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Tackling our packaging problem

  • February 20, 2020
  • 2 min read

72% of New Zealanders are concerned about the build-up of packaging waste in our environment. That’s why making our packaging more sustainable is one of our priorities. 

Packaging waste is a huge global problem — one we contribute 150,000 tonnes a year to. We want to reduce our footprint by using less packaging and recycling more.

Recent packaging initiatives Fonterra has undertaken include: 

  • Committing to 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025
  • Undertaking a packaging audit to determine the state of our current packaging 
  • Signing NZ’s Plastics Packaging Declaration, strengthening our commitment to sustainable packaging by 2025. 
The team assessed 150,000 tonnes of packaging materials used for consumer, ingredients, foodservice products, and even logistics.

As part of our 2025 commitment, a team across Fonterra has undertaken a packaging audit in an effort to better track and plan for more environmentally-friendly sources of packaging.

Fonterra’s General Manager Global Sustainability & Partnerships Trish Kirkland-Smith says, we can’t manage what we don’t measure. “This audit helps us to better understand what our packaging it’s made of, where it comes from and where it ends up.”

The team assessed 150,000 tonnes of packaging material and how recyclable it is, in theory and practice. This included packaging materials used for consumer, ingredients, foodservice products, and even logistics.

Key data from the audit found that approximately:

  • 60% of all our packaging material is recyclable, and recycled in practice
  • 14% is collected and recycled through industry stewardship schemes in some markets
  • 14% is recyclable, but is not recycled due to lack of recovery or recycling services and infrastructure
  • 12% can’t be recycled in most markets.


When we talk about ‘recyclable’, we are taking a real-world view – it’s not just that the packaging is technically recyclable, as nearly everything is, but that it is recycled ‘in practice’ and that 80% of people who end up with the package to dispose of can do so.

Trish Kirkland-Smith, Fonterra General Manager of Global Sustainability & Partnerships

Why have packaging at all?

Trish says while packaging can have an environmental impact, it’s an important way to protect food. It extends the shelf life of food and prevents damage during transport.

“Food waste is a big problem around the world with roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption lost or wasted. That’s nearly 1.3 billion tonnes each year.”

Food waste represents 8.2% of all greenhouse gas emissions, almost matching road transport. In fact, if food waste was its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the US.

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“We can’t lose sight of the food waste issue, and we don’t want to solve the packaging problem by simply adding to the food waste problem,” says Trish.

“We believe we can reduce the impact of our packaging while also reducing the amount of food wasted – part of our vision to be sustainable for generations to come.”

So, what’s next?

There’s still work to do to make our packaging more sustainable and to ensure it actually gets recycled. We know that getting the right packaging recovery AND recycling infrastructure in place is key. That’s what we’re working with our industry and government partners to get it right.