Research Paper – Collaborations for circular food packaging: The set-up and partner selection process

More than 40% of petroleum-based plastic materials produced are converted into packaging and half of those to food packaging. Around 95% of plastic packaging, however, is lost to the economy after a short first-use cycle and is often discarded in landfills or ends up in the natural environment. The circular economy is widely promoted as a solution to the current inefficient production, use, and disposal of plastic food packaging, most frequently via recycling or reuse. While the concept of circular food packaging has lately been taken up by policy and industry initiatives in Europe, its implementation remains limited due to the high degree of cross-chain collaboration required. Nevertheless, literature on collaboration in the circular economy is still scarce and provides little guidance on how to build up effective circular partnerships. This research aims to fill this knowledge gap by answering the research question: “How do focal firms set up and choose collaborations for circular food packaging?” A qualitative Delphi method was used to develop a theoretical framework based on collaboration literature and refine it by means of semi-structured qualitative interviews with 17 food companies operating in Europe and circular packaging experts. Results show that the process of identifying and establishing collaborations for circular food packaging typically follows nine steps, spread over five phases. The study also found fourteen possible partner roles and nine partner characteristics that are important in the selection and evaluation of potential partners for circular collaborations.

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