It’s time to un-shelve eco-unfriendly packaging – How will the industry meet environmental challenges?


17 July 2018
By Nicole O’Donoghue

As a PR and marketing agency immersed in the graphic arts industry, the first half of 2018 has shown that we’re on our way to another great year for the packaging industry. This is largely driven by our increasingly fast-paced consumer society and tough competition for brands. Versioning, personalisation and decoration continue to trend but increasing environmental awareness and legislation changes have put sustainability and environmental responsibility at the top of the list for many. With this in mind, we look at some of the environmental challenges and other trends we see developing over the rest of this year and into 2019. So, in no particular order…


That’s a latte waste

You can’t have missed the #LatteLevy debate on social media, but is a fine the answer? I love a sweet latte to wake me up in the morning but with the knowledge that this disposable cup could pollute our planet for years to come – can I justify it daily? Can you? What are the on-the-go options for those of us who still can’t remember to take plastic bags to the supermarket for our shopping? A juice carton – accompanied by a plastic straw? Water – in a plastic bottle?

What’s the solution? For coffee – a re-usable cup and you’ll need to remember it. There’s an incentive with many of the big chains offering a reduced price on your morning (or any) coffee. Other suggestions include a re-usable straw or plastic alternative water bottle. Find some more useful tips on achieving zero waste from Friends of the Earth here.


Plastic – not so fantastic

Pressure is growing over the huge amount of plastic waste generated from packaging materials which simply cannot be ignored. Plastic pollution is damaging our environment including oceans, coast lines and wildlife.

Will plastic packaging remain? If so, who’s responsibility is it to limit pollution and waste? The consumer? The brand? The supermarket? The debate goes on but its undeniable that some are making early efforts to combat the issue with supermarket chain Iceland among the first to announce it would stop the sale of plastic packaging on own brand products by 2020. M&S and Waitrose are also committed to cutting down on plastics used in packaging. It’s not only supermarkets that are making efforts to reduce plastic waste, Pret-A-Manger and Costa are both trialling recyclable alternatives to plastic straws. Uniliver, who manages some of the worlds largest brands, has pledged to make its plastic packaging 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

For further insights, watch Packaging News editor, Philip Chadwick analyse the debate on plastic packaging.


Material choices

A recent report from Smithers Pira identifies sustainability as one of the main reasons brand owners are switching from traditional materials, like glass, to flexible packaging types. The report predicts that flexible packaging sales will grow at an annual rate of 4.3 per cent to reach $282.6 billion by 2022.

In the beverage industry, brands are choosing aluminium cans in favour of plastic bottles. The average drinks can is made from 68 percent recycled content – the highest of any beverage container – and the aluminium in cans is infinitely recyclable. In fact, 75 percent of the aluminium ever made is still in productive use today.

So we’re likely to see many alternatives to our current plastics in packaging, these include: compostable biodegradable packaging which is growing in popularity in the food sector among others; edible packaging – which again is becoming increasingly popular in foods, no surprise with the potential to eliminate packaging waste entirely; natural materials – as we delve further into plastic alternatives we’ll see the use of more natural materials, they’re renewable and sustainable and usually by-products of other industries thus minimising waste in those industries; and finally biopolymers – aka petroleum plastic substitutes – one to watch with the potential to become the new norm for plastic packaging.

The goal is to use materials that will not be sent to landfill for hundreds of years. Recyclable is good but biodegradable even better, and everyone in the supply chain has a part to play.


Less is more

Who hasn’t experienced an online-ordered parcel that’s included a box inside a bigger box inside a branded shipping box? It seems unnecessary, but when it comes to online retail, who’s to blame for excess packaging? In this case, I think that the supply chain needs to be reviewed and analysed. Some online retailers offer the option of waiting for your parcel when all items can be delivered together – a quick check that could save a ton of packaging. Something that needs to be reviewed to reduce packaging materials, overall.


The Digital Age

Digital print for packaging is by no means new and its growth will continue unabashed according to Smithers Pira, especially in terms of inkjet. As average run lengths continue to fall, and brands continue to offer numerous product variations, additional pack sizes and one-offs, print buyers’ demands will change and digital adoption will increase. Not only will it rise, but it’s likely to happen at an accelerated rate as variations in language, colour, flavour and allergen-free alternatives are commissioned.

Companies like Tonejet are leading the way, printing digitally and directly onto beverage cans and addressing the short-to-medium run requirements that are not possible in the current market.


The supply chain reaction

Simplified supply chains mean print for packaging can be produced and delivered at a much quicker rate. Smithers Pira predicts an increase in web-to-pack online order portals, reducing admin and prepress costs to a minimum, estimating that by 2020, this type of online ordering may become the preferred method, even for medium length runs.

Read the full analysis on the future of Digital Print for Packaging from Smithers Pira here.

In addition to our own predictions, the world’s leading market intelligence agency, Mintel has announced five trends that will impact the global packaging sector in 2018:

  • Packaging will play a pivotal role in reducing global food and product waste.

  • Online brands will reinvigorate their packaging to enhance the e-commerce experience.

  • Brands who adopt clear and succinct package messaging will be rewarded as consumers prefer brands that embrace minimalism.

  • Brands will be called to keep marine conservation at the forefront of packaging development and to anchor (no pun intended) the circular economy for future generations.

Contemporary packaging formats will see the centre-of-store take centre stage.

Well, all that said, the next few years are set to be exciting ones for the packaging landscape! We should all be prepared to do our bit for the environment, both as consumers and suppliers to the packaging industry. Overall, it seems this industry will continue to be a driving force for further innovation and the technology developments needed to overcome all challenges and meet the changing requirements of consumers and brands.