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INCPEN - Packing a punch

23 September 2010

PROFILE Jane Bickerstaffe, director of The Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment, is clearly a woman who means business. In fact, she's just the person you'd want fighting your corner.

If you want to get Jane Bickerstaffe going about policies which place unnecessary obstacles in the way of the packaging industry, just refer to packaging reduction targets.

''Of course there are some products that are over-packaged but the vast majority are packed in an appropriate amount of packaging to ensure the product is protected and that the packaging performs all the other functions expected of it,'' Jane explains.

``A number of companies are currently supporting an initiative called the Courtauld Commitment run by the government's delivery body, WRAP, the Waste & Resources Action Programme. In 2005, WRAP set itself targets to reduce the amount of sales packaging for grocery products. We work closely with WRAP and explained to them that 'packaging reduction' is not always a sensible objective.

There are instances where an increase in packaging will reduce overall waste levels by reducing food spoilage and damage to products. In addition, there are trade-offs between the sales packaging and transport packaging. Sometimes it is better to increase sales packaging if this allows the transport packaging to be reduced and the overall amount is less.

''The second phase of the Courtauld Commitment has broadened the focus and accepts that transport packaging needs to be taken into account, though the new targets still take account of only part of the supply chain. They do not, for example, acknowledge the relationship between the product and its packaging.

Our main concern is to ensure packaging makes a positive contribution to sustainable development. If you're from Coca-Cola, Nestle, Red Bull, Cadbury's, Kellogg's or any of the other heavy hitters which INCPEN represents, this should be music to your ears. ''We don't get involved in the commercial and competitive aspects - we just look at the environmental and social side of things,'' Jane says. ''This means we can tell things as they are. We're a research organisation, and don't protect any particular sector.''

INCPEN is a non-profit, research-based organisation established in 1974 dedicated to analysing the environmental and social effects of packaging, creating a better understanding of the role of packaging and minimising the environmental impact of packaging.

On its website it says it draws together an influential group of companies which share a vision of the future where all production, distribution and consumption are sustainable. Its members are international and British companies involved in aspects of the packaging chain - from raw material suppliers to packaging manufacturers, branded goods producers and retailers.

Jane knows the packaging industry inside out and talks with authority on the subject: ``To make good decisions, you need the manufacturers and big brands. The thing about packaging is that at different stages of the supply chain, everyone wants something different. It's only by working together that we can understand the constraints and the conflicts.

``INCPEN is a voluntary organisation, set up in 1974 by a group of big brands who said look we need packaging because we can't get the food out the fields and onto people's plates without packaging.''

There are various ways for Jane and her association to communicate with members. ''One thing my members value is a confidential monthly newsletter, which rather than being just a news report, actually gives them the business implications behind the headlines.

''In the July-August one for instance, we'll cover matters such as recycling and litter. The trick is doing the research but then putting it into a format which makes sense to anybody, so our target audience is your average MP.''

Because of the nature of INCPEN's membership, it can network information between various members. Jane provides an example with respect to energy consumption. ``We investigated how much energy it takes to feed a person a week.

``The statistics were broken down by the National Food Surveys food category - they detailed how much energy goes into processing foods, primary packaging, transport packaging, transport to the retail outlets, retail energy such as lighting, chilling, freezing, heating, lighting etc, then us driving to the shops, refrigerating at home, then cooking and eating the food. Packaging is 10% of the total food supply chain. That helps us promote the fact it's your insurance policy to ensure other energy etc doesn't go to waste.''

There are two bits of regulation that apply to the environmental aspects of packaging, says Jane. ''One is to promote recycling and recovery, which is managed by Defra. The other is to promote good eco-design of packaging, managed by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills. Both these laws are effective and continue to drive companies to make good decisions''.

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