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The BIG Packaging Debate makes its debut at the NEC easyFairs show

Packaging: Public Servant or Public Enemy?’

The country’s leading Packaging Specialists, Environmentalists and Brand Consultants will be making their way to Birmingham, on the 16th February, to form a panel of experts for ‘The BIG Packaging Debate,’ a lively packaging Question Time style session which makes its debut at the NEC easyFairs quartet of packaging shows.

Expert panelists will include Bob Gordon, from the British Retail Consortium, Dr Kevin Golding-Williams from Keep Britain Tidy, Karen Graley from Waitrose and finally Steve Kelsey from PI Global. Chairing the event will be Kevin Vyse from The Packaging Society, who comments:

"Debate, by its very nature, is not designed to find answers but to stimulate thought and raise passion enough to create action. The BIG Packaging Debate wants to tackle current questions, those that are top of mind and front of agenda, especially where our industry’s relationship with public and press are concerned."

With panellists’ comments being released ahead of The BIG Packaging Debate, things look set to be rather heated with emotions already running high.

Steve Kelsey, Joint founder of PI Global puts forward two perspectives, one seen through the eyes of US citizens and the other through their UK counterparts.

Steve says: "In America, packaging is recognised as being an efficient, technically accomplished industry that plays a vital role within society and contributes to economic growth. Its products are recognised as being essential for a modern civilisation and that life would be less enjoyable and practical without them.

He continues: "However, in the UK, the industry is seen to be an irresponsible and unnecessary adjunct to the high street consuming resources and generating enormous amounts of waste that directly threaten the environment. So why is the UK population so convinced that packaging is the source of many evils including the heat death of the planet, the murder of dolphins and whales and despoiling the streets? – It’s because the US population is better informed (by far), actually interested in the industry itself and has not endured £800M spent by various quangos and quasi-political bodies on misinformation over the last decade!"

Dr Kevin Golding-Williams, Senior Public Affairs Manager at Keep Britain Tidy, comments: "Packaging that ends up on our streets as litter is a big problem. Retailers and producers have a responsibility to tackle this issue and we support moves to reduce and make more packaging recyclable.

"It ‘s almost 20 years since innovation enabled the blight of ring pulls to be removed from our streets and we are confident that clever design will also play a part in removing burger boxes, cigarette butts and chewing gum from our communities."

Karen Graley Packaging and Reprographics Manager at Waitrose, adds: "I agree, packaging has to be fit for the purpose, as well as helping keep our streets clean, but it also has to attract shoppers. As a responsible retailer we work hard to make the balance right, as it’s vital that the correct information is on the pack, whilst using the least amount of material possible."

Steve remarks: "That’s all true Karen, but it’s also about educating your shoppers. We have an avid appetite for doom and gloom in the UK while the US is far more optimistic and pro-active. Education is key. We need to be very assertive about the benefits that packaging delivers and demonstrate that to the public just how crappy life would be without packaging."

He continues: "For example, if you were to take away blister packs and glass pill bottles we would have no way of delivering pharmaceuticals. At first this seems like a trivial thing but this means: no oral contraceptives, no pain killers, no hypertension pills, no Alzheimer’s remedies, no antibiotics. If you doubt this try to think of another means of getting drugs to millions of people every day around the UK in perfect condition at minimal cost."

Bob Gordon, Environment Policy Adviser at the British Retail Consortium highlights Steven’s word further: "For many, packaging is an iconic symbol of a wasteful society, especially in this country. A significant piece of work needs to be done to educate a range of stakeholders regarding the purpose and benefits of packaging."

Karen comments: "I completely agree, and that’s why at Waitrose we are doing this more and more. One example is the recent re-design of our diced and minced beef packs. By removing the rigid tray and instead using floppy but robust packing, we are still able to have all the necessary information on the pack, whilst saving shoppers tonnes of waste each year."

Bob makes a final observation: "Packaging is vital to protect and preserve products. Retailers, like Waitrose, have made significant efforts to optimise packaging, particularly under collaborative agreements such as the Courtauld Commitment, which has reduced packaging, product damage and food waste. And long may it continue."

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