envisage, now, new raw materials development and new supply chain will have a competitive advantage.