Disruptive Innovations_1

As we move ever closer to a new year, it’s time to ask what kinds of trends, priorities and disruptive innovations we can expect 2022 to bring. We hear from a range of voices across the industry on subjects such as bioplastics, packaging waste, automation, recyclability, paper & board and more.

Novel bio-based materials: Hasso von Pogrell, Managing Director, European Bioplastics

The bioplastics industry has made substantial progress in developing renewable, bio-based plastic packaging solutions that are poised to eventually displace the established class of non-renewable plastics. The European Union is supporting this transition with funding from its Horizon Europe plan and the BBI JU programme and its successor CBE JU, the Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking, which are expected to scale up bio-based technologies and lead to industrial deployment.

European Bioplastics (EUBP) is involved in several of these leading-edge research projects, one of which, PRESERVE, has the ambition to replace 60% of food packaging currently used on the market with innovative bio-based packaging materials that can be upcycled into new products. The project partners are developing removable protein-based adhesives and coatings to reach the desired barrier properties of PLA (polylactic acids) and PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates) materials for food packaging. A recycling pilot plant will be built to demonstrate the viability of a new delamination technology and feature sorting technology via advanced photonic and artificial intelligence. The recovered materials will then be used as secondary raw materials for non-food applications, such as upcycled textiles, durable reusable packaging materials, and personal care products, all with less than 15% of virgin bio-based materials.

Tackling plastic waste: Sander Defruyt, New Plastics Economy Lead, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Adopting a circular economy requires the redesign of products, packaging, and business models. New innovations are making this possible. Apeel is a new technology that replaces plastic with an edible material that creates no waste. It’s a powder that when mixed with water at the point of production and brushed onto fruit and vegetables keeps them fresh for longer without the need for packaging. Food manufacturers no longer only have the option of unrecyclable plastic wrapping.

Tech innovations are also starting to emerge that help manufacturers provide essential information on products, while reducing plastic packaging. Danone has produced a bottle with branding directly embossed on it, removing the need for the usual plastic sleeve label. The barcode has been moved onto the cap, and the bottle itself is produced from 100% recyclable PET.

The HolyGrail 2.0 project is breaking new ground in facilitating more efficient recycling of packaging. It applies digital watermarks onto packs, allowing both users and waste sorting centres to more accurately identify the packaging that can be recycled. Packaging supplier Amcor is currently piloting the technology with brands in Copenhagen.

Print technologies: François Martin, Marketing & Communication Manager, BOBST Group

After two pandemic years, we have learned that flexibility in printing is a must. This new motto will require more automation, digitalization and new materials developments.

In labels, the digitalization of colour such as BOBST DigiColor and oneECG will fuel flexo press sales. Inkjet, with its simple architecture, will impose itself as the ultimate technology for label production. Speeds up to 100 metres / min and competitive economics speak for themselves. Laser cutting will enable short runs to be finished faster. A new class of presses combining digital printing and flexo modules, like the BOBST DM5 All-in-One, All-in-Line, will help customers to optimize their entire production floors. Demand for water-based printing solutions will grow but such solutions are not yet ready.

In flexible packaging, new mono-materials and processes enabling companies to address the sustainability pledges will become reality. Digitally printed flexible packaging continues to grow with highest growth rates in stand-up pouches, flow wraps, and single-serve packages

Corrugated remains the highest growth engine for packaging overall. The increase of e-commerce and retail-ready packaging is a winning formula. Corrugated board companies will boost the sustainable appeal of corrugated packages with new design and inside-outside printing. Digital printing has gained momentum, with more than 100 units of digital printing presses installed worldwide. Its promise has not yet been fulfilled as economics do not yet answer the market requirements, but this will come before the end of the decade.

Traceability – NFC technology: Gillian Ewers, VP Product Management, PragmatIC Semiconductor

To date the most common applications for near-field communication (NFC) have been for bank, transport and ID cards. However, whilst there have been examples of NFC being used for product authentication and customer engagement, so far these have been relatively high value products in low volume and have not scaled to mass market adoption.

At PragmatIC, we believe there are two main reasons for this. The first is quite simple – the cost of silicon-based NFC tags is too high for everyday goods like food, beverages and pharmaceuticals, where the cost of each item is less than one €/$/£. This barrier will be overcome in 2022, with new ultra-low-cost NFC being delivered at volume.

The second reason is that the use case of ‘consumer engagement’ is not attractive enough on its own. What could drive uptake in the use of NFC is seeing how this technology can help brands deliver on their promises to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For example, all businesses want to improve the circularity of their goods and the biggest barrier to doing that is enabling consumers to do the right thing once they have finished using products. NFC can be used to provide up-to-date and localized recycling information, as well as rewards. We believe 2022 will be a breakthrough year for NFC, when we will start to see the technology used to address this and other global challenges.

Packaging design: Megan Rae, Marketing and Client Relationship Manager, Echo

Inclusivity will be one of the biggest drivers in design for 2022 and beyond. Creating a packaging design that is accessible for all is imperative. This can already be seen from the likes of Degree Inclusive, who won the Innovation Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions for the development of a deodorant that makes application a seamless process for those with visual or limb impairments. 

Merging technology and packaging will soon become the norm, as QR codes take the user to a virtual world where they can access further information that they may struggle to attain on-pack. In fact, with packaging generally facing increased scrutiny, using technology to enhance the pack experience will become commonplace. As companies begin to incorporate ESG into their business model, brand transparency is key, and consumers will want to virtually access information on supply chain and product source. 

As highlighted at COP26, food waste is a huge contributor to the carbon footprint so obtaining assurance that food will stay fresh for longer will also be an imperative.  In order to tackle the problem of food waste, the durability of a product is increased when wrapped in plastic packaging. 2022 will see a shift on the war on plastic towards a more nuanced approach, as we reach an understanding of how this material can actually help protect the environment.

Luxury packaging: Annette Clayton, Global Account Manager at Fedrigoni

2022 will see rapid acceleration of sustainable packaging across the luxury sector. The past century has taught consumers that ‘premium’ is glossy, polished and refined. Yet, more often than not, this relies on plastic, heavy glass, or foiling and lamination adornments that make it extremely difficult to recycle.

The ‘conscious consumer’ holds more purchasing power than ever before, expanding beyond millennials and Gen-Z to all demographics as the climate crisis escalates. I predict that luxury brands will cotton on to the fact that they now have no choice but to authentically embrace sustainable packaging if they want to engage the new generation of consumers. 

Long considered weak, blemished and too ‘rustic’ for the premium look, the luxury sector has typically avoided recycled papers for not fitting with their brand positioning. While this may have been true ten years ago, the paper industry is expanding the look, feel and quality of its recycled ranges exponentially, which is set to explode even further over the next 12 months. 

In the world of recycled papers, textures are diversifying. Weights are getting heavier. Whites are becoming brighter. Materials are looking cleaner and less blemished. The choice in recycled papers is developing rapidly, with swatch books such as Materia Viva offering nine families of fine papers from recycled materials. I expect luxury packaging that unites beauty with environmental responsibility will increasingly become the norm across 2022, with paper selection playing a large role in this transition. 

Packaging Automation: Vincenzo Monaco, EMEA Portfolio Strategy & Marketing Manager, Rockwell Automation

Packaging machines today need to address two primary areas for manufacturers. First, machines need to be designed to take advantage of smart manufacturing to give manufacturers a competitive edge. This means machines that: are information-enabled; can deliver real-time diagnostics; use contemporary safety technologies; and are easy to integrate. Smart manufacturing is only in its infancy and still being shaped by the emergence of smart devices. Because of this, smart machines must be future ready, with the capacity to easily scale up with additional connections and expansions. Second, machines need to be high-performing and help manufacturers meet their most pressing business needs.

The Connected Enterprise converges plant and enterprise-level systems into a unified infrastructure and capitalizes on the power of connected technologies. With this foundation in place manufacturers can experience the full benefits of smart manufacturing. They can do this by connecting machines, sensors and devices, and using intelligent software to improve control.

New machine solutions, such as robotics technologies, and the iTRAK® system and MagneMotion® conveyor systems from Rockwell Automation, are better suited for today’s production needs. Integrating robotic technologies into packaging systems will allow for faster communication of control, safety and process information, and more accurate control of machine movements.

Plastics recycling: Paolo Glerean, Chairman of RecyClass & PRE Board Member

When it comes to moving the needle on making plastic packaging fully circular one of the main challenges is lack of recyclability.

The priority is, in the first place, to redesign plastic packaging to be compatible with recycling technologies. This can be achieved with a common methodology to assess recyclability based on solid scientific results. That is where RecyClass will come into play. RecyClass is based on scientifically elaborated Design for Recycling Guidelines where findings from laboratory testing of a product or new technology in a recycling process are used to continuously update these documents. These guidelines grant recyclability certification.

There is no future for plastics without plastics recycling, which must be based on high-quality input materials. A harmonized, factual approach moving forward would ensure the credibility of the environmental claims for plastic products and the credibility of the plastics industry while creating a level playing field for recycled plastics. In line with that, RecyClass works on harmonizing recyclability definition, design-for-recycling guidelines, recyclability assessment methodologies and recycled content calculation methods.