Back to learning

Dick Searle6smallDespite the faint promise of an Indian Summer it is very clear that the nation has already shifted into term-time mode and is well and truly headed ‘back to school’.

Our UK Parliament ended its summer recess last week and indeed there is much to occupy it, not least in Scotland. The Scottish people may have settled their independence issue within a fortnight. The consequences for UK business, manufacturing and the packaging sector could well be far reaching. More from me on that topic later.

In the present time, however, the Packaging Federation has just completed the commission of a new piece of work under the Fresher For Longer (FFL) banner. This short ‘infographic’ video will, we hope, enter the main stream of our learning curriculum from this term onwards, and for adults and children alike.

Our new FFL movie reiterates a central point and mainly for a political audience; that our food waste mountain is nothing short of a scandal. Part of the remedy is simply to make proper use of our packaging – as instructed on the label. This will help slash the waste and keep our shopping ‘fresher for longer’.

Our new FFL infographic spells out the detail of this problem and its solution. It is already playing in the committee rooms and ante chambers of the House of Commons and Lords. Indeed, our politicians and legislators are united in a cross party consensus on this matter. This is good news, since all will be positive on the topic and all will be singing from the same hymn sheet as UK electioneering builds to a crescendo before May 2015.

Part of our current aim is to spread the FFL word nationwide, beyond the confines of Westminster and well before next year’s election.

We have important communications work ahead; with retailers and with local authorities and, perhaps most importantly, with schools. A total of seven Packaging Federation member companies have now agreed to sponsor the FFL initiative via their local schools.

In the meantime I urge all readers and all participants in the packaging sector to click on the infographic link here and to share it with local MPs so that awareness of the issues can be raised at local level.

The FFL initiative reminds me that our sector is not only in business to make a profit, but to improve lives and society; tackling the waste issue head on.

Many thanks

Dick Searle

A call to action

Dick Searle2smallThe dislocated and disconnected nature of the Brussels based bureaucracy never ceases to amaze me.

This month, for example, saw the EU announce further proposals to amend its directive on packaging and packaging waste.

These proposals are utterly unrealistic and would result in huge additional costs for the whole of our supply chain if enacted as proposed. At one level this whole situation represents an outcome of a battle behind closed Brussels doors. The contenders are enterprise and ‘environment’ so-called. By this measure ‘environment’ is winning, hands down.

At present the proposals from DG Environment would deliver draconian impacts on the costs for industry and would seem to have little to do with any “re-balancing of the economy”.

Proposed Measures include:

– Split metals targets

– No aggregates for glass

– Industry to cover the ‘entire cost of waste managing, including separate collection & treatment of used packaging’

– Pay as you throw/Green Dot system proliferation

– Confused impact assessments

Furthermore, the very sensible measures of energy recovery, combined heat and power and other kinds of thermal recycling – as practiced in the most developed economies – have been cold shouldered in these proposals.

No energy recovery targets are mentioned here. The reason given is that the combination of recycling targets and landfill restriction means that energy targets are ‘no longer necessary’. Really? Tell that to Scandinavia or Japan or other countries where it plays an integral part in the environmental economy.

In truth, the worst aspect of this whole affair is the poverty of intellect revealed and the disinterest in real-world economics. The proposals show a lack of clear analysis and a lack of research. In addition, the most gaping void – deliberate or otherwise – is a complete exemption of Europe’s consumers for all responsibility in these matters and the lack of accountability in any brave new circular economy.

Given that consumption waste, litter and this whole issue are wholly driven by consumers this is indeed an astonishing omission. But then, what politicians in Europe have the skill and the leadership to truly address this agenda? Consume less? Take more social responsibility? That ticket has never been a vote winner since politics began.

On July 31st, Defra and BIS are hosting an initial workshop to discuss these proposals. The Packaging Federation will attend. It promises to be an interesting meeting.

These new EU proposals are simply laughable. I look to our industry and the support of our allies and members to resist them strongly. It’s a fight we simply have to win. We see the merits of a circular economy and are clearly on the side of a single market but this sort of nonsense has no part in it.

Many thanks

Dick Searle

Listen now

Dick Searle2small

On May 22 BBC Radio 4’s In Business programme was entirely given over to the packaging industry.

In my view Peter Day’s ‘Packaging in a Pickle’ was very balanced, despite the seemingly critical title. The content was not at all anti-packaging. Indeed the programme made it clear from the outset that its approach was all about the industry; its adaptation and responses to politicians and society generally. It also made it clear that no NGOs wished to comment on these issues.

Peter Jay, presenter said: ‘it has to be said that many of the campaigning organisations who have been highly critical of packaging in the past now seem to be much more relaxed about it; so relaxed that they no longer want to talk about it in public. That’s what they told us.’

The radio broadcast began with the vital issue of Brands and Branding, introduced by Robert Opie, founder of the Museum of Brands. It went on to delve into matters of manufacturing, functionality, environmental protection, optimum environmental performance and matters of sustainability.

The programme included contributions from many key industry players, including the Benson Group, Rexam, INCPEN and yours truly at The Packaging Federation. Most key packaging materials were included in the narrative and the programme also succeeded in conveying that the packaging sector was every bit as innovative and technologically challenging as much cutting edge manufacture such as aerospace or electronics.

I and others had the opportunity to puncture a number of myths around the industry and environmental matters – and to draw attention yet again to the central features and benefits of packaging, many of which are of course encapsulated in the Fresher For Longer campaign.

In short, I recommend the Radio 4 broadcast as an enjoyable and entertaining review of current practice and context. A good story well told – topical and with lightness of tone.

Worth a listen now if you can take the time

Many thanks again

Dick Searle


Readers of this blog will know that effective packaging is a help and an opportunity for food and for much else in our world. It works every which way; from field to fork; for consumer choice, for preventing food waste and to also keep produce fresher for longer. Regular readers will also know of my commitment to stop preaching to the choir and to encourage us all to take the message to the streets and engage with new audiences.

A great step in this regard is the video produced from the Fresher for Longer launch. Anyone doubting our industry’s enthusiasm for the cause and for a renewed commitment to the future of food should take a look (]

Let no one be in doubt. We have a great story to tell. The world needs to hear about it – and with some urgency as the issues of food security and food waste continue to bite.

Common sense from the Lords

Dick Searle8smallThe House of Lords publication on food waste reduction was published earlier this month. Jane Bickerstaffe of INCPEN, Alan Davey of Linpac and I were amongst those who gave evidence to the committee earlier this year

Although the report’s executive summary is disappointingly free of packaging-related positives the rest of this well written and grounded publication carries very many notes of cheer:

For example:

“Food packaging often performs an important waste prevention function. We urge the European Commission to ensure that, in its review of the Packaging and Waste Packaging Directive, provisions are not introduced that may have the unintended consequences of discouraging innovative packaging that might help to prevent food waste.”

And then also prefiguring the next stage of our Fresher For Longer (FFL) campaign

“We conclude that few consumers are aware that packaging can be crucial for the durability of food. Retailers have a responsibility to communicate the benefits of packaging and information about how food should be stored to avoid premature deterioration and unnecessary food waste.”

This kind of informed reflection, research and comment is exceedingly important for our sector and for society. It helps us all to go forward and to fashion the new ground rules – for industry and for the environment.

I have noted over the past twelve months that ever more acknowledgement of packaging’s positive and environmental qualities is now entering the public domain. This latest example is very welcome.

We all know that until very recently packaging has been made into a convenient whipping boy; based largely on pretexts where ‘common sense ain’t that common’. Nonsense still surfaces today, of course, and often from a Brussels direction. Thankfully, the stark realities of our world – food security alone – are enough to keep us all on track, the House of Lords included.

We salute their Lordships for this sensible and valuable contribution to issues of waste reduction. Long may such efforts continue.

Thanks again

Dick Searle

Fresher For Longer – comes of age

Dick Searle6small

I am not ashamed to admit the number of times I have used this blog to preach a holistic approach to the packaging supply chain and to urge all involved to work together for its betterment and that of our wider world.

It therefore pleases me greatly to report that our ground breaking Feb 5 London conference on Fresher For Longer (FFL) issues provided a near-perfect example of just such holistic cooperation in action. In one sense, of course, the work has just begun. And yet, looking around the animated room of networking delegates from all corners; retail, industry, local authorities, politicians, media, it seemed clear to me that the FFL momentum had been gathering for quite some time. Make no mistake, this initiative now has a head of steam behind it that should help us make considerable progress in the coming months.  

To recap briefly; our steering group of diverse interests succeeded in bringing together and uniting the complete food retail and consumption chain around the topical and worthwhile issue of Fresher For Longer.  Worthwhile to the consumer (to the tune of some £50.00 a month); worthwhile to the retailing industry and its corporate and social responsibilities; worthwhile to our waste management industries and to the country as a whole. As said before, FFL is a classic win, win, win programme.

As part of our conference publicity work I noted that ‘the UK is turning the corner from seeing all packaging as negative to realising packaging has played, and will play, major roles in reducing food waste.’  I am again pleased to report that, during lunch time and the breakout sessions and from the podium I heard this particular viewpoint echoed and re-echoed.

Through FFL I am also now confident that we have created a bridgehead or platform whereby Local Authorities and Brands/Retailers can now work in a very practical manner with consumers, chiefly in order to finally have packaging used in the manner described on the packet. Matters of communication and education can often take their own sweet time but my belief is that our landmark Feb 5th conference has really this process to widen and to improve.

Although it’s an excellent start to the campaign and many important skirmishes and battles continue to be won, the peace dividend is still yet to be finally won. Two steps forward often foreshadow one step back. The latter duly arrived this week in the form of another phthalates-in-packaging scare story under the auspices of the British Medical Journal group and carried further by national news media.

In the usual manner the science relating to this particular study was vague enough to promote general unease while making sure to hold back any exact details that could either be refuted scientifically or in court. It served at least to provide a timely reminder of the attrition that we have been through. This week at least I’m not rising to the bait. I will continue to follow up the connections and progress made from FFL Feb 5 and to celebrate the small victories thereby made. I suggest you do the same.

Thanks again

Dick Searle

Help us make the New Year Fresher for Longer !

Dick Searle8smallFirst and foremost may I wish you a very Happy and Prosperous Year ahead.

There are some half-decent signs of manufacturing recovery in the air and even some indications of reasonable fiscal management in parts of our public sector.

However, it gives me no pleasure at all to continue to report an ominous and continuing void in industrial energy policy and pricing. The horizon also shows some very dark weather fronts in the form of misguided EU legislation that, if unchecked, is set to impose crippling new burdens on business.

These dangers therefore need challenging and averting throughout 2014. The months ahead will see me asking in this blog and elsewhere for your support. I hope that you will be able to join with me in representing our cause.

Meantime, the next few weeks brings brighter news in the shape of our first Fresher for Longer conference, LGA Smith Square, London on February 5 2014.

Our Fresher for Longer (FFL) campaign was an outstanding success in 2013.

We – the UK supply and consumption and disposal chain for food consumption –  were fortunate enough and organised enough to claim a well publicised victory on behalf of common sense. As the saying goes, we live in a world where common sense has sadly become very uncommon. For the want of a few simple actions, we have identified that UK households are overspending on food by up to £50 a month, and simply creating a mountain of food waste.

The Feb 5 2014 Fresher for Longer London conference will look at this issue head-on and will seek the involvement of the production, retailing and local authority chain in helping consumers tackle the problem.

The conference will follow through on the research and foot holds of 2013 and will feature contributions from all three political parties on the continuing and urgent need to reduce this waste, and thereby to improve food sustainability and food security.

It would seem that the UK and the world are finally moving away from seeing packaging as negative and un-environmental. The opposite, of course, is true. Our sector has a critical and leading role to play in both reducing this food waste and in improving our care for the environment.

The February 5 FFL conference will therefore serve to bring these threads together and to hasten the pace of perception and change. I look forward to bringing you further updates on FFL issues over the coming weeks.

Thanks again

Dick Searle

Collaboration and Innovation – not taxes and levies

By Guest Blogger – David Workman  

David Workman

After years of sustained lobbying and promotion by the Packaging Federation, INCPEN and the trade associations representing paper, steel, aluminium, glass and plastics I believe that we are winning the battle to present packaging in a more positive light.

It is, I believe, now generally accepted that packaging reduces environmental impacts, protects products from transit damage and reduces food waste. It also acts as an important conveyer of information between product, producers and the consumer. Packaging is also a highly innovative sector as anyone who attended last month’s Packaging Awards will surely testify.

However, as most packaging materials are made by Energy Intensive Industries (EIIs), who also emit high levels of carbon, the sector also faces a long term issue – its carbon footprint. By 2050 these industrial sectors will be expected to reduce their carbon emissions by 80% from 1990 levels.

Despite the fact that much progress has been made over recent years – a modern paper mill, for instance, will only use recycled paper as a raw material, and will generate its own energy from on site Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants fired by biomass – we know this is an impossible target given current known technology.

The Paper Industry is amongst the first to be chosen by DECC to draw up a 2050 Roadmap for the sector and CPI is heavily engaged with consultants in an exercise to produce a “pathway” here in the UK.

The reason that paper is the ‘front runner’ in this exercise is that the European Paper Industry was the first major sector to produce its own Roadmap – back in 2011. The main conclusion from that report was that even if every European mill invested in the latest technology and adopted best practice the industry could only get about half way towards reaching the 2050 goal.

As a result of this finding the leading paper companies took a very brave decision. They set up two teams of academics, scientists, suppliers and industry experts to come up with ideas on breakthrough technologies. In effect they suspended normal hostilities!!

In all over sixty ideas were considered, with eight going through to a final “competition” – the results of which were announced during Paper Week in Brussels a few days ago.

The winner was a process of making pulp from Deep Eutectic Solvents, minimizing energy use, carbon emissions and waste.

In fact all eight of the blue sky technology breakthrough ideas went way beyond expectation, and offer the industry some hope of being able to radically transform the process of papermaking.  There is now a very firm belief in the industry that it may just be possible to think the unthinkable and achieve the 2050 target.

A huge amount of work still needs to be undertaken in further research and funds need to be found in order to build demonstration plants but it just goes to show that technological advance should be the way forward – not the taxes and levies currently in place that will ultimately lead to the demise of energy intensive manufacturing in Europe.

David Workman is Director General of the Confederation of Paper Industries