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A new approach to feeding our planet – how Government can help decarbonise our food system

Alex Henriksen, Managing Director | Tetra Pak

4 min read Partner content

On Tuesday 13th June, in Parliament, Tetra Pak will bring together stakeholders for a panel event examining what more needs to be done to decarbonise the UK, and global, food system. Ahead of that event, Alex Henriksen, Managing Director of Tetra Pak UK, reflects on the need to establish a new, sustainable approach to feeding our planet

Adopting an integrated approach

As the world’s population rises above eight billion people, we face a challenge of feeding our planet in way that does not further contribute to climate change.

Yet, continuing pressures on the food supply chain, and food inflation at a forty-year high, mean that increasingly there is a risk that efforts to decarbonise our food system will falter under significant commercial pressures.

Indeed, recent research by Tetra Pak revealed that while 70% of food and drink producers and manufacturers agree that sustainability is an urgent issue, the current socioeconomic climate means that other issues need to take priority within their organisation.1

Ensuring that sustainability is at the heart of the food and drink industry is vital if we are to decarbonise the food system, but the industry cannot achieve this in isolation – collaboration between government and businesses is key.

That is why earlier this year Tetra Pak, working with experts from across the food and drink value chain, launched a report, Food positive: driving change to decarbonise the UK food system.

The report, as part of its recommendations, identified three clear roles for the Government in driving a lower carbon UK food system.

1. Encouraging innovative approaches to food production

We will need innovative and novel ways of producing food, if we want to feed our ever-growing population in a secure and sustainable way.

At Tetra Pak we are proud to be working with partners to develop new techniques for lower carbon food production, and to identify innovative food sources.

The Government has an important role to play in incentivising and encouraging this sort of innovation, in particular through the use of ‘green’ public procurement. This tool can provide the confidence and certainty to unlock capital investment or public-private partnerships, helping innovative companies to place their technology on the market, and in turn fostering the uptake of more sustainable food production techniques.

2. Driving a recycling culture, underpinned by effective infrastructure

Packaging plays a crucial role in facilitating the global food system, helping to ensure that food is safe and available.

At Tetra Pak we are constantly innovating to ensure that our packaging is as low carbon, renewable and recyclable as possible, and we work with local authorities and waste management companies to ensure that as many of our cartons as possible are collected for recycling. Indeed, the UK has its own, dedicated carton recycling plant, near Halifax.

But unless the infrastructure is in place to facilitate the collection and sorting of packaging materials, and unless consumers are engaged and aware of how best to recycle, we will never create the circular economy that the UK needs, and which will underpin a decarbonised food system.

Government has a crucial role to play in this regard. Working with industry, it must continue to develop more effective waste and recycling policies, and make them as consumer friendly as possible.

One of the ways they can do this is ensuring policies take a consistent approach, and collect as wide a range of materials as possible. Tetra Pak was disappointed that the proposed Deposit Return Scheme will not include cartons – it is now crucial that cartons are included as a collection stream as part of the Government’s proposals for consistent household recycling. This should be supported by a specific and mandatory collection and recycling target for cartons.

3. Helping our young people to develop more sustainable diets

The school food standards are key to ensuring children “develop healthy eating habits”. However, these standards do not consider a crucial element of food – its impact on the climate.

The Government should expand existing standards for healthy school meal provision to include requirements around the sustainability and environmental impact of the food being offered. Information about healthy and sustainable diets for children should be provided, to ensure that young people understand how the food they eat can impact climate change.

For its part, Tetra Pak has invested in feeding programmes to develop healthier diets, and in 2022, provided 66 million children in 44 countries with nutritious beverages, including school milk. Beyond providing safe and secure food and drink, the programme supports local value chains, helps to alleviate local poverty, and improves children’s health.

4. Achieving net zero

If the UK is to meet its net zero ambitions, we need to quickly establish a new approach to how we produce, process and package food, with collaboration between Government and the industry playing a key role in doing so.

Join us for Tetra Pak’s panel event, on Tuesday 13th of June in Parliament, as we discuss the changes needed to establish a sustainable and secure food system in the UK.

1 The data cited in this article relates to a survey of 150 food and drink business leaders across the UK and Ireland and 511 consumers across the UK, conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Tetra Pak from 7 to 12 October 2022.

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