Small businesses leading the war against plastic packaging

Hadleigh Maid director Donny Briggs with a tray of Mallow Whirls

Hadleigh Maid director Donny Briggs with a tray of Mallow Whirls - Credit: Archant

Suffolk companies are seeking alternatives to single-use plastics

Many firms are looking for alternatives to plastic packaging

Many firms are looking for alternatives to plastic packaging - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ever since Life on Earth, each one of David Attenborough’s programmes in his ‘Life’ series has pushed the boundaries both in terms of the camera technology that has been used and the discoveries of the natural world that have been made.

But when we look back in years to come, it may be that one of his greatest legacies will have come as a result of Blue Planet II - which aired in the final months of 2017 and has done more to raise awareness about plastic pollution than any other single event.

Since the last episode, which among many distressing images showed albatross parents unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic, the British government announced it is considering a national ban on single-use plastic products while all sorts of businesses are reassessing their packaging.

But while there has been little obvious progress in this area from many of the national brands, it is the smaller companies who are making headway because they have the flexibility to do so.

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This was the evidence from a recent workshop for food businesses held at the East of England Co-op’s headquarters near Ipswich and organised by Business Energy Efficiency Anglia, a European-funded organisation that offers free advice to help businesses become more energy efficient.

One speaker, Gavin Bowie, sales and marketing director at Suffolk chocolate maker Hadleigh Maid talked about the journey his firm had been on since Blue Planet II.

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The public outcry encouraged the company to look again at its use of plastic packaging, specifically how it packages its popular walnut whirls. Plastic has now been replaced with food safe card developed by a company called Delipac that is both compostable and biodegradeable while the business is also experimenting with sugar-based glues and paper-based tape. It even has plans to launch a fully recyclable and biodegradable chocolate selection box - a move Hadleigh Maid believes may be a world first.

Mr Bowie says these developments are “the start of a ongoing process”.

Josiah Meldrum from Hodmedods

Josiah Meldrum from Hodmedods - Credit: Archant

He added: “ Larger suppliers will take too long, so it’s the small suppliers that must lead the way. Small businesses can drive the change that takes longer at corporate level.”

Hadleigh Maid’s walnut whirls can be found for sale in many stores run by East of England Co-op, which is also looking at where it can cut down on single-use plastics. Examples across its own brand range include the introduction of biodegradeable tea bags, card-based packaging for premium tomatoes and swapping the polystyrene disc under its pizzas for a disc of card.

The supermarket is also trialing a ‘bottle for life’ initiative where customers can purchase an eco-friendly bottle for life, instead of a 500ml single-use plastic bottle, which can be refilled with filtered, chilled or flavoured water. If the bottle needs replacing, the East of England Co-op will exchange it free for charge and ensure that the returned bottle is recycled.

The audience also heard from Josiah Meldrum of Hodemedods, a supplier of beans and pulses based at Halesworth, who has been looking at green packaging options for some time. He outlined some of obstacles - materials not being fit for purpose, having to be in bulk - but said one of his main suppliers had recently movedd from plastic and now delivers his bean in multi-ply paper bags

Mr Meldrum said: “All business can look at all their processes and ask the question; ‘Do I need this packaging or tape?’ Sometimes it takes time, sometimes you have to buy a lorry load.

“But the more who are asking, it will make suppliers think about alternatives.”

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