The start of 2022 has been a very exciting period for us here at Packaging Europe. The recent launch of our new website marks the beginning of a new chapter for us and our plans. In light of this, we wanted to share some of our thoughts on the topics that we are looking forward to reporting on this year. From the trends in e-commerce and reusable packaging to the events that will shape the sustainability agenda for packaging, here we outline some of the key issues that the industry is facing today.
Tim Sykes on the sustainability agenda for packaging, the importance of innovation and the Sustainability Packaging Summit 2022
Sustainability is central, and I’d like to highlight some of the key areas where we need to make progress as an industry this year. Through our Sustainability Packaging Summit 2022 and our various partnerships, we’ll be exploring both the strategic framework that needs to be in place for packaging to advance sustainably, and the various areas of innovation that we need at the ground level.
On the strategic level, it is becoming increasingly clear that while we have the technological ability to solve most problems around packaging waste and resource efficiency, achieving this requires a more functional superstructure. To build a coherent circular economy, it is ever clearer how crucial a role a well-designed and -aligned regulatory and EPR ecosystem is to removing friction from the materials loop.
Another dimension of this topic is a more global perspective on sustainability challenges. One of the pressing questions now is whether a UN treaty on plastic pollution would accelerate circular behaviours and promote harmonization across the world.
I think it’s also very important to directly address the need to construct a clear case for investment, which involves bringing the financial community into the conversation. A shared understanding of the sustainability roadblocks will help identify the technologies that carry substantial value, which in turn reveal the best long-term investment opportunities.
These are some of the topics that we will be tackling in our flagship Sustainable Packaging Summit strategic leadership event in Lisbon on the 13th and 14th of September.
On the more granular level, innovation is the other key focus at Lisbon and our other Sustainable Packaging Summit events. Elsewhere in this article my colleagues discuss some of the most important areas of development around packaging systems, formats and technologies that can contribute to waste reduction and decarbonization. Here I’d like to highlight the importance of keeping a close eye on the R&D that is appearing on the innovation horizon.
From my perspective, probably the most exciting aspect of the Sustainability Awards over the last couple of years has been the volume and diversity of work submitted by start-ups and generally not yet commercialized innovation. We want to shine a brighter light on this world of innovation, to help accelerate the commercialization of ideas with impact, and perhaps at the same time spark dialogues between investors and the value chain about the winning R&D strategies. As such, this year sees an expansion of the pre-commercialized section of the Sustainability Awards, which will find a dedicated home in our new innovation conference in Amsterdam this November.
In this context, smart packaging technologies have particularly exciting potential around cutting down waste, increasing efficiency, eliminating food-waste, and helping consumers understand how to recycle packaging materials. Digital watermarking is a great example of a technology that can make packaging communicative with potentially transformative results – everyone should join us in closely following and supporting the progress of HolyGrail 2.0. Through our new partnership with the Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association, we’ll be highlighting these kinds of smart technology opportunities – and bringing the great work of AIPIA to a wider audience.
Fin Slater on looking ahead to COP27
The overall reception to the key commitments made at 2021’s COP26 summit was, it’s fair to say, mixed. While meaningful progress was made, many observers were left wondering if a number of the pledges went far enough.
A keystone of the event, the Glasgow Climate Pact, saw all participating countries recognise the need for “deep and sustained” action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The parties all also reaffirmed the Paris Agreement of limiting the rise in global temperature to 2C.
In addition, more than 140 countries signalled their intent to reach net-zero emissions, which will obviously have knock-on effects on the packaging industry via legalisation.
Deforestation was also on the agenda, with 100 world leaders pledging to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. Members of the packaging value chain, including the FSC and Pro Carton, supported the announcement.
Pledges were made to phase down the use of coal as a power source, rather than phasing it out. Work is already being done on this in our industry, but we’ve definitely got to go further.
So, what can we expect from the next UN Climate Change Conference, which is slated to take place in November of this year? First and foremost, further and more concrete action will need to be taken in relation to the key commitments made at COP26, in order for us to meet the potential effects of climate change head on.
One criticism of last year’s event was that it failed to substantively involve governments and organisations representing the global south, which often bears the brunt of many of the most serious effects of climate change. In light of this, the fact that the 2022 edition is set to take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt could be significant.
Environmental claims made by the private sector will also certainly be in the crosshairs. At the start of COP26 the UN’s secretary general, Antonio Gutteres, announced a new group which has been set up with the sole purpose of scrutinising sustainability pledges made by businesses. It’s likely that, due to increasing pressure from legislative bodies and the general public, more stringent standards and transparency checks are on the horizon.
Victoria Hattersley on accessible design and interactive packaging
Among other things, we can expect to see an increased interest in inclusivity when it comes to packaging design. This has been driven partly by strong advocacy from members of the disabled community who have fought to be ‘seen’. This, by the way, is a great example of how social media platforms such as Instagram can really make a positive impact when harnessed to draw attention to the lack of representation for marginalized communities.
A good example from last year would be Unilever’s Rexona brand which developed a deodorant pack for consumers with limited vision or arm mobility. I think – or hope – we will see more of this kind of positive design in the coming months and years.
Elsewhere, I would not be surprised if interactive packaging features more heavily in the coming year. There seems to be an increased emphasis on things like 3D visualization software to help clients adjust prototypes in the design phase.
On the consumer side, this increased interaction will allow them to access information using QR codes, NFC tags, image recognition and so on. This could include not only details of provenance – putting the emphasis on brand owners to be more transparent about their sourcing and supply chain practices – but also provide information about how best to dispose of the product at the end of life.
Elizabeth Skoda on reusable and single-use packaging
2021 has seen a renewed interest in reusable packaging solutions, after a dip caused by worries over COVID-19 being transferred through contaminated surfaces in 2020. Major brand owners and retailers have launched a range of reusable packaging trials. For example, Tesco in the UK has launched a trial in ten of its stores in partnership with Loop, allowing customers to buy a range of brands in reusable packaging.
Kraft Heinz has developed a reusable ketchup bottle, and Unilever trialled offering some of its product in reusable stainless-steel bottles. The company reported that uptake exceeded expectation, with “weekly purchases of Persil from the refill zone reaching a third higher than the equivalent single use pack.”
This is a very promising start, although trials have been comparatively small-scale. It will be interesting to see how significant growth in reusable packaging will be in a retail context, but I would expect this area to grow in 2022, powered by consumers’ growing awareness about the impact their purchase decisions have.
Another area where reusable packaging has seen notable growth in 2021 is takeaway packaging. Companies such as ClubZero and Vytal have devised reusable packaging models powered by apps, and I expect to see growth in this area, especially amongst a younger, tech savvy and environmentally conscious customer base.
Conversely, 2021 has seen advances in what could be described as the ultimate single-use packaging – flexibles. Being lightweight and offering good barrier properties, it is a very useful packaging material. However, recyclability remains a challenge, with only 17% of flexible packaging being recycled within the EU.
To address this, CEFLEX has devised the Quality Recycling Process (QRP), which sets out to produce film grade quality rPE and rPP polymers appropriate for non-food flexible packaging. Trials on this have been ongoing, and CEFLEX recently announced that it would construct a “next-generation” waste processing plant based on the QRP.
Report of new packs launched in monomaterial flexible packaging have been plentiful in 2021, so I’m expecting a lot more like this in 2022 – and with it, hopefully, a boost in the percentage of flexible packaging that gets recycled.
Hannah Cole on the future of chemical recycling, the supply chain crisis, and recyclability
In 2021, we saw companies including Honeywell, Dow, BASF, and Ineos Styrolution announce plans to expand chemical recycling capacity with new technologies and facilities, alongside reports that investment in chemical recycling is increasing significantly. I believe that 2022 will see some of these plans near completion as companies continue to research, develop, test, and attempt to scale and commercialise chemical recycling initiatives.
The construction of a number of new recycling plants is also set to get underway next year – especially if estimates suggesting that there could be 140 chemical recycling plants worldwide by 2025 are to be realized. At the same time, we may also begin to see some of the key challenges that could impede the expansion of chemical recycling in action as the segment grows.
In a similar vein, I think there could be more agreements between companies at various points in the plastics value chain in a bid to secure recycled feedstock, which will be key for meeting EU targets. Trinseo appears to have set this precedent in 2021 by partnering with Heathland BV, as rising prices and raw materials shortages complicate sustainability efforts.
It seems probable that the supply chain crisis will continue into 2022, especially as COVID-19 remains an unpredictable and ongoing challenge, which could impact the profit margins and lead times for the plastics, cartonboard, metal, and printing industries, among many others.
I expect that we’ll see more innovations to make food-contact/grade packaging easier to recycle or kept within a closed loop, building on the progress already made in this area in 2021 by companies including Mondi, COEXPAN, Coca-Cola, Tesco, and Iceland. While compostable packaging may play a role in this, I also think it’s likely that debates over the definitions of compostable, biodegradable, and bio-based will remain ongoing in 2022, which may make it difficult to get a reliable idea of such products’ environmental impact just yet. More companies and industry representatives may challenge the EU to standardise these definitions and frameworks during revisions to legislation like the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD).
Melina Spanoudi on the rising rPET prices and the shift away from PFAS chemicals
We recently wrote about the prices of rPET that reached new highs last month, as well as the reasons driving the demand and why the supply has not been able to keep up. I spoke to UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe to learn about the response of the soft drinks industry to this situation. Since then, ICIS reported that prices in the free-delivered, North-West Europe (FD NWE) rPET market have continued to rise this month, mainly due to the low supply and high prices of post-consumer bottles.
The prices for colourless bale prices have continued to rise, although reportedly at a slower pace than in January. On the other hand, there was a wider range of colourless flake prices, with some prices having significantly risen and a few having marginally fallen. Prices for mixed-coloured flake that have been largely stable for months have now rapidly risen due to sudden fall in availability, while prices for mix-coloured post-consumer bottles have seen a small rise. In addition, prices for colourless flake rose in Southern and Eastern Europe and the UK.
It will be interesting to see how the situation unfolds in the coming months, and whether it will soon stabilize. How much longer can the prices continue to rise, and what effect will this have on the sustainability commitments of companies across different sectors?
Finally, we reported last month on the effort of five European countries to restrict the use of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) where they are not viewed as essential, which is likely to include packaging applications. These persistent chemicals can be found in food-packaging, for example, and experts suggest that businesses must work to find alternative materials that have similar water and fat repellent qualities ahead of a potential ban. There are likely to be various innovations in this field in the coming months as the industry responds to this pressing challenge.
Libby Munford on the e-commerce packaging market
The e-commerce packaging market (valued at USD 27.04 billion in 2020) is expected to reach USD 61.55 billion by 2026, at an impressive CAGR of 14.59% over the forecast period 2021-2026, according to Research and Markets e-commerce packaging market report.
Here on the ground at Packaging Europe, we have seen a considerable shift in focus from brand owners and packaging designers towards the optimisation of e-commerce packaging on the market today, whilst the backdrop of the COVID lens puts an ever-increasing pressure on home deliveries in a growing era of online retail.
Asides from keeping the unboxing experience at the forefront of consumer expectations, e-commerce is perhaps the most demanding sector when it comes to challenges - it is also vital to continue to optimise speed of delivery, protection, transport costs and sustainability. We recently shared the Pentawards trends report 2022 which highlights three considerations when designing packaging for e-commerce: appearance, both online and once the package arrives at the consumer’s home; how it will fare in transport; and the sustainability impact of packaging that would not be needed if an item was purchased in store.
In the future, Pentawards says that it expects even more brands to use packaging specifically designed for online distribution to boost the impact of products available through e-commerce streams, so we expect to see ever increasing innovation pushing the boundaries of packaging design more drastically than in other sectors.
Of note, Amazon expanded on its first edition of frustration free packaging programme in June 2021 to address much smaller items and offers financial incentives if vendors meet certain requirements such as Ship in Own Container or being recyclable, and we expect to see a knock-on effect across the supply chain.
Perhaps as it is a relatively young segment, e-commerce is typically regarded as somewhat lagging behind other packaging sectors when it comes to offering sustainability credentials and waste and frustration-free packaging. But with such an uptake in demand, I feel that we are on the cusp of change in this sector, which has the potential to turn its reputation to become at the forefront of innovative, sustainable design.
I would like to leave our readers to consider key insights from Mondi’s group e-commerce director, Daniela Dorner during an exclusive interview with Packaging Europe in December 2021:
“As we all experience as consumers this market is growing tremendously, even more spurred on by the pandemic, and it will continue to grow. Within the more mature e-commerce markets of western Europe, we see stability, but looking further across to eastern European countries, the growth is even more significant in percentage. Throughout Europe the market is extremely dynamic. Our research shows the need for sustainability and convenience is clearly visible from consumers.
“We have already seen improvements in efficiencies and sustainability but with the increasing number of shipments and orders (and also returns) certain key topics continue to appear. There’s still a lot of plastics in use and secondly packaging must be optimised. There are ongoing efforts and a drive from the consumer side to use more sustainable materials.
“There is still a long way to go to optimise the e-commerce packaging market and a lot of opportunities lie in this market.”