Agri and Chem join forces to tackle mountains of waste

Large agricultural, retail, packaging and chemical companies connected in mid-November during the 4th Agri meets Chemicals (AmC) event to discuss the opportunities offered through the cooperation of sectors.

From Waste to Taste was the theme of this years edition, held in Rotterdam. Rabobank and Deloitte have been organizing this annual event since 2014 for large customers from the agricultural, packaging and chemical industries. The aim is to facilitate a broad discussion that could lead to developing joint sustainable solutions within the packaging supply chain. Leading companies exchanged ideas in a low-threshold setting about the kind of challenges they encounter in practice and looked for ways to tackle problems on the spot.

Waste in context

Jerome Peribere, CEO of packaging company Sealed Air, emphasised the importance of this year’s theme in his presentation: “If food waste were a country, it would be the largest polluter after the US and China”. The event was attended by representatives from about 60 different companies across the supply chain, including Cargill, SuikerUnie, Danish Crown, Picnic, BillerudKorsnäs, BA Glass, SABIC and Port of Rotterdam.

Holistic approach needed

Many large companies see that their ecological footprint is becoming untenable. Chemical companies are eagerly looking for alternatives to fossil fuels. Food & Agri businesses and packaging firms also want to become more sustainable, for example by reducing the CO2 emission of their packaging activities or reducing the volume of packaging materials, but experience the challenges as being too big to solve alone. During AmC it became apparent that there is not a “one-size fits all” solution. Bio-based products which are considered by some to be a more sustainable option are generally not available on a large scale. These polymers are also not suitable for every application, and are still much more expensive than fossil-based plastics. Packaging extends the shelf-life of food and beverages, which leads to less food waste. But packaging also results in more packaging waste. Developing solutions to this dilemma requires a holistic approach and coordinated effort by the various parties in the agricultural and food and beverage sector, the (bio) chemical industry, packaging sectors, the retail sector and authorities.

“Time well spent”

The attendees found this edition of AmC inspiring, with the event inviting interaction between participants and facilitating networking.

A small-scale set-up was chosen this year, compared with previous years. The intimate setting - with round tables, voting rounds and TED-style presentations without a podium - meant that participants could easily engage in conversations with one another. For example, an innovative packaging company, retailer and dairy company are now looking at how they might work together to introduce a more environmentally friendly packaging solution while at the same time reducing the level of packaging and food waste.

“Time very well spent”, Jerome Peribere from Sealed Air commented. “The conference helped to generate momentum to form a ‘coalition of the willing’ to work towards a reduction of both food and packaging waste.” Rob Beekers from Cargill agreed: “The value of an event like this is that Rabobank and Deloitte are bringing players across a specific value chain together to look at the challenges and opportunities in that value chain holistically and foster a discussion on what can be done instead of what cannot be done”.

Learnings

Something all six speakers and the other attendees agreed upon was the need for more collaboration, both within and between chains, to reach solutions. And also with competitors. It also became clear that educating the consumer is key. A point of discussion was the driving force role of leading companies. Should they take the lead in innovation and education, or should they follow government regulations? Cooperation between start-ups, multinationals, SMEs and the government may lead to better results. The conclusion after this discussion was that companies can make the difference when working on a better world together.

Watch the video report of the fourth edition of Agri meets chemicals.