Elena Massucco Head of Consumer

Tetra Pak and sustainability

We sit down with Davide Braghiroli, Product Manager of Packaging Materials at Tetra Pak, a world leading food processing and packaging solutions company, to understand more about their approach to sustainability. How they work to solve the dilemma of food and packaging waste with end-to-end packaging solutions and  what approaches will set Tetra Pak up for future sustainability success.

As part of the global Packaging Solutions department, Davide is responsible for the implementation of the company’s 2030 strategy across the Tetra Pak packaging materials portfolio. The main goal is to increase the sustainability of the packaging solutions, such as developing and deploying products with higher renewability and minimised carbon footprint.

Davide works closely with suppliers and customers, while facilitating partnerships to address circular economy challenges and opportunities. Based in Modena (Italy) and part of the company since 2009, he holds an MSC degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Bologna.

What are the key sustainability challenges affecting Tetra Pak in the coming years, and what are your objectives to tackle them?

Let me frame things slightly differently. I clearly see global sustainability challenges that Tetra Pak – as a world leading food processing and packaging solutions company – has a responsibility to address.

Packaging helps keep food safe, nutritious and available, while also reducing food waste. Its role in ensuring the proper flow of food commodities and sustaining the stability of entire value chains is equally essential for food security. The COVID-19 pandemic has put the role of food packaging further in the spotlight — re-defining it as “system-critical” for the food chain.

However, packaging can also cause problems for the planet, from greenhouse gas emissions, plastic waste in our environment and expanding landfills to the depletion of finite resources and limited recyclability.

In particular, recycling has become a go-to solution to the packaging problem as part of a move to circularity. But the world cannot rely on recycling alone as fossil-based plastic production is still growing – it reached around 368 million metric tonnes in 2019 – and oil is a finite resource, responsible for one third of carbon emissions.

We need to take a holistic environmental approach because we cannot recycle our way out of the climate crisis. Materials for packaging alone cause more CO2 emissions than global aviation pre-COVID. If we do nothing, the sourcing and processing of these packaging materials will account for ~32% of all global Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050. Only by seeing circular economy models through a climate-lens we will decarbonise materials fast enough to protect our planet.

Sustainable food packaging can make a difference here, help mitigate climate change and address other environmental concerns while feeding a growing population. At Tetra Pak, we are already on this journey, aiming to create cartons that are fully made of responsibly sourced renewable or recycled materials; contributing towards carbon-neutrality; fully recyclable and supporting an effective recycling system; being convenient and safe – therefore helping to enable a resilient food system.

Creating this future food package will not be easy and will also not happen overnight. But we are closely collaborating with our customers, suppliers and other stakeholders across the value chain to realise this ambition, and we are fully committed to it. After all, it’s an integral part of our brand promise: ‘Protects what’s good’ – protecting food, people and the planet.

Consumers are becoming more informed, and thus more demanding of food & beverage companies and packaging suppliers to take the lead in finding solutions to environmental issues. How is this driving you and what role do you see Tetra Pak playing alongside its customers? A significant amount of carbon impact is wrapped up into the consumption cycle of products, how can your solutions help people reduce their individual environmental impact?

Consumers are demanding ‘more and better’ when it comes to purpose-driven companies and environmentally sound solutions. This is a clear signal that we are right in accelerating actions and stepping up investments in the sustainability area.

Our latest Tetra Pak Index – an annual report focussed on providing insights into the global trends and opportunities shaping the future of the food and beverage industry – looks at consumer perceptions about food safety, food waste and the environment against a COVID-19 backdrop. According to the research, the pandemic has displaced the environment as the number one consumer concern, but still, this is ahead of anything else, even economic issues. Consumers are increasingly aware of a dilemma between the need for greater consumption of food and the impact on our planet – both in terms of packaging waste and food waste. Importantly, solving this dilemma is also something they are looking to businesses to drive forward.

At Tetra Pak, we believe that the future of packaging needs to be about responsible end-to-end solutions that allow manufacturers to achieve their ambitions in three essential areas – food safety, food waste and the environment – simultaneously.

In terms of how our solutions help people to reduce their individual environmental impact, I would start by addressing aseptic packaging. In the early 60s, Tetra Pak revolutionised the food and beverage industry by introducing the first machine for aseptically filling. This process helps keep food safe, nutritious and tasty, while making it available over months – with no preservatives and no refrigeration needed. This pioneering technology embodies an ‘original form’ of temperature control, while allowing the manufacturing of shelf stable food and beverage products that rely on compact packages which are easy to distribute. By enabling the safe and economical distribution of food and beverage products through high-performance packaging, we are playing our part in addressing the problem of food waste.

Obviously, we don’t stop here. The Tetra Pak 2020 Index has also found that consumers are much less sure about aspects of food safety that they don’t control. Namely, 6 in 10 people say they really care about how food and beverages are produced and want to know everything they can about the process. Also, 77% of respondents believe “food waste is a huge concern”, and they see preventing this waste as the number one environmental issue that they can influence. However, “best before” labelling can often be confusing, therefore acting as a barrier to tackling food waste. We are working hard towards turning these challenges into opportunities, including on-pack information and innovative and intelligent packaging solutions.

What role do your customers (brands, food and beverage producers) play in responding to consumer demand with solutions which create less impact on the environment?

Industry collaboration across the entire value chain is critical, especially to realise sustainable recycling value chains. Here, we are closely working with our customers to drive an active agenda while raising consumer awareness. For example, the 3R Initiative, co-founded in collaboration with Danone, Veolia and Nestle, is a first-of-its-kind global effort designed to reduce, recover and recycle the growing amount of plastics generated by companies. Tetra Pak is also a founding member of 4evergreen, an alliance that aims to boost the contribution of fibre-based packaging in a circular and sustainable economy.

All of these topics are complex, interconnected and hugely challenging – but this decade is the time to take critical action. What skills, approaches and mindsets set Tetra Pak up for success?

We believe that our ability to set and demonstrate progress in line with science and societal expectations, our innovation drive and the collaborative approach across the value chain position ourselves on the right path to lead the sustainability transformation of the food industry.

We know this is not an exercise we can do alone, and – while we are leveraging our experience in the industry – we are also seeking best in class support and expertise from external players along the journey. Only by doing this can we maximise opportunities in this domain.

Join us at the same time next week as we share another interview with one of our clients, understanding their challenges and finding out more about our plans towards their sustainability goals. Follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter and sign up to our newsletter here to find out more.

KD: Delivering sustainable futures; Designing A Better World.

Find out more?

Get in touch with our Head of Consumer, Elena Massucco.