2018 in review: Single-use plastic reduction, compostable solutions and e-commerce packaging trend
21 Dec 2018 --- This year saw a flurry of activity in plastics, largely fueled by concerns around the rapidly rising levels of plastic waste seeping into the environment. In respect to sustainability, huge strides were made, including high profile, strategic collaborations which attracted some of the largest names in the business. Innovative biodegradable and compostable materials also sprouted in parallel to rising anti-plastic sentiment.
However, some notable mergers, such as Amcor and Bemis, signaled that plastic has a strong future, while the material was also defended for its net environmental credentials. Changing consumer consumption habits also led to the rapid development of packaging for developing sectors, notably e-commerce, as well as technological advances in intelligent packaging.
A colossal topic this year has been sustainability, exemplified in the rhetoric around plastic waste. This was dubbed the “Blue Planet effect” in the UK, where the wildlife documentary had a profound impact on viewers as it documented plastic waste infiltrating marine and wildlife habitats.
War was declared on single-use plastic items and huge global players rallied to make high-profile plastic pledges banning straws or pledging to make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by a set date.
In October, more than 290 organizations, coThe New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. The commitment is led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and UN Environment and aims to create “a new normal” for plastic packaging.mpromising 20 percent of all plastic packaging produced globally, signed
A Plastic Planet, an organization which openly advocates the 100 percent discontinuation of plastics in food and beverage packaging, drove the launches of “plastic free zones,” the first of which in Amsterdam’s EkoPlaza supermarket.
Flexible and rigid plastics
Under the umbrella trend of sustainability, flexible and rigid plastics were at the forefront of packaging innovations this year, as companies worked to innovate on making the material “more sustainable.”
Germany's new Packaging Act – set to become active in 2019 – places a stricter reporting regime for packaging producers and will increase recycling rates for plastic packaging to 63 percent, with the quota being raised to 90 percent by 2022. The imminent arrival of the new Act is also driving plastic manufacturers to translate sustainability into packaging solutions.
In a major sustainability boost, Amcor created a unique polyolefin-based film that can be used for ambient and retort high-barrier applications. Amcor claims the film will be an important building block in the development of flexible packaging which is recycling-ready across a huge range of products, from ready-meals to wet pet-food, coffee to nuts and snacks.
While Sidel produced UltraLight CSD, an ultra lightweight bottle that significantly decreases the amount of raw material needed to produce PET bottles. Lightweighting is key method used by suppliers to cut down on the amount of plastic in a packaging solution.
At Fachpack, held in Nuremberg, Germany, in September, Sudpack showcased its range of packaging solutions crafted with sustainability in mind and within its three-pillared approach: Reduce, recycle and use renewable sources.
Biodegradable and compostable packaging
The rising demand for more environmentally-responsible consumer products also drove creativity in biodegradable and compostable packaging solutions. A Polish graduate student created SCOBY, an organic and sustainable material which can be eaten or composted after use. It is made of bacteria and yeast and grown through a fermentation process.
At Packaging Innovations in London, Futamura exhibited Europe’s first plastic-free, compostable crisp bag made from the barrier film, Natureflex.
This year also saw a rise in biodegradable and compostable plastics; however, the European Parliament recognized in a vote in September that such plastics do not prevent plastic pollution and should not be an excuse to keep consuming single-use plastics.
Forgetting fossil fuels – Bio-based alternatives
The inherent difficulties in finding mainstream definitions for the many complex variations in bio-based materials can mean that bioplastics do not always get the attention from regulatory bodies that they may deserve, according to the European Bioplastics (EUBP).
Ultimately, the organization is concerned that the EU does not provide bioplastics with an “equal platform to conventional plastics and biofuels.”
“The ambition of EUBP is to promote bioplastics all over Europe and, if possible, beyond. In order to do that, we update our members on the latest information and legislation and lobby in Brussels with the aim of achieving favorable legislation – or at least try to avoid being hit by unfavorable legislation. Once a year, we run a very big bioplastics conference where we gather 300-400 people from all parts of the value chain together,” Hasso von Pogrell, Managing Director of European Bioplastics (EUBP), tells PackagingInsights.
Research from Swiss researchers highlighted some of the environmental benefits of the material earlier this year, encouraging the EUPB that EU member states will ultimately sway in favor of the material’s sustainability credentials.
Paper and paperboard
Paper and paperboard have witnessed a resurgence, fueled by anti-plastic sentiment and a growing global demand for designed-in recyclability. Not only is paper a naturally renewable, recyclable and compostable material, it can also add value to packaging with the appearance of “naturalness” in an increasingly eco-conscious consumer market.
Some key factors driving design in the growing carton market, according to Tetra Pak, are sustainability, rightsizing, rightshaping and external differentiation.
While New York-based chocolatier Fine & Raw shared its design evolution with PackagingInsights, noting that the brand has shifted from its minimal craft aesthetic to incorporate a natural look with enlivened compositions and floral imagery and vivid color. This, the company notes, “trends against the industry’s predisposition towards linear, non-organic patterns.”
Mario Abreu, Tetra Pak’s Vice President for Sustainability and Chairman of the Sustainability Forum, notes that the carton giant envisions a future portfolio of 100 percent renewable materials. Tetra Pak’s packs are currently 75 percent carton, but they also incorporate polymers and aluminum, which the company wants to innovate around to establish them as 100 percent fully renewable in the near future.
Click to EnlargeHowever, according to Abreu, “we are the largest user of biopolymers today, but the market is not there. It’s a very small market in its early days. What we are doing is pulling materials from the market to help the biopolymer industry to create better infrastructure to produce more of that biopolymer so we can produce it too. As a leader in this field, we are bringing the products to market although the availability is limited, and we want to be the ones helping to change the market.”
Metal continued to feature in a high number of packaging NPD. It is a permanent material, which means it can be infinitely recycled without any loss of quality and, as such, can form part of a circular economy – a key driver in the elimination of waste.
However, critics of the material may note that the production of aluminum for packaging produces a higher rate of CO2 emissions when compared to other packaging materials – such as plastic.
One of the key innovations regarding the metal material came from Carlsberg. The Danish brewery launched the Snap Pack, a design which eliminates the need for a plastic ring on six packs, and instead bonds beer cans together with recyclable glue. The technology is set to reduce plastic waste globally by more than 1200 tons a year – the equivalent to 60 million plastic bags, according to the brewery. The Snap Pack is a world first for the beer industry, reducing the amount of plastic used in traditional multi-packs by up to 76 percent.
The future is now? Connected technologies
One area that undoubtedly experienced a popularity surge this year was connected and intelligent packaging solutions.
Brand owners are beginning to realize the massive potential of pioneering technologies such as Near-Field Communication (NFC), QR codes, barcode scan and Augmented Reality (AR) in increasing brand loyalty and awareness and better understanding consumer behavior.
Utilizing AI technology such as facial recognition and sound interaction, the Coca-Cola Company launched a new vending machine concept in China where consumers can purchase beverages, as well as return and recycle used bottles and cans.
The luxury packaging market was particularly active in exploring new, intelligent solutions, with packaging expert Neil Farmer noting how new technologies are fast becoming key factors in product differentiation at the point of purchase.
Click to EnlargeA stand-out design came from Multi-Color Corporation (MCC) and Talkin’ Things, who collaborated on a label that combined Augmented Reality (AR) and Near Field Communication (NFC). The label of Black Red Ale beer, which incorporates a large “talking” skull, fully fits into the smart packaging trend by using advanced AR facial recognition and dynamic scenarios dependent on users’ emotions.
The rise in e-commerce has redefined the requirements of FMCG packaging from the supply chain to brand identity, presenting both challenges and opportunities. The packaging industry is beginning to fully embrace the challenge.
Amid this packaging demand, Amazon’s Frustration-Free rules evolved and the delivery giant announced that items that are non-compliant with its packaging requirements under the Frustration-Free regulations would face a monetary charge. In an award-winning move, DS Smith launched its e@Box solution, which pushed the boundaries of e-commerce packaging by combining both primary and secondary packaging in a stylish, sustainable and protective single solution.
Tapping into consumers’ love for wine, Garçon Wines launched a 100 percent recycled and recyclable PET bottle which can be easily posted due to its flat shape.
Stand-out business news
In one of the biggest business stories of the year, Amcor and Bemis announced in August a US$6.8 billion all-stock transaction to combine two of the world’s leading global packaging suppliers. Uniting the two complementary companies creates, what they are calling, “the global leader in consumer packaging,” with the footprint, scale and capabilities to drive significant value for shareholders, offer customers and employees the most compelling value proposition and deliver the most sustainable innovations for the environment.
In another landmark move, China and the EU signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Circular Economy Cooperation at the 20th EU-China summit held in July. The world’s two biggest economies stand to gain from aligning on policies that support the transition to a circular economy, which can unlock new sources of economic growth and innovation while benefiting people and the environment.
2018 has seen a wealth of innovations and high-profile commitments made by major players, as well as medium and smaller-sized ventures. The coming year will see some of the key sustainability goals edge one year closer to completion. The stand-out trends from this year will continue into 2019, but we also predict a large growth spurt for e-commerce developments and connective packaging as the technologies become cheaper and more accessible.
By Laxmi Haigh
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