Packaging resources for organic businesses
Packaging is an important aspect of what makes a product truly organic.
This is why we launched the world’s first packaging standards for organic products over 10 years ago. These encourage all organic companies certified by us to use the least amount of packaging possible and to use recycled or recyclable materials. They ensure that substances which have been shown to cause harm to human health or the environment are not used – for example we ban PVC, GM materials and phthalates.
Below we share how the Soil Association and Soil Association Certification are contributing to the conversation on packaging and share some useful resources for businesses looking for packaging options.
What to consider with packaging
We understand that businesses are faced with a range of options when it comes to packaging, but it’s difficult to know what to choose and why. Functionality and cost are always front of mind, but there’s a need to factor in sustainability considerations, as well. These include the material source and how it’s manufactured, its transportation footprint, and the end of life options within the existing infrastructure.
Thought should also be given to potential negative externalities, for example: will the packaging damage or reduce the productivity of natural ecosystems if it escapes collection systems? Of course, the starting point should always be to determine if packaging is even necessary at all!
As things stand, organic food in supermarkets has to be packaged to ensure it is not mixed with non-organic foods of the same variety. Until the organic sector becomes bigger than non-organic, this is, unfortunately, the best way to minimise the amount of packaging used overall.
Many organic brands are leading the way in packaging innovation, focusing on reducing and reusing their packaging, as well as considering the environmental impact of their material choices. Take a look at some of those brands and explore our resources on packaging, as we help drive improvement in the organic sector, tackling this complex issue.
WRAP guides to plastic packaging
As many businesses are now weighing up their options for plastics, there are a number of things to consider. To support informed choices, WRAP have produced several useful guides, such as:
- Understanding plastic packaging and the language we use to describe it It outlines the materials used to make packaging, the way plastics can behave and a handy lexicon for the different terminologies, including bioplastics.
- Considerations for compostable plastic packaging It highlights the necessity of clear and correct labelling, design, communications and treatment of compostable materials but does not suggest uses that are currently unfeasible in the UK today.
- Defining what’s recyclable and best in class polymer choices for packaging
All guides and reports can be accessed on WRAP's website.
What we're doing
We’re committed to playing our part – through the Soil Association's charitable and standard setting activities and through our organic and forestry certification work within Soil Association Certification.
Here’s more on what the Soil Association Charity have been doing both nationally and internationally on this complex issue and, where we see our role in organic.
The Leading Organic Alliance (LOA) Packaging Working Group is made up of organisations like the Soil Association Charity from across Europe. All LOA members have standards that go above and beyond the EU organic regulations. The working group has been set up in order to:
- Set the agenda for the organic movement in relation to packaging
- Share innovation and best practice
- Share knowledge and expertise
- Collaborate on standards that lead to meaningful change
Together the Packaging Working Group has developed a vision and a set of goals which underpin the change we want to see.
Organic products are sustainably packaged and safe for consumption.Our Vision
- All organic product packaging is developed in consideration of its entire life cycle.
- Organic products avoid packaging when possible, without compromising food safety and food quality to avoid food waste.
- All packaging is either reused, effectively composted in garden compost or an industrial composting plant or recycled.
- Packaging materials developed from organic waste, which are compostable and improve the soil, are favoured.
- All known harmful substances are prohibited from organic packaging.
- Consumers understand why an organic product is packaged in a certain way and believe in its’ credibility.
- All labelling is clear on how to compost or recycle packaging and is not misleading.
Soil Association standards are the only organic standards in the UK that cover any aspect of packaging. These standards are constantly under review as the evidence base develops.
At present Soil Association packaging standards focus on removing the most hazardous chemicals and production processes from our supply chains, including no phthalates (negative impact on human health), no PVC (environmental and health risks), only totally chlorine-free (TCF) or elemental chlorine-free (ECF) card and paper (chlorine bleaching can release dioxins), no GM derived packaging (which supports the growing of damaging GM crops), and restricted use of aluminium foil (linked to Alzheimer’s).
The Soil Association Charity Packaging Working Group consists of independent packaging experts. They advise the charity on the content of its packaging standards and provide valuable industry insights to help keep the standards progressive, innovative and in line with best practice.
There are 4 experts in the group:
- Robert Herridge,
- Steve Jackson,
- Stewart Rippon and
- Antoinette Devine
Between them they have directed packaging departments for multi-national companies, worked with recycling charities and advised the British Standards Institute (BSI) and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).
We’re committed to playing our part in reducing plastic pollution and waste in the organic sector, so along with 42 other organisations, the Soil Association Charity signed up to the UK Plastics Pact, launched by sustainability experts WRAP. The pact shows our support for meeting a number of ambitious industry-wide targets by 2025:
- Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models.
- 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable
- 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted
- 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging