Eco-friendly achievements: Amcor's ASSET

7 September 2018

The world’s largest consumer goods, pharmaceutical, and beverage companies continue to set public and ambitious goals for sustainability, including using more easily recyclable or reusable plastic packaging to protect their products. The CEO, vice-president of sustainability and director of external communications at global packaging giant Amcor discuss what they are doing to help achieve these ambitious goals.

Much of Amcor’s packaging is recyclable or reusable, and any challenges that remain will be overcome by the group’s leadership and innovation, in close collaboration with others, says Amcor’s CEO, Ron Delia.

“Our passion for and commitment to sustainability are real and growing. In January, Amcor became the first global packaging company pledging to develop all our packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2025. We also committed to significantly increasing our use of recycled materials, helping to drive greater recycling of packaging around the world,” he adds.

For all that Amcor has accomplished so far, he firmly believes that the company is just getting started. “Better packaging makes for a better world – for customers and consumers, investors, the environment and our team. Our winning aspiration is to be the leading global packaging company. Amcor continues to make real, measurable progress towards that ambitious goal – and we are determined to continue the trend,” Delia affirms.

Taking a life-cycle approach

People are increasingly aware of the full life cycle of the products they use and consume, says Amcor’s director of external communications, Melinda de Boer.

“We have a life-cycle assessment tool called ASSET that helps customers identify packaging solutions that reduce their overall environmental impact and meet sustainability goals,” she states.

ASSET, which is certified by the Carbon Trust, calculates the environmental footprints of packages across their full life cycles, including the energy and water used, and greenhouse gas emissions produced during the manufacturing process. ASSET also compares the effects of changes in product weights or materials.

De Boer describes Amcor’s R&D and innovation teams as “continually advancing the sustainability of the company’s packaging”, using ASSET to assess the full life-cycle impact of customers’ products and then working with them to reduce it with more sustainable packaging.

“Amcor’s commitment to sustainability extends to our suppliers and we work closely with them to maintain a supply chain that is responsible, ethical, transparent and sustainable,” says De Boer.

As well as recognition from customers, Amcor is regularly praised for its sustainability performance against global and regional indices.

“Because of what we produce and our scale, Amcor is in a powerful position to better protect the planet,” explains De Boer. “Independent, external validation of our sustainability performance is important – and it’s something we work hard to achieve.”

Amcor is included in the CDP’s Climate Disclosure Leadership Index for Australia, Dow Jones Sustainability Index’s indices for Australia and Asia-Pacific, the MSCI Global Sustainability Index series, the Ethibel Excellence Investment Register and the FTSE4Good Index.

Promising projects

Perhaps its most high-profile recognition came from Fortune magazine’s annual Change the World list, in which the packaging giant was recognised for its work with the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) to improve aid packaging, resulting in more aid reaching people in urgent need.

To date, Amcor has saved the WFP more than $5.2 million, prevented more than 960t of food loss and reduced packaging waste by about 440t. The company’s people continue to enhance packaging for nutritional vegetable oil and highenergy biscuits, so that the WFP’s aid better tolerates transportation and is more easily distributed to beneficiaries.

Alongside its WFP partnership, Amcor has invested expertise and funding in select sustainability partners that concentrate on reducing the effects of packaging on the environment. “We are the core packaging partner in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s (EMF) New Plastics Economy initiative, a three-year effort to design a value chain in which plastics are used over and over,” highlights De Boer.

Amcor’s sustainability experts are leading EMF’s Pioneer Project Barrier, which defines the global standard for what ‘recycling ready’ means for flexiblebarrier packaging. At Amcor, the head of this group of experts is David Clark, vice-president of sustainability, who is responsible for getting the company to achieve its ambitious targets.

He says that Amcor, much like the topic of sustainability itself, is a wide-ranging company with multiple material interests, coming with its own pros and cons when it comes to fulfilling its 2025 pledge.

“Amcor is in flexible plastic packaging, rigid plastic packaging, folding cartons, and we used to have glass and metal elements in our Australian market, so it is fair to say that we have broad experience in different materials and what can be done to optimise each one, in order to reduce waste and reach the ambitious targets in our pledge.”

He continues by addressing one of the most important aspects of sustainability: how to frame the problem. It is very hard, if not impossible, to solve a problem unless there is a starting point for understanding what the issue is. In all the public reaction to marine plastic litter, for example, there have been calls for various responses, from an outright ban on using plastics to providing alternatives, and improving manufacturing and recycling.

“I like to address the issue with the question: what problem are we trying to solve?” says Clark. “Is it the problem of waste, litter or are we trying to increase the usable material being retained through recycling – where is the biggest problem? For example, the main issue with marine litter and plastic in oceans comes from Asia, but cleaning up the water will not stop the litter entering it; to solve the problem we need better waste management and infrastructure to cut it off at source. These are the types of areas where Amcor can contribute, and is actively taking part with partners, customers and governments to locate the root causes of the problems to see how or where we can make a difference.”

Removal is not the answer

While many industry publications have focused on the difficulties of replacing a material that is fit for purpose when responding to public requests to ban plastic as a solution, it turns out that it is not financially viable or sustainable to simply remove plastics.

Clark refers to research conducted by Trucost on behalf of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), which had some profound findings. “When the ACC ran their valuation of the environmental costs of plastics in packaging, and came up with a figure of $139 billion, that seemed like a high cost,” he points out. “Many would see that and feel this is a number that ought to go down, but when the research investigated the cost of replacing plastics in packaging with alternative materials that provide the same function, this would increase those environmental costs to $533 billion, which is almost four times higher. That is an extraordinary way to show the benefits of plastic as a packaging material and it means that, rather than abandoning it, the key is to develop a strategy for sustainability that keeps more of the material in a circular loop and reduces waste.

“In simple terms, we have spent the past 20 years optimising and precision engineering the weight out of plastic packaging, so that the material going into packaging is nearly as light as it can be, without loss of function,” Clarks adds. “Seemingly minor innovation can create cumulative effects; for example, lightweighting out just 7μm from flexible wrapping for Milka uses 382t less plastic per year. By reducing the weight of PET bottles for vitaminwater by only 5g, we shrunk that product’s carbon footprint by 15%.

“Our metal-free AmLite range achieves high-barrier properties with a 40% smaller carbon footprint compared with other flexible pouches, some of which are down to their 21% lighter weight; however, when this packaging finishes its first life and arrives in the waste stream – if it is part of the third of packaging that is formed from blended polymers – it is not recyclable, as waste management companies do not have the ability to separate a complex polymer chain. Our 2025 pledge addresses this issue by looking at ways to replace the function of these blended materials with mono or polymers that can be recycled. There will always be a very small amount that nothing can be done with to make them recyclable and, in these cases, we need to optimise reuse; for example, in our Latin American beverage division, there are reusable bottles.”

So how can these targets best be achieved? For Clark, there is a relatively straightforward solution to the complex problem of sustainability. “Ultimately, the waste stream management needs the support and infrastructure to put the material back into manufacturing. We continue to innovate and lightweight but that is only a short-term solution; if the packaging is not managed post-use, and ends up on the floor in the ocean or is incinerated, it will be perceived as a problem by consumers,” he emphasises.

“CEFLEX is looking at what it would take to change or adapt plastic and make it easier to recycle or reuse. Amcor, among others, continues to invest in designing highly optimised packaging – we have over 700 employees working in R&D worldwide and spend nearly $60 million annually – but the challenge in the short term is ramping up recycling capabilities to prevent the loss of quality materials,” Clarks adds. “This requires working in concert with waste management companies and governments to ensure they have the capital investment and support they need to ensure they keep as much of the plastic packaging in the supply chain as possible. It helps that many governments are in alignment with their plastics in packaging strategy, as I discovered at a G7 roundtable in Canada on this topic. Attendees realised that the government has a responsibility to reduce waste and environmental impact, and it is not limited to just the key developed countries but, critically, they must support those that do not have waste management and recycling programmes in place today, so that they can prevent the problem of plastic packaging litter at the source.”

This goal is complex and has global repercussions, but with hard work and good partnerships, it is achievable.

Global operations

With around 200 operations worldwide, Amcor’s sustainability commitment extends to all its sites, where it measures and works to reduce the impact of its operations on the world through its internal EnviroAction programme.

“Our focus is on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60% in intensity by 2030 from 2005–6 levels, on achieving zero waste to disposal and managing water so that we use less every year,” says De Boer.

Because of the nature of the company’s operations, hand injury is one of the greatest workplace risks. “We continue to invest in plant and machine safety. In 2016, as part of a global safety campaign, we completed a worldwide upgrade of machine guarding, and a review and enhancement of machine procedures,” De Boer states.

The future

Sustainability and growth are complementary. With the world’s population increasing in size and prosperity, and people becoming more aware of the full life cycle of the products and services they use, Amcor’s packaging is reducing environmental effects to enable the delivery of fresh, nutritious food and safe products around the globe.

The business continues to advance transformational change across the industry, so that the environment is protected and enhanced by what it does. Amcor knows that urgent global challenges cannot be addressed alone, and is challenging itself and others to achieve more, while helping to transform how business is done through partnerships with customers, suppliers, leading sustainability organisations and others across the value chain.

Amcor will publish its 2018 ‘Sustainability Review’ in October.

In partnership with the UN World Food Programme, Amcor helps to deliver highly nutritious food to countries that need it most.
Amcor’s R&D and innovation teams help the company to deliver on its sustainability goals.
Amcor’s work has saved the WFP $5.2 million and has prevented tons of food loss.

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