Mannok, a sustainable plastic food packaging manufacturer in Ballyconnell, County Cavan, features in ‘Heated’, a new RTE documentary that highlights people and organisations with remarkable, innovative solutions aimed at benefiting the planet and addressing climate change.

The six-part climate series is broadcast on RTÉ One and Mannok features on episode five. During the first part of this episode, presenter Rónán Ó Dálaigh visits Novelplast and Mannok to explore how two Irish companies are transforming the plastic packaging industry to increase plastic recyclability and reduce the amount of plastic that goes to landfill.  

While visiting Mannok, General Manager, Mark McKenna, takes Rónán around the manufacturing facility, showcasing the innovation used to improve recyclability and establish a true circular economy. Mark explains during the show,  

“We manufacture 2 million units of plastic food packaging annually, this includes meat and poultry trays, mushroom punnets, and dairy spread containers for major Irish & UK supermarkets.

 All of our PET (polyethylene terephthalate) products have 90% recycled content; while we do have 100% recycled products, at times, we need to add colour to trays and a small amount of virgin plastic, accounting for the remaining 10%.   

Not only are we using recycled plastic to create our products, but we have also done a lot of work in recent years to make our products more easily recyclable. All our products can be infinitely recycled. We have streamlined our products to consist of mono materials, containing only one type of plastic, and we have eliminated the need for absorbent pads in our Turloc meat tray range.”

Mark also explained in the episode that Mannok is a zero-waste manufacturer and has a closed loop system. For every tonne of raw material purchased, there is the equivalent quantity of material in trays leaving the factory.

Mannok is a client of Novelplast, a company in County Meath leading the change in how polyester material is recycled and repurposed. Novelplast transforms post-industrial plastic materials into innovative, sustainable products which are used by companies like Mannok to create new products. Its technology, developed in partnership with Starlinger, is the first of its kind in Europe and it recycles 20,000 tonnes of post-industrial Polyester fibre and other forms of Polyester material from landfill per year.

Novelplast, CEO, Neil Skeffington, concluded on the episode, “plastics aren’t bad; it’s how we deal with plastics after we have finished with them that is the problem.” Watch the full episode on RTE Player: https://www.rte.ie/player/series/heated/10002421-00-0000

During National Tree Week, Mannok and 16 students from St Aidan’s Highschool planted around 1000 native trees at the company’s Packaging facility to benefit biodiversity and enhance the surrounding landscape. Almost 10 different types of native broadleaf trees were planted, such as Oak, Birch, Sycamore and Hawthorn, helping the Packaging facility achieve its tree planting target defined in the Packaging Sustainability Strategy to “establish forestry onsite with 1000 trees.”

Mannok’s Environmental Team invited Year 9 pupils from a local high school, St Aidan’s, one of the four secondary schools the company has an educational partnership with, to join them in planting trees during National Tree Week.

Joining the week-long celebration to raise awareness of the importance of trees to the environment, which had a theme of ‘Biodiversity Begins With Trees’, the 16 students, Stephen Linden, Mannok’s Environmental Manager, and Oisin Lynch, Mannok’s Environmental Advisor, rolled up their sleeves to plant a small forest at the rear of the packaging facility in Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan.

Commenting on the importance of having local students involved, Mannok’s Packaging General Manager, Mark McKenna, said,

“It was important for us to have local students involved in this project as working in partnership with local groups and schools to raise awareness of biodiversity and the importance of conservation is a commitment within the protecting nature pillar of our sustainability strategy. We are very grateful for the help from the students, we hope they enjoyed learning more about nature and getting involved in a project to protect and develop the local environment.”

Mannok has a Packaging Products’ Sustainability Strategy, which has a key focus on “protecting what matters” and provides a roadmap to help the company achieve its sustainability goals over the next three years and continue as leaders in sustainability.

Protecting Nature is a key pillar within the strategy as the company aims to protect nature globally and locally, with the reduction of carbon emissions and the planting of trees to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and enhance biodiversity being a focus.

Mannok has already completed a number of targets within its strategy to enhance and protect nature, having planted half a million pollen and nectar rich flowers and native trees, uses 100% green electricity in the manufacture of its products and it has established three beehives housing 150K native Irish honeybee colonies at the front of the packaging facility, cared for by two beekeepers in the Packaging team and during last year’s honey harvest all 150 employees in Packaging received a jar of honey.

For more details on what Mannok has done to date to protect nature and what it has planned, download and read its Packaging’s Sustainability Strategy.

Mannok has launched a new Leading Excellence Programme, which will be implemented in every area across the business, to achieve and sustain the highest operational standards through the core principles of teamwork, problem-solving, innovation and leadership.

The programme provides a transferable framework based on four core pillars of Lean, Sustainability, Skills and Development and Continuous Improvement and will help the company achieve best in class standards across its entire operations.

By engaging all employees at every level in the business, the Programme will ensure each individual gains the necessary skills and knowledge to continually improve every process, making operations more efficient and sustainable and building a culture of continuous improvement.  

Explaining how the Programme will benefit the company and its people, Operations Director, Kevin Lunney, said,

“Continuous improvement and getting the best out of all our resources is key to the business success. Our industry is going through unprecedented change. We have a focus on lifetime sustainability of our products and a continuous need to innovate. We know our people have the ability to meet these challenges and we want to put in place the framework to support that.

We will equip all our people with the skills required and provide the most appropriate training and support to achieve operational excellence and achieve their career goals.

We will look at every task, every role, every process and rethink it, challenging ourselves to improve it, to make it more efficient, more sustainable, and safer wherever possible.

As we strive to achieve operational excellence the net result will be a highly efficient business with greater productivity and a multi-skilled, motivated workforce and significant benefits for our customers and people as well.”

Lean  

Mannok is focused on creating a work environment which maximises productivity whilst minimising waste and has already seen how the adoption of Lean principles can result in performance improvements and waste reduction. 

Through the rollout of the new Programme, the company will build on these successes by honing and progressing Lean activities in these areas, and go on to establish Lean principles in every area of the business.

By removing inefficiencies and streamlining services right across the company, aided by cutting edge technology and data analysis, the company will reduce costs and environmental impact, and ensure it consistently delivers the highest quality products and services to its customers. It will also create a positive, more engaging work environment for all employees.   

Sustainability  

Lean is designed to reduce waste, much of which will help improve how Mannok operates from an environmental perspective, such as reducing material waste, energy and water usage.  

As the company integrates Lean and Continuous Improvement throughout the organization, it is also committed to embedding sustainability considerations at every point. Every time a task, process or role is assessed for improvement, sustainability considerations will form an important part of the review to ensure improvements will also reduce the environmental impact where possible.  

Skills & Development  

Mannok aims to provide a clear developmental pathway for each employee under the Programme, to enable them to become confident and competent within their role and achieve their career goals.

The company already has a strong foundation in place, having established its award-winning Skills Development Programme in four of its core manufacturing facilities and introduced, a structured Lean training programme. The Leading Excellence Programme will interlink and extend the existing training initiatives to enable all employees to become multi-skilled and provide structured development pathways with all the necessary support to help achieve career progression.

Continuous Improvement  

To achieve true operational excellence, it is not enough to make improvements once. It must be an ongoing process, where the business continually strives to improve how it operates and seeks to do everything better.  

Through the new programme, Mannok will build a culture of continuous improvement whereby all employees at all levels are engaged in actively ensuring the improvements are sustained and constant review is an integral part of daily working life to find ways to further improve processes through continual review and incremental change.   

Conor Baxter, Operational Excellence Manager at Mannok, who has developed and is leading the Programme, commented,  

“We have built a comprehensive framework which will challenge us to rethink everything we do and will be transformative to the way we operate. There is no area of the business which will remain unchanged and all employees will benefit from the Programme, which will bring with it a wide range of new opportunities.

We want to get to a point where continuous improvement is everyone’s responsibility, and we have an engaged workforce which is fully equipped to achieve and maintain best in class operational standards in every area of the company. Our goal is to ensure maximum value for our customers by eliminating all non-value adding activities, whilst ensuring the long-term sustainability of our business for the benefit of our people and our local region.”

Mannok have been awarded a Silver Award at the Repak Pakman Plastic Pledge Awards 2020 in recognition of the company’s extensive work to make their products and operations more sustainable.

The company’s achievements include the development of their ground-breaking flagship solution, Detecta by Mannok, the first fully recyclable black plastic packaging, as well as two other innovative solutions designed to tackle specific recyclability issues, Orbital by Mannok and Signum by Mannok. In the space of just one year, Mannok have emerged as true leaders in the drive to develop more sustainable packaging solutions, with the launch of these three pioneering products and a host of additional sustainability initiatives.

The Pakman awards are the premier national environmental and sustainability awards in Ireland, that recognise excellence in recycling and waste management among businesses, organisations, community groups and initiatives in Ireland.

Due to the impact of Covid-19, this year’s awards did not include the full list of 14 categories seen in previous years, but rather the focus was solely on the Repak Plastic Pledge, with three categories of gold, silver and bronze, and one overall winner. With 125 Plastic Pledge signatories, there was a broad spectrum of organisations represented, and the shortlist included 13 very strong awards entrants.

In addition to Mannok’s Silver Award, the company were among three finalists for the overall Plastic Pledge Award winner, alongside Coca Cola and Aldi, with Aldi picking up the main prize.

Repak’s Plastic Pledge is a comprehensive commitment to reduce plastic packaging waste and help Ireland play its part in achieving the goals set out in the EU Circular Economy Package. The Pledge includes five overarching commitments, each with their own set of measurable targets. These five core commitments are:

1. PREVENT WASTE

Focus on prevention of plastic packaging waste by minimising single use packaging and promoting packaging reuse where possible.

2. SUPPORT CIRCULAR ECONOMY

Support Ireland to deliver the Circular Economy Package plastic recycling targets of 50% of all plastics by 2025 and 55% of all plastic packaging by 2030, as set by the European Commission.

3. SIMPLIFY POLYMERS

Reduce complexity within the plastic packaging supply chain by simplifying polymer usage and eliminating non-recyclable components in all plastic packaging by 2030.

4. USE RECYCLED

Help build a Circular Economy for used plastic packaging by increasing the use of plastic packaging with a recycled content.

5. AVOID FOOD WASTE

Ensure the reductions in use of plastic packaging do not jeopardise our opportunities to achieve Ireland’s goal of a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030 as set out in Ireland’s food waste charter. Plastic plays a role in preserving a large number of food products.

The Plastic Pledge awards criteria challenged signatories of the Pledge to demonstrate results in each of the core commitments. Mannok successfully showed significant achievements to achieve the Silver award, including the move to producing only fully recyclable plastic packaging, the removal of 1,000 tonnes of non-recyclable or difficult to recycle plastics from market, the use of circa 1 billion recycled PET bottles within their operations, and the diversion of 500 tonnes of black plastic packaging from landfill, and all in the space of a year.

Mark McKenna, General Manager of Mannok’s packaging operations, said of this latest award,

“For us, this is a particularly significant achievement. We are serious about our responsibility as plastic packaging producers to ensure everything we do is done in the most sustainable way and to make a significant contribution to the wider community to reduce plastic waste responsibly. The Plastic Pledge we have committed to gives us a comprehensive framework to achieving this and helps us benchmark our progress.

The calibre of the awards entrants shows that we as a company are up there with the very best when it comes to delivering on our sustainability commitments. To achieve a silver award in what is widely recognised as one of the most prestigious awards in the country relating to environmental achievements amongst such a field is fantastic recognition of our work in this area. We’re incredibly proud.”