The packaging industry has recently witnessed a paradigm shift towards sustainability and eco-friendliness. With mounting concerns about environmental degradation and waste management, companies and consumers are embracing innovative solutions to address these challenges.
At the recently concluded ProPak Expo at BEC, Mumbai on 17 August 2023, Abinaya Gunasekaran, team lead-F&B Consulting at Innova Market Insights, delivered a presentation on 'Top Packaging Trends: How can industry achieve a Global circular economy?' In her presentation, she highlighted various developments and trends shaping the landscape of sustainable packaging.
Plastics circularization - Rise of post-consumer recycled materials
In an era of environmental consciousness and sustainable progress, plastic circularization has emerged as a transformative force within the packaging industry. As the world grapples with the escalating challenges of plastic waste, a promising solution has taken center stage: the rise of post-consumer recycled materials. This evolution signifies a pivotal shift towards a circular economy, where discarded plastics are reborn as valuable resources.
While talking about the growth of plastic consumption despite anti-plastic sentiment and more stringent waste laws, recyclable-by-design packaging is the key to achieving plastic circularity. Abinaya informed, "Last summer saw a notable rise in the use of post-consumer recycled materials, a classic move towards reducing emissions associated with packaging production. Emissions emanating from food bank waters have triggered a global crisis, leading to a collective effort to opt for 100% post-consumer recycled paper. This switch symbolizes a reduction in CO2 emissions by a staggering 86.8 metric tons in the past year and signifies a step forward in sustainable packaging practices."
Chemcycling and depolymerization
Innovative approaches to managing plastic waste have taken center stage in the quest for a more sustainable future. Among these approaches, "Chemcycling" and "Depolymerization" have emerged as promising methods to address the plastic waste crisis. These cutting-edge techniques offer the potential to transform discarded plastics into valuable resources, creating a closed-loop system that aligns with the principles of a circular economy.
Addressing developments within the industry like chemcycling, Abinaya said, "There have been several tie-ups and collaborations within the industry to tackle the problem of recycling the waste, which ends up in landfill and incineration."
Innovations in recycling flexible packaging
While convenient, flexible packaging has presented challenges in terms of recycling. The companies have initiated efforts to address the difficulties of recycling flexible packaging, including pouches and quick-seal containers. A breakthrough solution came from the previous year, introducing Post Consumer Recycling (PCR). This novel approach, marked by its use of post-consumer recycled materials, marks a significant milestone in promoting environmentally conscious packaging.
Abinaya highlighted that collaborations and initiatives have sprung up within the industry to combat recycling challenges contributing to landfill waste.
Exploring depolymerization for eco-friendly alterations
Research is delving into the efficacy of depolymerization as a less carbon-intensive alternative to existing packaging practices. Findings suggest that adopting this approach could reduce carbon footprint by around 36% to 43% for polypropylene and polyethylene components, presenting a promising path toward greener packaging practices.
Shifting trends in packaging materials
Abinaya mentioned that recent product launches reveal a shift towards sustainable packaging materials. Many products now utilize Low-Density Polyethylene (LDP) and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PT) plastics, which are more environmentally friendly.
Single-use plastic waste continues to grow by 6 million. Additional single-use plastic waste was generated in 2021 compared to 2019, with a substantial percentage still made from fossil fuel-based - virgin feedstocks. Whereas recycling efforts need to scale faster to meet the demand for recycled feedstock. About 15 times growth in single-use plastics made from virgin polymers compared to recycled feedstocks registered between 2019 and 2021. This shift is a response to consumer demand for more sustainable options.
According to a survey, 56% of global consumers agree with the statement: Recycling guidelines on the packaging of food & beverages are often unclear to me.
Brands responding to sustainability demands
Brands are increasingly altering their products to align with consumer sentiments toward sustainability. Recent product launches indicate a doubling in global equity claims related to the reduced packaging carbon footprint. Brands are also emphasizing consumer education on recycling and proper disposal methods. Authenticity and scientifically validated messages resonate with consumers, emphasizing the need for transparent and reliable packaging information.
Transition to circular economy and innovations
The transition towards a circular economy, emphasizing sustainability, presents opportunities and challenges. Innovations are emerging to fit within this model. For instance, newly launched products are embracing compostable and bio-based plastics. Independent studies are crucial in guiding these transitions, and communicating their outcomes is pivotal to ensuring consumer understanding and support.
Renewable materials and fluctuations in oil prices
According to Abinaya, with fluctuations in oil prices and growing awareness of climate change, there is a surge in investments in renewable materials like bio-plastics. This surge is driven by sustainability goals and consumer demands for more eco-friendly products. Brands are keen on investing in renewable materials to align with consumer expectations.
Connected packaging for consumer engagement
The integration of technology with packaging is transforming consumer engagement. QR codes and NFC communication are becoming popular for brands to connect with consumers. Brands leverage these technologies to provide essential product information and promote transparency, traceability, and sustainability. Consumers show an inclination towards connected packaging technology, indicating a growing trend in the industry.
Consumer preferences are shifting towards reusable packaging models, with 42% of respondents indicating increased use of reusable packaging in the past year. Brands are responding by introducing reusable packaging solutions and exploring models that resonate with consumer values.
Personal care industry's sustainable initiatives
The personal care industry is also taking significant steps toward sustainability. Brands are introducing products with refillable containers, using recycled materials, and exploring innovative packaging solutions that align with environmental goals. Abinaya stated that there is an annual saving of more than 40 tons of plastic, which is done with the help of an rPP-based refill container housed in an aluminum container. Dove Canada launches refillable cases in 96% recycled and fully recyclable packaging. There are many such prominent names in the industry that have taken steps towards reducing their footprint and adopting environmental sustainability alternatives.
The packaging industry is undergoing a transformative journey towards sustainability, driven by the urgency to combat climate change and minimize environmental impact. Brands, consumers, and the industry are collaborating to usher in a new era of packaging practices prioritizing eco-friendliness, recyclability, and consumer engagement. The trends discussed here offer a comprehensive look into the evolving landscape of sustainable packaging, shaping a greener future for us all.