Industry must ‘move as one’ on packaging

Salmon Scotland Packaging panel: (From left) Andrew Bett, Dr Clare Cavers, Atholl Duncan, Donald Buchanan, Conan Busby and Ed Ley Wilson

Seafood producers and processors need to work together to make the industry’s packaging more sustainable. That was the message from Salmon Scotland’s panel discussion event “Packaging: Overcoming the Challenges”, held – appropriately – in Glasgow on 3 November, while COP26 was also addressing sustainability issues on a global scale.

Chaired by Atholl Duncan, Chair of Salmon Scotland, the panel members were:

  • Andrew Bett, Managing Director, Salar Pursuits, and a former executive with packaging multinational Mondi group;
  • Dr Clare Cavers, Senior Projects Manager, FIDRA – a not-for-profit organisation working with industry to reduce plastic and chemical pollution;
  • Ed Ley Wilson, Head of Aquaculture, Aquascot Ltd – a processor based in the Highlands and supplier to Waitrose;
  • Donald Buchanan, Head of Processing, Scottish Sea Farms; and
  • Conan Busby, Cargo Business Development Manager, Edinburgh Airport.

Salmon Scotland’s sustainability charter, A Better Future For Us All, commits the sector to “work towards using 100% reusable, recyclable or biodegradable packaging”.

At present, however, the default form of packaging for shipping chilled fresh salmon is expanded polystyrene boxes. This has the advantage of being light, rigid and a good insulator, but it also means that the packaging is single-use and can contribute to plastic pollution.

The challenge for the industry is to find an alternative that is practical and can ensure acceptable levels of quality and hygiene.

Scottish Sea Farms’ Buchanan said: “Our primary concern is food safety – added to which we have to be as environmentally responsible as we possibly can.”

FIDRA’s position, Cavers said, was that we have to move away from single-use packaging. She stressed: “We aren’t intending to demonise the salmon industry – or polystyrene boxes. But it’s time to examine them.”

Craig Gillespie, Operations Director (Scotland) with packaging business Moulded Foams, pointed out that polystyrene is recyclable and that it accounts for more of the total plastic recycled in Europe than any other kind of plastic.

The problem, however, is that while polystyrene is recyclable it is not always recycled – that can depend on the end customer and on how good the infrastructure for recycling is.

Clare Cavers with Atholl Duncan

Andrew Bett said that Mondi had been working with the Norwegian salmon industry to develop an alternative insulating box based on paper fibres and starch. Trials had started, he added, just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Flatpack paper boxes also have another advantage, he noted – when they are returned empty they take up much less space than moulded polystyrene.

The panel agreed that a sustainable solution would require innovative thinking. The willingness to change was there, but any change would have to be workable.

As Buchanan put it: “We have to move together as one.”

Packaging with less CO2

Meanwhile, independent producer Organic Sea Harvest (OSH) also chose COP26 to unveil another sustainable packaging solution, which it says will reduce the company’s net greenhouse gas emissions.

The fully compostable packaging, called CF422, will contain less than half the amount of CO2 in normal packaging, reduce the need for energy at the packing stage and eliminate the issue of microplastics, while still ensuring food safety and storage time. Organic Sea Harvest organic salmon portions in the new packaging are expected to be available in early 2022.

CF422 will be sourced from CELNOR Eco Packaging Ltd, a company offering plastic-free, compostable biomaterial packaging. The material is purpose-grown and sourced in the EU.

The material used is partly made of calcium carbonate – the same substance found in eggshells – so it decomposes harmlessly.

Organic Sea Harvest CEO Ove Thu commented: “Today’s packaging and transportation of food must change to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases… We have been invested in finding a better way to package our frozen salmon portions. We can now announce we have found a solution, which will be made available to retailers and their customers.

“We have worked with CELNOR before and the CF422 packaging we’ll use is not used anywhere else in the industry. We are delighted to be able to offer our customers and retailers a flavoursome, organic product in environmentally friendly packaging.”

Organic Sea Harvest compostable packaging