On the margins of COP28: The F&B sector’s sustainability breakthroughs to step into the future of the Middle East

The Middle East is known for its arid climate, making it vulnerable to climate change

By Niels Hougaard

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Niels Hougaard, Managing Director, Tetra Pak Arabia.
Niels Hougaard, Managing Director, Tetra Pak Arabia.

Published: Sun 19 Nov 2023, 9:45 PM

As the global community gaze turns to Dubai for COP28, we find ourselves standing at a crossroads where environmental urgency meets regional aspirations. In addition to the challenges stemming from geopolitical uncertainty, the Middle East is particularly sensitive to the effects of climate change. Hosting COP28 in the UAE, the first Paris Agreement signatory in the region, aligns with the GCC state’s commitment to sustainability, including ambitious Net-0 GHG emissions targets by 2050. The broader region’s efforts can clearly be seen in its F&B sector making substantial contributions to sustainability, in alignment with the UN SDGs (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) and the COP28 rationale.

The Middle East is known for its arid climate, making it vulnerable to climate change, including water scarcity and frequent heatwaves. In 2019, the UAE was identified as one of the places most affected by climate change, but its significant investment in green solutions and technology showcased its commitment to mitigating the concern. As it turns out, the F&B industry in the region is using technology and innovation to address climate-related challenges, bringing transformative initiatives in parallel to governmental policy changes. The thriving sector is expected to continue to grow with specific consumer trends including sustainability leading the charge. The importance of partnerships in this journey cannot be emphasised enough as collaboration allows the exchange of ideas and foster a broader sense of responsibility and conscious decision-making.

Tetra Pak, in this respect, has been allying with different governmental and non-governmental entities with the aim of contributing to advancing the sustainability wheel in the GCC region and the Middle East, taking into consideration a key part of the discussions at COP28, the UN SDGs, in particular, the 2nd and 12th goals: Zero Hunger, and Responsible Consumption and Production. The initiatives that Tetra Pak engaged in are as follows:

A collaboration with HSA Group to improve food safety in food security in Yemen by introducing a school feeding program. Tetra Pak's aseptic packaging technology, which ensures an extended shelf-life of up to 12 months without preservatives, enables the safe provision of milk even under challenging conditions.

A partnership with SADAFCO in a campaign, "Zero Waste, Better Taste", in 250 schools across Saudi Arabia, aiming to raise awareness among youth about the nutritional benefits of milk and promote recycling and sustainability.

A partnership with STP (Saudi Top Plastic) and OPI (Obeikan Paper Industries) with a joint investment of over €3 million to establish a recycling hub that processes cartons collected from Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries, separating paper fibres from polymers and aluminium (PolyAl). The resulting materials are transformed into high-quality recycled duplex boards and plastic granules, which are sold as new products, contributing to the creation of a circular economy through recycling and marketing potential waste.

An active collaboration with the Saudi government through the participation in the Packaging Working Group to advance circular economy efforts for post-consumer packaging and the establishment of an MOU with local regulators including MWAN (National Centre for Waste Management) for the development of waste management regulations with a focus on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

The promotion of carton package recycling in the UAE through partnerships with Union Paper Mills (UPM) for carton collection and recycling. They collaborate on recycling capabilities, technology, and the operation of a pulping line in Dubai.

An allyship with Nuitree Food to establish a plant-based manufacturing facility in the UAE, offering a comprehensive processing and packaging solution.

These initiatives have allowed Tetra Pak to be at the forefront of positive change in the region’s F&B sector. As COP28 is around the corner, the company is still getting involved in finding solutions to environmental challenges and advancing sustainable practices while considering UN SDGs as a framework for addressing the various aspects of sustainability. Such initiatives provide the F&B sector in the Middle East with opportunities to contribute to relief in vulnerable areas and to the concepts of a circular economy and responsible waste management. They also allow companies to educate and engage the public in sustainability matters, emphasising the role of public awareness and engagement.

While COP27 was coming to an end, world leaders and delegates agreed to establish the Loss and Damage Fund to benefit nations that are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Climate projections for the UAE and the Middle East reveal alarming news. Yet, the region seems to be adapting to the changes and promoting resilience. This is manifested in the F&B sector of the region where multi-stakeholder cooperation is emphasising shared responsibility in addressing environmental and sustainability challenges, in alignment with UN SDGs and COP28 objectives.

The writer is Managing Director, Tetra Pak Arabia.

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