The Sustainable Business Network (SBN), in partnership with the Ministry for Primary Industries, Foodstuffs NZ and New Zealand King Salmon, has run a three-part plastics packaging masterclass series to help empower brands to make informed decisions around their packaging choices. The workshops are based on circular economy thinking and aim to help businesses meet the 2025 packaging commitments. Through these masterclasses, SBN is helping to chart a pathway to 2025 for Aotearoa New Zealand to establish a circular economy for packaging. The strengths of this approach that other sectors could model from include:
- Prioritising collaboration: SBN bring people from across the packaging system together to collaborate and share information with businesses who are seeking guidance. This includes packaged goods suppliers, designers and innovators, people with expertise in infrastructure, representatives from the packaging industry, and those in governance roles. Businesses also get to connect with likeminded businesses at these events, which supports shared solutions.
- Providing practical insights: SBN ask attendees to identify the aspects of their packaging that are problematic, bring their packaging to the workshops, and prepare questions so that they can leave with a better idea of the possible solutions to address their brand’s packaging challenges.
- Distilling complex information: Many brands don’t have time to wade through the wealth of packaging-related information that’s out there. During the workshop, experts share key insights through a series of quick presentations, followed by round-table Q&A sessions to provide further guidance and answer questions. SBN also highlights the most important information (e.g. how to design for recyclability) and additional useful resources in the workshop materials.
- Sharing information further: Because the capacity of the workshops is limited, SBN will publish output reports from the series to help disseminate the information to the wider business community.
- Trusted facilitation: Being an impartial organisation in the plastics, packaging and waste sectors has helped SBN to build trust and enable collaboration. Attendees expressed how necessary it is for an unbiased party to be doing such work, due to distrust and alternate agendas at play.
Addressing the following challenges faced by SBN could help improve the effectiveness of future educational initiatives for packaging and other sectors.
- Financial barriers: Due to a shortfall between investment and the high upfront costs of establishing and running the series, businesses had to pay to attend. This mostly limited attendees to larger companies with enough resource and created tension with Councils and Government agencies who want to participate in but not sponsor the initiative. Grants or weighted costs for different sized businesses may help address this issue.
- A crowded space: To avoid duplicated efforts and support collaboration, it is important that the many stakeholders and organisations have clearly defined roles and are willing to collaborate and share information. Resource constraints that limit active involvement and a lack of communication and transparency can make progress challenging. Regulation that means all organisations in the sector are on even footing with a common goal may support shared action.
- Communicating to a diverse audience: the range of businesses and other organisations that want information on plastics and packaging vary considerably. Developing digestible information in a format that any business can access is challenging. With larger uptake, messaging could be directed at similar groups within an industry.
- Urgency: The workshops are in response to SBN’s members asking for clear guidance on plastics and packaging. Many brands urgently want answers and fixes to their packaging problems, but may be limited in how much time and resource they can dedicate to making an informed decision. A national plastics action plan could give businesses the direction they are seeking to take action immediately.