Key Industry Stakeholders Discuss Plastics in Ornamental Horticulture
AIPH Sustainability Conference, Noordwijk, the Netherlands, 2nd April

On 2nd April 2019, the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) brought together key industry players in the coastal town of Noordwijk, the Netherlands for a conference entitled ‘Plastics in Ornamental Horticulture – Creating a Sustainable Supply Chain’.

The event, coordinated by the association as part of its Spring Meeting, was held with the purpose of exchanging knowledge and facilitating discussion on the use of plastics within the industry. In recent years the issue has risen higher on the agenda of governments, NGOs and businesses globally. With the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) increasingly incorporated into government policy; the expectation that sustainability should be a core brand value and the rapid ground swell of consumer behaviour on products such as plastic straws, it is both incumbent and imperative for industry to take a close look at its use of plastics in products and processes.

Keynote speaker Dr. David Bek of Coventry University gave a broad overview of plastics within the context of sustainability and he identified the three most significant impacts; climate change (a result of the production process), environmental (the degradation of natural systems e.g. oceans) and human health (leaching into the food chain). A Mintel study recently revealed that ¾ of UK consumers believe too much plastic is used in packaging and some retailers have vowed to reduce plastic on shelves and replace it with alternatives, with flowers for example, using string ties, no plastic wrapping and recycled cardboard labels.

Ecochain Technologies Founder, Boudewijn Mos, gave an informative presentation which revealed the first carbon foot print was measured in 1969 by Coco Cola as a method of cutting costs and increasing profits. Mos defined the biggest area of a company’s carbon footprint as its biggest area of wasted resources. By calculating mass used at each step of the value chain and the amount of that mass which is recycled, a clear business case for sustainable investment or return on sustainable investment (ROSI) can be developed.

Sustainability Managers Elise Wieringa of Royal Lemkes and Jose van der Klauw of Van Dijk Flora presented their companies’ joint response to KVG – a Dutch government initiative to reduce post-consumer plastic waste. They advocate the value of behavioural change. Their project identified five Rs: Refuse (don’t use unnecessary plastics), Reduce, Recycle, Reuse and Renew and created an industry recycling solution for single use trays.

Having also joined forces, ten UK growers united to solve the issue of carbon black pots which current UK kerbside recycling facilities cannot process. Martin Simmons of the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), the organisation which established the initiative, presented the new taupe pot. The pot has been rapidly adopted by the large UK nursery Farplants and its managing director and speaker Brett Avery believes the company will be using 100% taupe pots by 2020.

Yme Pasma, Chief Operations Officer of Royal Flora Holland (RFH) presented the ‘Plastic Pact’ and RFH’s €26m investment to develop the new 588 flower bucket. Sven Hoping of Poppelmann challenged the perspective of plastic as waste and highlighted the differences between plastic consumer waste (PCR) and plastic industry waste (PIR).  He states that plastic has value if used responsibly.  The Poppelmann Blue recyclable pot was launched in 2018 and is today used in selling 80% of all German herbs.

Professor Charlie Hall of Texas A&M University revealed that fifty years of case studies prove sustainability is the route to cost saving. Through lifecycle mapping of every material and activity in production it is possible to measure carbon footprint. He recommended that lifecycle mapping should be documented for landscape systems rather than individual plants, so the broader sustainability of the industry is considered and that to leverage this data it is critical to communicate it to policy makers.

The programme was completed with a panel discussion comprising speakers Dr Bek, Charles Hall and Elise Wieringa as well as Jeroen Oudheusden of Floriculture Sustainability Initiative, Piet Briet of Royal FloraHolland and Peter Vaughan of the Nursery and Garden Industry Australia.

The conference raised many complex issues; regional differences, consumer attitudes, variety of plastics, impacts of production in developing countries etc. Despite these, the speakers strongly agreed that sustainability is an investment for increasing profits and reducing negative economic, social and environmental impact. The qualities of plastics were recognised; its light weight generates a lower carbon footprint and its barrier properties reduce food waste, but the resounding message was clear: ‘refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and renew’.

Speakers called for transparency and for business to trust ROSI and work collectively to optimise and accelerate the gains. “The sustainability problem is too big for the unique selling proposition of one business to come before the solutions for the global horticultural industry” stated Dr Bek.

Commenting on the outcomes of the conference, AIPH Secretary General, Tim Briercliffe said “It is clear that the ornamentals industry around the world is engaging in tackling this issue.  There is no one solution and collaboration in the supply chain will be necessary to reduce the impact through reducing, re-using and recycling.  However, it is clear that there are many very positive initiatives underway and the industry has many opportunities to get involved in defining the future in relation to the use of plastics.”

The conference video and PowerPoint slides are available on the AIPH website: http://aiph.org/aiph-events/aiph-sustainability-conference/