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Definition and development of functional barriers for the use of recycled materials in multilayer food packaging

TECHNOLOGICAL WATCH

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RPC highlights circular economy initiatives in first responsibility report

In its first ever responsibility report, leading UK plastics packaging company the RPC group has set out ambitions for growth and sustainability.

The company, which has been pursuing its Vision 2020 for the past five years, has increased revenue by 282% to £3.7bn (€4.12bn) and improved operating profit by 364% to £425m (€473m) compared to the 2014 baseline, according to the report which published in last month.

The Rushden, Northamptonshire-headquartered firm set out the following four core elements as part of Vision 2020: focus on organic growth, selective consolidation in Europe, to create a meaningful presence outside of Europe and pursue added value opportunities in non-packaging markets.

The report did not further elaborate on how those targets will be achieved, but did highlight circular economy and recycling as key areas of concern for the group.

The main issue attracting attention within the industry is around plastics in the ocean, explained Pim Vervaat, CEO RPC Group in an interview published in the report.

“Plastic’s many benefits explain why it is used so extensively but if it is not disposed of responsibly, it has negative environmental impacts, which we are keen to help mitigate. This is why we are involved with various industry and external organisations… to provide advice and responses to consultations,” the CEO pointed out.

To that end, RPC has developed a tool to check the application of the circular economy guidelines for each product it designs. The company has gone even further with the programme, making it an open source for others to use in order to design a circular product. 

Noting that there is no “silver bullet” to solving the waste problem, Vervaat said RPC had been actively working towards a sustainable future in recent years.

“For example, over the past couple of years, we’ve purchased BPI and ESE World, both of whom further improve the recycling capabilities of the Group,” he noted.

In addition to that, RPC is actively involved with suppliers of biobased plastics and biodegradable plastics to be used in its products.

“We have recently launched a tube for men’s grooming products using ‘Green’ polyethylene from sugarcane that is fully recyclable,” said Vervaat.

In the biodegradable area too, the company has made advances with the development of a unique barrier plastic for coffee capsules that can be disposed of along with organic food waste and breaks down completely in the industrial composting process.

Commenting on the EU’s proposed directive to ban ‘single use’ plastics, the company official said the proposal, while not entirely perfect, provided clarification on the term ‘single use plastics’.

The proposed directive lists various items, which are put into various categories from ‘restriction of placing on the market’, i.e. a ban, to ‘awareness raising’, which requires producers to advise consumers how to dispose of the items correctly at the end of their use. 

“But on the face of it, RPC will not be greatly affected because we manufacture very few of the ‘single use’ items listed,” the company official added.

In fact, this represents opportunities for RPC. 

For example, the proposed directive calls for beverage bottle caps to be designed so that they are irremovable from the bottle. RPC already manufactures sports cap which is irremovable from the bottle.

Product design apart, the company has also committed to reducing the impact of its manufacturing operations.

While the company has seen a slight increase in water usage due in part to acquisitions, its electricity usage has fallen 23% to 1,508 KWh per tonne, compared to a 2014 baseline.

The company installed what it describes as “the world’s largest electrically-heated rotational moulding machine” at its Sæplast Iceland, part of RPC Promens, which manufactures plastics containers.

“When the site wanted to expand capacity, it was decided to explore the opportunity to utilise a greener form of energy for the new machine… Since its installation five years ago, the use of green electricity has eliminated the need for around 800,000 litres of diesel fuel – equivalent to the annual usage of approximately 500 cars,” the report explained.

The company has also designated a dedicated sustainability group to implement, oversee and monitor environmental initiatives to ensure all parts of the group are focused on the same objectives.

» Publication Date: 08/08/2018

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research, technological development and demonstration (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° [606572].

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