Michael Gove is a given in terms of influence over policy. And David Attenborough has pricked the public’s consciousness via his graphic portrayal of the scourge of plastic packaging pollution. But this list is focused on protagonists who are influencing change from within, and Iceland’s newly appointed sustainability director is certainly doing that, masterminding the industry’s boldest and most pioneering move to tackle the problem.
On 16 January 2018, Iceland’s MD vowed the frozen food specialist would become the world’s first major retailer to eliminate plastic packaging from all own-label products within five years. His timing - whether by accident, design, or both - was immaculate, closely following Blue Planet II’s heart-wrenching finale and the government’s unveiling of its 25-year environmental plan.
Kicking off with the launch of two ready meal ranges in paper pulp packs, Walker has set out to prove the UK supermarket sector has the potential to go plastic-free, and recognise that the world has “woken up to the scourge of plastics”. The onus, Walker insists, is on retailers to take a stand and deliver change. “Other supermarkets, and the retail industry as a whole, should follow suit and offer similar commitments during 2018,” said Walker, directly challenging rivals. And they did. Sainsbury’s began using cartons from sustainable packaging firm RAP, the Co-op announced it would pour own label water into recycled plastic bottles, and Selfridges launched the world’s first edible water bottle.
Inspiring praise, jealousy and criticism in some quarters, the Iceland boss has pledged not to pass on extra costs to consumers and has backed himself to increase sales as a result of his ambitious sustainability position - and it’s not limited to reducing packaging either: last month, Walker threw down another gauntlet to the industry, pledging to remove all palm oil from Iceland own label food by the end of 2018, to tackle “devastating” rainforest destruction in southeast Asia.
Walker has also shunned the recent Wrap pact (involving almost 60 industry giants), claiming it doesn’t go far enough, fast enough. That’s what you call setting the agenda.
Roberts’ CV puts her in a sweet spot where major strands of the packaging industry coalesce. Her experience straddles science, retail and supply of plastic, film and cardboard.
Currently, she is Klöckner Pentaplast’s MD for UK & Australia (which in spite of the geographical distance have common packaging needs). The company became a $2bn powerhouse in the rigid and flexible film market last year when it acquired Linpac, where Roberts was marketing & innovation director.
She’s now the head of a UK top-three plastic packaging supplier, and sustainable development is top of her agenda. Klöckner Pentaplast is the country’s largest buyer of recycled PET, a material in which Roberts is exceedingly au fait thanks to a PhD in polymer engineering.
Before that she spent 14 eventful years at M&S, where she held the title of head of packaging and spent time overseas, transforming the food-to-go segment by dropping plastic in favour of more eco-friendly - and classier-looking - cardboard skillets. She was also pivotal in moving M&S meat into vacuum-packed skins to reduce waste - a format that his since been widely copied. Post M&S roles include senior stints at Sealed Air Food Care, Graphic Packaging International - Europe, and cardboard supplier Benson Group before the move to Linpac.
Best known in recent years for its work to unify industry efforts on food waste, Wrap last month appeared to return to its packaging roots, with Gover responding to the changing mood music by setting up The UK Plastics Pact, a collaborative initiative bringing together 60-plus brands, retailers, suppliers, NGOs and government bodies in a bid to collectively eliminate single-use plastic by 2025. Only weeks old, the initiative has already attracted a great deal of scrutiny, with idealists rooting for its success while cynics forecast its failure.
But whichever side you sit, it’s hard to deny the scale of the pact’s ambition, with its plan to draw together hugely disparate businesses and strands of thought.
It’s a bold move for a guy who - aside for one nerve-jangling encounter with John Humphrys on Radio 4’s Today programme - has shown unshakeable calmness in leading Wrap since taking on the top job in 2016. A conscientious sort who doesn’t covet the limelight, Gover has the tools for success too, with a head for big numbers, a degree in chemical engineering and a PhD in combustion.
His wealth of experience includes a 25-year stint in the environment sector too, in areas including engines, alternative fuels, clean coal tech, emissions monitoring, water, waste management and renewable energy.
And before joining Wrap in 2007, he was commercial director of Biojoule too, a startup that developed tech to produce fuels and electricity from under-utilised biomass resources and agricultural wastes.
“When I compare the penetration we have in the UK to other markets, it’s very low,” Tetra Pak’s MD for northwest Europe told The Grocer in a frank interview a couple of years ago. “Our portfolio is not well-known enough. So we have to get out there and show them what we’ve got.”
Yet ask the average British shopper to name a food & drink packager, and the first (and possibly only) player they’ll mention is global conglomerate Tetra Pak. Its functional cartons have been ubiquitous in grocery since the 1950s. The Swedish company might not be the biggest or most exciting, but it’s the most distinctive, and self-promoting. And after losing out in recent years to see-through plastic in many recent applications (such as soup and milk), its fortunes have been buoyed in the UK by Tetra Pak usage in on-the-go breakfasts and coconut water.
Now, in spite of being notoriously hard to recycle here in the UK, suppliers are turning to Tetra Pak in their droves for alternatives to PET. Radnor Hills and One Drinks have both taken the carton route this year, while the soft drinks industry is eyeing up the Tetra Top carton bottle with its 80% plant-based material. In February, London’s Museum of Brands recognised the Tetra Rex Bio-based carton, manufactured from bio-plastic, as Forest Stewardship Council-certified paperboard.
Tetra Pak has made a new commitment to address the recyclability issue too, pledging in January to ensure solutions are in place across Europe by 2030 so its beverage cartons can be fully recycled - in support of the EC’s Plastics Strategy, announced as part of the EU Action Plan for a Circular Economy.
The former sailor’s campaigning organisation was pivotal in the launch of the UK Plastics Pact last month, adding a level of weight to the initiative far beyond its years.
Only launched in 2009, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has grown in influence at a rate of knots. Within its first two years it was presenting an analysis on the circular economy to the World Economic Forum and is already widely respected by the packaging industry, viewed by many as having greater credence than some longer-standing environmental campaign groups such as Friends of the Earth, with admirers citing the foundation’s adherence to science over dogma in striving for a circular economy.
That level of respect was illustrated in 2016 when its prediction that, at the current rate of dumping, the oceans by 2050 will contain more plastics than fish by weight, was widely accepted as a fact.
The dedication MacArthur and her charity have shown to campaigning has attracted some seriously impressive partners too - Unilever, Danone, Google and Nike among them. And there have been results: with the foundation’s input, Danone has been able to commit to 100% recycled plastic bottles by 2025 for its Evian brand, which will see the mineral water brand adopt a ‘circular’ approach to plastic usage. The United Nations Environment Programme has taken note of MacArthur, too. In January, the world’s leading environment authority signed up her foundation to a partnership to “scale up and accelerate” the shift towards a circular economy on the global stage.
At Unilever, thinking about packaging from day one is part of the culture, say industry insiders, and the eco-friendly part of its mission has been consistent and more convincing than rivals.
Driving this in-built sustainability behind packs is the active and well-regarded Lindenberg, who took his London-based, though globally influential, role in 2011, having already spent 12 years in packaging at the Marmite owner.
With a very wide brief, he and a small team serve as ‘internal consultants’ to help drive the company’s Sustainable Living Plan, taking a lead in educating consumers about their responsibilities to Mother Earth.
In January, the supplier announced plans to ensure all its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, as a key priority in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals 12 (sustainable consumption & production) shifting away from a ‘take-make-dispose’ model of consumption to one that is fully circular.
While the Co-op’s announcement that it would switch own-label water to recycled plastic bottles came on the heels of both the government’s plastic commitment and Iceland’s high-profile call to arms against the plastic scourge, it would be vastly unfair on environment manager Ferguson to consider him a follower.
In the role for the past 11 years, Ferguson is a thought leader, a mover and a shaker, say his peers. An example of his smart thinking came 12 months ago, when the retailer announced it would reduce its landfill waste by introducing recyclable packaging for its pizzas, replacing polystyrene discs with cardboard ones across its 17 own-brand pizzas and preventing 200 tonnes of polystyrene boards going to landfill.
Ferguson is also unafraid to risk ruffling feathers. Earlier this year, he proposed the UK adopt the French system of taxing supermarkets more for using material not easily recyclable, while taxing less for using sustainable and recyclable packaging.
Quite possibly the best-connected man in UK packaging, Searle has spent more than 50 years in the industry. Now 73 years old, he has been CEO of a number of packaging groups, including Britton, and his career has touched on most of the material sectors of the industry.
He’s held his position as the head of The Packaging Federation since November 2006, doggedly and outspokenly fighting the sector’s corner with a combination of diplomacy, straight talk, enthusiasm and media savvy.
The only non-food & drink rep on the FDF’s Brexit roundtable, Searle was appointed as one of 30 “industry champions” for the government’s 2012 Make It In Great Britain campaign.
From bold sandwich boxes at Eat to the brightly coloured charm snacks bags for Nuts.com and Van Leeuwen ice cream’s tubs, Pentagram’s work has class and allure.
The world’s largest independent design agency is 45 years old but still has a sense of craft. And there’s no risk of sameness: each job is unique and unpretentious.
In his 20 years as a Pentagram partner, Hyland has been the recipient of more than 100 awards for design. His work is not limited to packaging: he developed the new Berry Bros & Rudd identity, and the 2013 rebrand of London food retail chain Square Pie, as well as undertaking a vast array of projects for clients outside food and drink: from global financial services group Grant Thornton to National Museums Liverpool. He has also written eight books about his craft.
Futamura acquired Innovia Films’ cellulose business in July 2016, and the privately owned business, founded 71 years ago in Japan, now dominates the UK’s cellulose supply sector, even owning the rights to the Cellophane name.
Based at a manufacturing site in Wigton, Cumbria, Coulthard, a veteran of the plastic films sector and an Innovia alumnus, oversees the European arm of a company said to be making great moves in the area of renewable and compostable non-plastic packaging films.
Its NatureFlex is a range of adaptable bio-films based on wood pulp from managed plantations. It can be home-composted, biodegrades in water, and is certified to the European norm for industrially compostable packaging (EN13432).
Iceland says Futamura, which recently reported a huge uplift in NatureFlex sales to suppliers and retailers, is of particular interest to the frozen specialist due to the bio-degradable range of materials it offers.
This news has been published by title Packaging Power List: The 10 Most Powerful People In Fmcg Packaging
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