Packaging & Paper

Sustainable solutions to the packaging problem

Consumers are demanding sustainable packaging solutions, with society as a whole moving towards greener options, making small changes in their daily life in the hope of making a big change to our future.

For instance, people are now using paper alternatives to plastic straws, bags, and moving towards using reusable coffee cups. According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it is estimated that the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050 – so this change is imperative.

With 56% of people saying that environmental credentials influence their decision to purchase a product, and 72% of brand senior decision makers seeing sustainability as a brand opportunity, it is unsurprising to see 51% of companies creating packaging with sustainable features in the last 12 months.

Global packaging businesses have been leading this change for many years, prioritising sustainability and investing significantly in R&D. This will not only help to keep them on top of the global trends and competition but also businesses that do not embrace the challenge will be left behind.

Alternative sustainable packaging materials

On a corporate scale, packaging companies are focusing on using alternative materials, specifically focusing on recyclable and biodegradable materials for their packaging, in a bid to replace single-use plastic packaging as much as they can. For instance, the Smurfit Kappa Group have created many paper-based solutions to tackle the plastic problem, launching a variety of products from clamshell packaging to their ‘bag-in-tube’ technology.

The bag-in-tube technology is comprised of a cardboard tube with a tinplate lid and base, with a double-layered bag inside the tube to hold the inner contents. Once opened, the double-layered bag protects from oxygen permeation to further prolong the shelf-life of the product.

According to Smurfit Kappa, paper biodegrades faster than an apple core, which is no surprise as to why the company have also launched a sustainable alternative to plastic mulch called ‘AgroPaper’. The product is biodegradable, prevents weed growth, and can stay in the soil and does not need to be removed after harvest.

Interestingly, research by DS Smith has shown that approximately 9 in 10 people across Europe would choose packaging with 85% less plastic, with 62% of European consumers willing to pay more for reduced plastic packaging. The company have worked with supermarket chains, such as Waitrose and Morrisons, to create recyclable corrugated trays for a variety of products from grapes to bacon.

The 100% recyclable, fibre-based trays that are used for Morrison’s ‘Best Bacon Retail Ready Packaging’ are stackable and reduces supply chain and material costs. Furthermore, DS Smith collaborated with Waitrose and Partners for the first cardboard grape punnet, not only maintaining a sustainability element but also helping Waitrose’s ‘Duchy Organic’ to increase brand visibility.

On a wider scale, DS Smith have won a ScanStar award in the Nordic Packaging Competition for the innovative fridge-box technology for potatoes. The plastic bag previously used for potatoes within Finland has now been replaced by corrugated, fully-recyclable materials that provide air ventilation and protection from sunlight.

Additionally, carton packaging is becoming more environmentally-friendly. TetraPak are using more biodegradable materials like paperboard, and a bio-based cap made of sugarcane. The company have seen a 73% increase in the recycling on their packaging products, with a further aim to use plastics sourced from organic waste and algae in the future.

To further support the sustainability movement, a multitude of large corporations – including McDonalds – pledge to use 100% renewable and recycled packaging by 2025. Global packaging giant, Amcor, made this pledge in 2018, creating products like the AmLite Ultra Recyclable metal-free packaging. The revolutionising product uses a high barrier coating – replacing non-recyclable structures with PET – that is recyclable, customisable, and reduces the carbon footprint.

The variety of examples are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to solutions that are being found to solve the plastic and sustainability crisis, with the Paper Bottle Company (Paboco) collaboration testing out paper bottles that are lined with a removable layer of recyclable PEF, and H&M creating a paper shopping bag that transforms into a clothes hanger, for example.

Of course renewable materials are not limited solely to paper, with many companies focusing on using metal and glass in a bid to also encourage the popularity of reusable products. The use of metal straws, reusable metal and glass water bottles, and recyclable tinned and canned products have increased heavily with the movement towards keeping plastic away from our landfills, oceans and marine life.

Additionally, a variety of companies have been looking into ‘bio-plastics’, which are comprised of natural substances and renewable biomass sources, for instance NatureFlex’s wood pulp cellophane, and the use of mycelium – a type of multicellular yeast that grows to become mushroom-like – used in Ecovative Design’s MycoComposite products. Sustainable packaging solutions is now becoming a high priority, and this is just the start of the innovative possibilities that are set to revolutionise the packaging industry.

As a Global Packaging & Paper recruitment expert it is my role to keep abreast of the changing landscape of my sector to truly be able to understand the need of my clients. Firms have to change, to make a positive impact with the rise of reusable packaging this sector is experiencing a real demand for innovation, ideas and new solutions to the big problems the industry faces.

WEF | The New Plastics Economy
DS Smith | Six in ten Europeans willing to pay more for reduced plastic packaging
Packhelp | The role of sustainable packaging in 2020
Ecovative Design | Packaging

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