Emirates Environmental Group Hosts a Virtual Panel Discussion “Sustainable Packaging & the Food Economy”

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Key stakeholders join EEG to share their views on the packaging industry. 

EEG hosted its 3rd Panel Discussion of the year under the title of “Sustainable Packaging & the Food Economy” on 26th July 2021. The pandemic, despite its negative impacts has highlighted the shortcomings of the food industry and its dependent entities. To realise the true impact of the food industry, EEG hosted this informative virtual discussion with panellist representatives from the private sector, the government and international bodies.

The Great Lockdown forced many people to switch their consumption practices and procurement methods to almost exclusively to online platforms and consequently the delivery industry. This new model, whether for groceries, prepared food or for other goods has increased its customers vastly since the beginning of last year. The hidden impact of this is the increase in packaging materials to safely deliver these goods and services to consumer doorsteps. “To truly achieve sustainability, we must look at the entire life cycle of a product and look at ways to minimise its negative effect on the environment and the society. The increase in usage of plastic and other packaging products to package food from fruits to cooked meals and have it delivered to your home has increased the amount of waste being generated” said Habiba Al Mar’ashi, chairperson of EEG.

The discussion revolved around the current methods of packaging and transporting food and its sustainability aspects. While convenient foods and delivery in the hustle and bustle of life and fast-paced economy might ease a person’s schedule, it has massive repercussions on the environment, human health and the ecosystem. Many of these packaging products are not recyclable and must be either sent to landfills or incinerated.  In the discussion, Mrs. Habiba questioned the panelists on the innovations in the food packaging industry that will put environmental and human health as priorities over the accumulation of monetary wealth and or easy convenience. It is vital to look at the big picture and the long term scenario to ensure that our way of life is sustainable in all three categories of societal, economic, and environmental.

The distinguished panellists who were invited to contribute to the discussions included:

  • Engr.  Yousef Mohamed Al Marzooqi – Head, Regulation & Systems at Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology (MoIAT).
  • Ms. Lisa Zimmermann – Scientific Communication Officer at Food Packaging Forum
  • Dr. Johannes Bergmair – Austrian Board Member and General Secretary of World Packaging Organisation
  • Ms. Meghna Lakhani – Founder and CEO of One Modern World.
  • Mr. Patrick Rowse – Sustainability Manager at Delivery Hero/Talabat.

Each speaker was provided with an opportunity to give an overview of sustainability of food packaging and its link to daily use, health, safety and the environment. With representatives from different entities and sectors of the society, the audience was able to get answers to the questions from diverse perspectives. EEG ensures this, as the solutions for a problem can be only achieved when a problem is tackled from all possible angles. The UN Sustainable Development Goals numbers 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities, 12 – Responsible Consumption and production, 13 Climate Action and 17 – Partnership for Goals can only be achieved by bringing to gather key stakeholders from different sectors of the society. This panel is a prime example of the aims to achieve the goals by 2030. The panellists were knowledgeable about the subject matter and shared their views on the topic with great clarity and eloquence. 

Engr. Yousef brought to the discussion the government’s standpoint to tackle these issues. He highlighted the strategic objectives and initiatives undertaken by the MoIAT to ensure that the industries in UAE comply with the national and global climate action goals.  He shared with the audience standards, legislations and mandates set by the government to ensure environmental protection is part of packaging industry compliances. Currently, there are a set of standards that enforce regulatory criteria that are applicable to all oxo‐biodegradable bags, packaging and disposable articles made from plastic polymers. This is in addition to all the marks and labels required for the use of such products. 

Ms. Zimmermann brought to the table the key aspects of safety. The use of current food packages such as plastic, which has toxic effects on both human health and environmental health. She highlighted the issues of migration of unknown chemicals used for the production of packages into human body. Over 100,000 chemicals can potentially migrate into the human body, however, even with the latest regulations set by the European Union only effectively address less than 100 of these potential chemicals. She insisted that the way forward is by implementing bio-based and biodegradable products and transition to circular economy.

Despite stating that food packaging has environmental consequences, Dr. Bergmair is with the view that there should be a balance. Food packaging is essential in the modern economy to ensure the preservation of food and prevent wastage. Food waste also creates carbon emission, and with significant wastage present in the world, its emissions are greater that the emission from the manufacturing of the packages. Therefore, packaging should be optimised to ensure that it is recyclable and there is no under packing or over packing; both extremes will have negative environmental impact.

Mr. Rowse as a representative from the delivery industry shared at the discussion the various standards set by their company to entities utilising their mobile applications and platforms. He shared the statistics taken by Talabat in the UAE and Qatar on the topics of sustainable packaging. According to their survey, an overwhelming 92% of their customer base in UAE stated that they would buy from restaurants that use sustainable packages for delivery. The standard set by the company ensures effective contribution to circular economy, use of plant based inks, and use of eco-friendly packages, without loss of quality and affordability. The company has set its gold standard for its customers, to keep up with the demands of the consumers and contribute to combating climate change.

Ms. Lakhani with a view from the private sector provided the statistics and figures of the most commonly available packages in the market. In addition, the steps taken by the industry to address the growing packaging waste was also shared with the audience. To attain the goals of sustainability, one should look at available statistics, regulations and even the types of transport used to ship/ deliver the materials. Ultimately, an important factor to notice is that you as the consumer have the power to demand change and support sustainable industries. They will play a key role in the transformation to sustainable and circular economy.

The panel was moderated by the EEG Chairperson, whereby she posed different questions to the panel and also requested the panel speakers to respond to questions posed by the audience. The event had great reception from all the attendees and everyone took new knowledge which is key to ensure innovative change in the industry for the better. 

About Emirates Environmental Group:

Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), is a professional working group established in 1991. It is devoted to protecting the environment through the means of education, action programmes and community involvement. EEG is actively encouraged and supported by concerned local and federal government agencies. It is the first environmental NGO in the world to be ISO 14001 certified and the only organisation of its kind in the UAE with accredited status to the United Nations Convention to Combating Desertification (UNCCD) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). EEG is a member of the UN Global Compact, the International Union of Conservation for Nature (IUCN), the Global Urban Development(GUD), the One Planet Network under programme of Sustainable Food System (SFS) and Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML)