Business Limelight – Futamura

Ever closer to net zero

With the many challenges facing the industry today, we decided to put some of them in the ‘Limelight’.  For our latest issue, SPN invited Andy Sweetman, Futamura Sales and Marketing director EMEA and chairman, BBIA, to respond to some topical questions for our special ‘Business Limelight Feature’. Here Andy covers the company’s investments and achievements and in doing so demonstrates the company’s on-going commitment to recycling and the circular economy.  Here are the answers that Andy gave to SPN:

What are the key challenges facing Futamura in 2022?

Increased demand meaning our lead-times have extended over the past year, so we eagerly anticipate our new capacity to come on stream in Q4 2022. Understanding the evolving legislation e.g. The UK plastic tax and the SUPD create opportunities as well as challenges and it’s often difficult to understand and then communicate the scope and impact of such legislation to our customers.

How does NatureFlex perform when it comes to carbon footprint and LCA?

We use LCA to help us prioritise our investments on environmental improvement and on the journey towards net zero. The most recent LCA was carried out in 2019 and shows that the carbon footprint has reduced by 30% since 2006. Historical data showed that already by 2006 the carbon footprint had reduced by 57% from the 1990’s. Looking forwards, we are predicting a further reduction of 30% by 2023 based on future investments in our process.

What are the best fit applications for NatureFlex and other certified compostable materials?

Not every application is suitable for recycling, but certain applications do make sense for compostables, such as:

  • Applications supporting food waste collection, like bags
  • Applications with organic content, like tea bags
  • Applications where food waste stream can be contaminated with conventional plastic, like fruit stickers
  • Applications where food waste is mixed up with e.g., cutlery, plates and cups, like in closed loop events
  • Applications that are too small to be recycled i.e., small format flexible packaging such as twistwraps and sachets.

Is recycling not the best solution for packaging waste?

Firstly, composting is recycling – organic recycling and is recognised as such under the packaging waste directive.  Where conventional plastic recycling is successful e.g., beverage bottles, then we would not advocate compostables in that space. Composting is complementary to, rather than competitive with, mainstream recycling. For the packaging and waste management industry it is critical that we start to talk about these solutions side-by-side, instead of being competitively one or the other. A really good source of data on this subject can be found in the landmark report; ‘Breaking the plastic wave’, published by PEW & Systemic in 2020.

Some retailer’s strategies focus more on plastic recycling than composting. What would you ask them to do differently?

Look at the specific applications in question, rather than having an over simplistic one-dimensional mono-material approach. I’d ask them to look at the report we just mentioned. We cannot simply recycle our way out of the mess, we need a range of solutions operating side-by-side, in what the study refers to as an ‘integrated system change’. That’s a combination of reduction, better design, improved collection and recycling, and substitution by paper and compostable materials where they make best sense.

Are there countries where composting compostable materials alongside organic waste has been proven successful?

People often point towards the Italian model where compostables are favoured in the type of applications mentioned above and are being successfully composted along with other organic waste. However, it is also worth looking closer to home where there are already composting facilities in the UK and Ireland that are successfully processing certified compostable materials with their organic recycling. In Ireland, Cré, has introduced their successful “recycle with food waste” logo, to make identification easy for both consumers and waste operators alike. Stakeholders including the BBIA and REA are working hard to introduce a similar system in the UK.

How sustainability “aware” would you say your company is and what recent measures have you taken to improve your overall contribution to the circular economy?

We are very aware on a product level, but we recognise we need to do even more. All our NatureFlex films are sourced solely from certified forestry and are certified home and industrial compostable after use. Replacing fossil derived materials with renewable materials and recovering the embedded carbon back into soil which improves soil health and biodiversity, is the very embodiment of a circular economy. On site, we are just introducing our net zero work programme, which will look at a whole range of initiatives to improve our overall environmental footprint.

What do you consider to be the most promising market opportunities for your company at this time and are you planning the launch of any new products?

Our recently launched ovenable grade, NatureFlex NVO, is gaining good traction in the market. The excellent transparency of these films is seeing them replace conventional plastics in applications where they are laminated to paper and board to maintain barrier and product visibility e.g., sandwich skillets. Legislative changes such as the UK plastics tax, the SUPD and the French Loi AGEC are also creating potential opportunities of interest to our research and development team…watch this space.