Judging by current attitudes towards paper and board, it’s easy to think that digitalization is resulting in the disappearance of the industry. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. While certain manifestations of paper are indeed diminishing, such as newsprint, paper and board in the packaging sector is simply diversifying.
The industry is responding to movements towards sustainability and digitalisation that we’re seeing around the globe. Paper and paperboard will continue to play a crucial role in the packaging industry. This occurs as businesses in this arena innovate to keep up with current demands. Demand for packaging is actually growing as delivery services become even more globalized. In fact, this subsector of the packaging industry still remains the largest. Rather than disappearing, this industry is merely undergoing a substantial transformation, and a very interesting one at that.
In many packaging applications, paper continues to dominate as the preferred method of packaging. Examples include several food items, such as flour and sugar. Other applications include medical packaging and cigarette cartons. In this manner, demand for paperboard is still robust. As we exit the pandemic, we actually expect to see growth here as consumption of packaged goods returns to pre-pandemic levels.
Ecommerce is continuing to skyrocket, propelled by the pandemic. As demand continues to grow, so does the need for shorter delivery times, meaning that packaging needs to be readily available in all kinds of forms. They need to be optimised for returns, foldable, and attractive. For the packaging designer, the package that one receives a product in is the first communication point for the brand’s identity. This remains a cornerstone of the paper sector in packaging. The packaging of a product is almost synonymous with the product itself, serving as the first touch point for a consumer’s experience with said product. Therefore, the importance of the packaging itself is almost as important as the ultimate product.
This is coupled with the fact that corrugate packaging in general is absolutely booming. This is opposed to other sectors of paper, such as white papers and graphic papers. But especially as the world was relegated to homebound activities during lockdown, to say the corrugate packaging sector skyrocketed would be an understatement.
As many are choosing to forego plastic, many companies are developing innovative, sustainable alternatives. Paper offers a more ecofriendly option for packaging than other types of packaging for a number of reasons. For one, it is more easily recyclable – a minute percentage of recyclable plastics actually end up being recycled, as opposed to recyclable paper. Furthermore, more paper products are recyclable than plastic ones. We’ve seen a shift where corrugated paper is replacing packaging in a number of applicable areas, such as transport. For example, the world is recoiling from the use of polysterene-based packaging peanuts in favour of small strips of cardboard instead.
One such company embracing this change is Unilever. Just this month, it announced that it would be trialing a switch in the packaging of one of its laundry detergents. The company will release paper bottles for the detergent OMO in Brazil sometime early next year. The concept was developed by Pulpex, a company that specializes in sustainable packaging. By using a blend of pulp, Pulpex has created an eco-friendlier bottle adopted for use by Unilever, Diageo, and Pilot Lite. The bottles are designed to be recycled in the paper waste stream and feature technology that allow them to contain liquids within the paper-based packaging.
This represents a milestone in the development of paper packaging. The Pulpex prototype is the first of its kind. Up until then, it was extraordinarily difficult to create paper-based packaging without adding any additional plastic layers to the product. But strides are being made in this area now. Another innovation in the pipeline is micro-fibrillated cellulose from Stora Enso. Their product is a biodegradable film that can replace the aluminium foil in liquid cartons.
And it doesn’t stop there. Tetrapak is another innovative company in this sector, esteeming sustainability as one of their core pillars. Tetrapak’s progress has resulted in the development of the world’s most sustainable food package. This revolutionary carton will be solely made from “responsibly sourced renewable or recycled materials,” will be fully recyclable, and will also be carbon neutral. They are also working to improve recycling systems on a global scale. All over the world, companies are developing and trialing different initiatives to contribute to a more sustainable future of packaging.
This article is part of our series about developments in the paper and packaging sector:
- What does the future look like?
- The power of paper: innovation within packaging
- Totally transparent: Glass packaging and the road to sustainability
- Tackling the recycling problem in plastic packaging
- Metal: a sustainable solution to packaging problems
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