The members of ECMA travelled to Schiphol Airport for the annual Business Seminar. This year’s seminar focused on the opportunities for cartons created by the discussion around plastics.  

Anyone specifying packaging should carefully consider all relevant issues when making their choice of packaging material. There seems to be momentum for cartons. What are the opportunities for cartons, and which issues and topics do we need to discuss with our customers?  

The Plastic Soup Surfer 

To give our members a better understanding on the discussion around plastic waste which ends up in the environment, Merijn Tinga a.k.a. the ‘Plastic Soup Surfer’ was invited to tell about his mission, a plastic free ocean, and how he uses his surfboard as his weapon. Through his surprising expeditions he focuses the attention on the problem of plastic in our environment. His message was that we need to deal with single-use plastics in a different way. He’s not against plastics, but he is against the public’s attitude and the way our society deals with plastics.   

A Comparison: Sustainability of Cartons and Plastics Packaging 

Tim Barker (Truffula) presented the outcome of his independent study on ‘Sustainability of Cartons and Plastics Packaging’. The study was commissioned by Pro Carton. There are concerns about the way we handle plastics and we need to move from a linear to a circular model, retaining the value included in the product and packaging. Both packaging materials clearly have their own benefits and advantages, but renewability of the resources and the high recycling rate are still the main advantages of cartons compared to plastics.     

Moving the Debate Forward

Plastic has a place in today’s society. It is a valuable packaging material, but how we manage it needs to change. We need to explain that other, sustainable,  packaging solutions are available, and to ensure consumers understand that cartons are inherently good. We need to grow the future, not the waste. Tony Hitchin encouraged the attendees to get out the message and talk to their customers.   

Plastic Packaging and the Opportunity for Paper and Board 

As a global company Unilever has to deal with global issues. The world is facing new and bigger challenges. One of them is plastic waste. It’s a global issue, and the consumer’s opinion is changing rapidly. Unilever’s Rob Hyde explained how the developed world is getting better in recycling, but also that the developing countries are not. It’s a problem we need to solve together. All packaging materials have their responsibility, and collection systems need to be installed globally. For Unilever it’s clear that single use plastics are the vast amount of the waste. Therefore brand owners are looking for alternative solutions. The paper and board industry was invited to come with solutions.     

Taking Advantage of the Plastic Opportunity

The folding carton industry has to deal with some mega issues and challenges (substitution, migration, changing retail channels). But there are also some clear opportunities for cartons. The question is: How are we going to use the “opportunity” that is plastic? ‘If we don't change the way we produce and use plastics, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050’, according to the vice president of the European Commission Frans Timmermans. And Mike Coup (CEO J. Sainsbury) stated ‘Many of our suppliers have a lot of embedded capital in machinery that they have invested in over decades. To change the substrate of plastic packaging will require a huge amount of investment over time. It could take decades.’ But do we have decades? Probably not. So we need to get out and talk to our customers to discuss their problems and offer them alternative solutions.'   

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