The first European strategy on plastics was approved in 2018 and ordered that all plastic packaging in the EU market must be recyclable by 2030. The EU has thereby established a fundamental aspect of its transition to a more circular economy.
The food industry is the focus of attention of a growing number of conscientious citizens and new European regulations for protecting the environment and encouraging sustainability. This tendency also affects our sector, and we have in fact been looking for ecological, biodegradable and compostable alternatives for the packaging of our products.
We are aware that there is no obvious replacement for plastic that is scalable (it can be adapted without a loss of quality), recyclable (it can be reused in the manufacturing process) and affordable(with an acceptable cost for the industry). The challenge is to establish a coordinated system in which all the actors work together: farmers, materials suppliers, producers, clients and customers.
At Grupo La Caña, the goal of our mission is to contribute to a healthy, natural and tasty diet at domestic and international level, based on continuous improvement through R+D+i but also contributing to sustainable and environmental development of the farming sector and our environs. The fulfilment of this statement is supported by our corporate values with particular emphasis on sustainability.
Our firm commitment to sustainability in the market where we operate, the agri-food industry, has made us active drivers of model change towards a circular economy, one which returns to the supply chain the environmental inputs it needs.
Plastic, along with cardboard, is part of our production process from the beginning, and they comply with standards such as the R-Pet 100% certificate, for the former, and the FSC for the latter, whatever versions and formats are employed. This is why all the different packaging formats for our products on the market have been 100% recyclable and environmentally friendly for some time now. We have always preferred cardboard as the main alternative to plastic, having encouraged the introduction of other options to our production process that continue to guarantee the quality and safety of our fruit and vegetables.
As regards products, the changes have been significant. We have begun to replace the plastic punnet for our cherry tomatoes by using an FSC biodegradable cardboard or compostable cellulose box, solutions that considerably reduce the use of plastic by around 8%.
The changes in the packaging of Dutch cucumbers are more complex because of the delicacy of the product. We have therefore begun to work with biodegradable and compostable plastic wrap, as well as arranging larger shipments of unwrapped cucumber (product enclosed only in a cardboard box.
We are including changes to the packaging of all our range of products. Our clients have reacted very positively to our courgettes presented in biodegradable mesh. We have changed our plastic punnets for presenting products wrapped with a small band, reducing our use of plastic to an absolute minimum. These changes were also applied to our avocado production, where we also combined the FSC cardboard with the flow pack of compostable plastic.
In short, we are immersed in a continuous process of trials and testing in our production plants that requires the full involvement of our workforce, extensive communication with our customers and intense coordination with our suppliers.
Consolidated changes in our production
The introduction of changes in the whole production line calls for a process of trials, test runs, adjustments, measurements and monitoring of the results. In our case, the introduction of alternatives to plastic packaging is advancing continuously, based on 3 fundamental aspects:
- Adapting the machinery. We have made adjustments to our machinery to adapt it to use more delicate materials, which has enabled us to make beneficial changes such as reduced demand for heat and energy in processes such as sealing and shrinkwrapping.
- Personal involvement in the process. More people have been involved in the process, and they have all received specialist training.
- More detailed planning which has increased our capacity to respond to our clients and offer them alternatives already tested with our suppliers.
Our future lies in innovation.
Innovation is our business philosophy and it means being permanently and continuously prepared to be proactive, not just reactive.
The implementation of this process of transformation requires trials, testing and structural adaptation as part of a coordinated group led by the sales department, hand in hand with production, R+D+i and the collaboration of our trusted suppliers.