How can I find a green manufacturer?

I've been developing my own range of cooking sauces for the past two years and interest from a few retailers has meant I need to get some proper packaging developed. I'm very keen to make sure all the jars and labels are environmentally friendly. How do I go about finding a green manufacturer and what kind of questions do I need to ask to make sure they're as environmentally friendly as they claim to be?

Stephen Charles writes:

Packaging is a notoriously difficult environmental area particularly in the food and drinks industry where companies need to consider the environmental impact of their product – its recycled content, recyclability and production methods – alongside the often competing demands of cost, product presentation and shelf-life.

Clearly it’s preferable to use recyclable materials but you must also demand a transparent view of the manufacturer’s supply chain. If your glass jars have been transported across continents to your food plant, this may have undermined the benefits of recycling it.

Glass is regarded by many as the most environmental material because it is theoretically ‘infinitely recyclable’. According to British Glass, recycling just one glass bottle saves enough energy to power a computer for 20 minutes. However, glass is also heavy and bulky (and fragile) and this can bring environmental and logistical drawbacks. Many companies are now experimenting with advanced pouch systems which are light weight and can be recycled.

Labelling provides further complications, where you need to be confident that the adhesives and inks, or their method of manufacture, do not contain dangerous by-products such as lead. At one time, I incorrectly assumed that etching glass bottles was a resource efficient way to brand packaging but then I discovered the strong acids that are used in this process and discontinued this form of labelling for my Vivreau water bottles.

Don’t be sucked in by claims that manufacturers use recycled materials in their processes. This may be true, but I’ve discovered firms making this claim who use only a tiny percentage of recycled glass in their jars and bottles.

Simply talking with your suppliers is one of the most effective ways of finding out what they’re doing to maintain high environmental standards. If you require more stringent assurances then you could require that your suppliers are certified to an environmental management system (EMS) standard such as ISO 14001, BS 8555 or the Eco-Management and Auditing Scheme (EMAS).

There is a lot of help available for green packaging. The government’s BERR Manufacturing Advisory Service is a great source for information and advice. Encourage your manufacturer to take up a free manufacturing review, advice on supply chain maximisation or subsidised training.

Industry groups such as the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) are also good sources of advice and information. FDF is encouraging its members to sign up to the Courtauld Commitment which aims to deliver an absolute reduction in the level of packaging waste by 2010.

Stephen Charles is managing director of mains-fed water system company, Vivreau


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