As the 2nd World Plastics Innovation Summit approaches, we enjoyed catching up with Kris Renwick, the summit chair, before the event. Kris is the Sustainability Packaging Strategy Manager at Reckitt. Continue reading the interview led by the summit's conference director, Ashley.
Hi Kris, we are so glad you can join us again for the 2nd World Plastics Innovation Summit, this time to chair the event.
Hi Ashley, it’s a pleasure to be joining again, and especially to be asked to chair the Summit.
You were with us in Berlin last year as well but for those who haven’t met you, could you tell us more about your professional background and your area of interest in the plastic sector?
I’ve just ticked over 12 years now working across plastics and packaging, initially in the food industry, work closely with retailers in the private label space, before joining Reckitt in 2012, where I’ve spent time in various packaging development roles, working on major global brands such as Nurofen, Gaviscon, Dettol, Durex, and many more. My time in the industry has taught me about the valuable role plastic plays in protecting and preserving the products we use every day, but in recent times we’ve seen much more around the negative aspects of plastic use, which is why two years ago I made the decision to move into a more sustainability-focused role, where I can make an impact in driving sustainability across Reckitt’s packaging footprint, ensuring plastic and other materials are used responsibly to fulfil the valuable role they hold in the FMCG world, whilst reducing the impact they have on the environment.
In your opinion, what do you believe are the biggest challenges facing the plastics industry today?
Regulations are definitely grabbing the headlines, and much of my time, right now. In Europe we’ve seen the announcement of the Packaging & Packaging Waste Regulation, there are ongoing negotiations around the creation of a Global Plastics Treaty, plus the intensification of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in all corners of the world. Many of these regulations will have a direct impact on plastic production and use, leading to a need to adapt and innovate as we negotiate the way forward. In the case of EPR, there is also an additional cost which is landing at the door of those placing plastic packaging onto the market, which will be a big driver of change as companies look to reduce the impact of this on the bottom line.
Bio-plastics have gained significant attention as a potential alternative to traditional plastics. What is your perspective on the current state of bio-plastic development and its viability as a sustainable solution?
Bio-plastics are an interesting area right now. A couple of years ago we were seeing a lot of excitement, but at that stage, it was still early days for the development and in particular the availability at scale. Now we see more players entering the market and a level of maturity which is now being reached. There are still some challenges with certain solutions, such as compatibility with recycling streams, or recognition of their benefits within regulations or reported data, but they certainly have an increasing role to play as we look to create a more circular economy for plastics.
Plastic production has seen a significant increase over the years, contributing to the global plastic waste problem. How can the industry balance the need for plastic materials with the urgency of reducing plastic waste?
As I said above, we need to be much more responsible in the way in which we use plastic materials. I think all companies have been guilty in the past of using it as a cheap and easy option, but going forward it’s vital to select materials based on their full life cycle, and where we use plastic to take advantage of the key properties if offers us, we need to ensure we only use the minimum amount necessary, design for it to be recycled at the end of life, and incorporate recycled content where possible. In some cases, we can look more at how we can reuse plastic. If a consumer can refill their bottle of product, that’s one less new bottle we need to produce. If we can then scale that approach over a broader category or geography, then we’re making huge strides in reducing the amount of plastic which is put into circulation.
Collaboration between different stakeholders is vital for sustainable solutions. How can governments, industry leaders, and the public work together to promote responsible plastic use and achieve meaningful progress?
Within the industry, we’re certainly seeing NGOs, industry, and business associations playing a key role in connecting all the stakeholders, in forums where we can share ideas, challenges, and work collaboratively. The output of these groups now needs to lead to action to move everyone forward. Brands and retailers, as the public face of the packaging industry in many cases, play a critical role in consumer education and behaviour change, and simple things like adding clear recycling information onto packaging makes a big difference in improving recycling rates. Consumers' behaviours and habits are changing, as they become more aware of environmental issues, which creates pressure on governments and industry to act in the correct way too, and they need to use their voice to hold the industry to account on occasions where it does get it wrong. From a Government perspective, they’re are driving change already with new policies and regulations, but it’s great to see many are also working closely with industry on these changes, which is vital in reaching a position which drives progress whilst recognises the inherent challenges which exist and avoids unintended consequences.
The World Plastics Innovation Summit brings together leading industry experts and innovators for 2 great days of knowledge-sharing and networking. What are some notable case studies you recall from last year and what topics are you looking forward to hearing more about during this edition?
What I loved about last year’s event was that it brought together people from every part of the plastics value chain. I had great conversations with people from different industries, and who work in completely different roles, all of which brought fresh perspectives on the challenges faced. It’s tough to pick a standout from last year's Summit because each presenter brought something different, and I learnt a lot from the event. If I have to pick two though I’ll say that the session on the future of packaging standards, from Joanna Griffiths at BSI, was especially interesting in understanding the work which is going on in the background to develop new standards which will help create reassurance for consumers, in what’s a very busy claims space right now; and then it’s always great to hear about what Coca Cola are doing. The sheer scale of their business means they often lead the way in setting new standards in the industry, and understanding how they develop and test the solutions of tomorrow was a fantastic insight.
For this year’s edition, I’m really looking forward to hearing from Polymateria. I met Alessandro Dulli at the event last year, so it’s great to see him returning to present a super interesting solution which I think will offer something which could help a lot of companies in the room. And then I have to say my esteemed Reckitt colleague, Arno Melchior. It’ll be great to have Arno there to share some of his vast knowledge and insights from his many years in the industry, and I think he’ll challenge some people’s thinking on topics, so it’s definitely one not to miss!
Thank you for your time and I look forward to seeing you in November!
Thank you, and look forward to seeing everyone in Berlin.