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Plastics and Sustainability

The information below provides an overview of plastics and sustainability for the specialist nutrition industry.

BSNA position on plastics and sustainability for specialist nutrition

The British Specialist Nutrition Association (BSNA) fully recognises its role and responsibility in supporting the protection of the environment and improving sustainable outcomes within the food industry. Packaging, and in particular plastic, plays an integral role throughout the supply chain in storing, preserving and protecting the foods and drinks we consume, thus playing a key role in preventing food waste and maintaining high quality food standards. Quality and safety demands of products often dictate the need for plastic – it is robust and helps to prevent spoilage or damage as well as loss of product, while also providing a sterile medium. Our members acknowledge that we need to take a leadership role in becoming part of the solution to concerns around the environmental impact of plastic and packaging, and are committed to the responsible and sustainable use of plastic and packaging across the supply chain.

Initiatives to reduce plastic waste and improve sustainability

Many of our member companies have plastic targets and pacts which pledge to reduce material usage and make all product packaging sustainable by a certain date. In addition, there are a wide range of actions our members are pursuing to further reduce overall plastic usage, and support commitments to make plastic packaging recyclable, including:

  • Reduction of wrapper sizes and modification of designs to reduce bulk and use less plastic as well as removal of unnecessary outer packaging
  • Active plans for more sustainable approaches across all the supply chain including climate neutral production sites, projects to support biodiversity, zero net carbon targets, healthy water cycles and sustainable agriculture
  • Reduction of use of plastic straws or use of alternative non-plastic straws
  • Using energy from a green provider
  • Support/establish recycling schemes
  • Using FSC* certified cardboard
  • Following incentives such as ISO 14001:2015, an international standard that specifies requirements for environmental management system
  • Support of the OPRL ‘on pack recycling labelling’ to help deliver a simple, consistent and UK wide recycling message

*The FSC system allows businesses and consumers to identify, purchase and use wood, paper and other forest products made with materials from well-managed forests and/or recycled sources.

Medical Nutrition Products

Foods for special medical purposes

FSMPs falling under Regulations (EU) No 609/2013 and (EU) No 2016/128, and their associated delivery systems, otherwise known as medical nutrition products, are intended for patients who have medically-determined nutrient requirements resulting from a disease, disorder or medical condition. 

A significant proportion of FSMPs are placed on the market in plastic containers which are generally designed for single use. The products are specialised feeds and may require the use of delivery systems (tubes and giving sets) classified as medical devices to administer the products directly into the gastrointestinal tract. They are used in hospitals and also may be used in care homes and within the patient’s home under medical supervision. 

The design of medical nutrition products and their packaging is very specific to their intended use in patients and takes account of:

  • Safety and suitability of use of the products in hospitals and other healthcare settings;
  • Sterility requirements for feeds to protect vulnerable patients from infection;
  • Connectivity required with feed delivery systems;
  • Ease of use and safety for patients, e.g. elderly patients;
  • Maintenance of essential nutrient content throughout the product shelf-life (multi-layered plastic maintains micronutrient levels for the product’s shelf-life period under conditions of natural light and ambient temperature)

For those patients who have to carry their feed in a rucksack, plastic provides a non-glass mobile option. Furthermore, glass cannot be used on hospital wards and in most care home environments, and is heavy – lower weight plastic can improve CO2 usage on transportation. Also, to ensure safe and accurate provision of nutritional feed through an enteral tube feeding system (including the use of an infusion pump), a pliable packaging material is required that is compatible with enteral tube feeding systems.

Parenteral Nutrition

For certain specialist medical products, such as parenteral nutrition (PN) bags, the use of plastic offers great compatibility and stability with PN components i.e. amino acids, lipids, glucose.

The majority of plastic used for medical nutrition products is recyclable.

New EU Regulations on plastics

To help reduce the amount of plastic at risk of littering the environment, specifically the marine environment, the European Commission Directive (EU) 2019/904 on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment was introduced in June 2019. This places certain requirements on manufacturers of single-use plastic or other plastic packaging products to reduce the amount of plastic at risk of littering the environment, specifically the marine environment.

The Directive contains provisions in line with strengthening the circular economy in the EU:

  • to eliminate unnecessary single use plastic items
  • to increase return and recycling schemes for single use plastic packaging
  • to increase the amount of recycled materials used in plastic packaging

FSMPs are exempt from the provisions of Article 6 and Article 9 of Directive (EU) 2019/904

The Commission proposal is driven by the need to reduce marine waste and is focused on the main contributors to this problem, i.e. single use plastics contained in fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs) and fishing gear. It is not intended to impact critical healthcare products and, therefore, medical nutrition products are exempt from elements of this proposal. However, BSNA member companies are committed to reduce, reuse, recycle and increase the use of recycled materials wherever possible.

Commitment to the future

BSNA member companies are committed to producing recyclable packaging and producing as little waste as possible in the manufacture and supply of products, with many lines of company portfolios working towards becoming 100% recyclable. BSNA and our members are committed to working with government and key stakeholders to improve infrastructure, regulation and practice around packaging to ensure sustainability throughout the entire packaging supply chain.