GS1 Standards for the “new plastics economy”

Jan 2020

 

Plastic packaging that isn’t recyclable or compostable will be a thing of the past, one day. New Zealand is part of the global “new plastics economy” movement – and there’s growing recognition here and around the world that GS1 Standards are a key tool in the transition away from today’s wasteful and polluting economies.

In every supply chain, companies and governments will need an accurate, shared understanding of what product packaging is in use, where, how and why – and what options are in place, or should be, for its recycling or disposal. The GS1 Global Data Synchronisation Network (GDSN) can provide such a comprehensive and common view of products and their packaging across today’s globalised economy. The GDSN is the network of interoperable data pools which enables users to securely synchronise and share master data based on GS1 Standards. In New Zealand, our National Product Catalogue (NPC) is one of the GDSN’s 43 data pools.

The NPC currently enables users to enter 120 attributes on a single product – attributes that include types of packaging, the materials used, recyclable features and the identity of any relevant recycling schemes. The standardised information can be very detailed: For example, is the material in question a high or low density polyethylene, a polyvinyl alcohol or another listed forms of plastic? (Planning is underway for the NPC to encompass up to 200 attributes).

GS1 New Zealand supports usage of the NPC across the food and grocery, and hardware and building supplies sectors with the GS1 ProductFlow service for data validation and verification. Today, there are more than 800 users of the NPC and the number continues to rise each month.

New Zealand is moving on the “new plastics economy” concept with its outlawing of single-use plastic bags in retail (from 1 July 2019) and a high-profile commitment by 12 corporates which operate here to use 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging from 2025 or earlier. In June 2018, these 12 signed a New Zealand Declaration under the so-called New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. The latter has also been signed by this country’s Ministry for the Environment (one of 16 government agencies worldwide).

Foodstuffs and Countdown signed alongside NZ Post and Frucor, and the global companies Amcor, Danone, L’Oréal, Mars, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever and Nestlé in respect of their local operations. Foodstuffs and Countdown are major users of the NPC – and they have been active on packaging waste reduction since New Zealand’s milestone Packaging Accord in 2004. That accord set percentage goals for diversion of used packaging from landfill to recycling. Five years later, these goals were deemed to have been met (for plastics, the recycling target was 23% by 2009). Voluntary efforts have continued in production and retail industries since that time.

Looking ahead, New Zealand’s supermarket groups have committed to making greater use of the NPC for all supply chain purposes, including increased granularity in the description of packaging type and materials.