Aura has found that 27% of packaging professionals are unsure whether their company is on track to meet its sustainability targets, while 79% have limited knowledge of, or need help with, current and future packaging regulations – yet 22% feel that their supply chains are becoming more sustainable.

For the second year in a row, a survey was conducted among senior industry leaders from various global brands at the SPC Impact 2024 conference in New Orleans. Compared to 2023, there was a 5% increase in respondents who could not say whether their company would meet its sustainability targets.

Furthermore, due to the amount of requirements already in place and with more in the pipeline, 79% of packaging professionals admit they do not fully understand the legislation they are held to and would like further guidance.

Data was also highlighted as a sticking point, with 76% of respondents stating that their organization is not yet collecting the right data or using it effectively. Apparently, 41% are still collecting data manually – for example, utilizing spreadsheets instead of dedicated platforms.

“Data drives proactive decision-making when it comes to making packaging sustainable,” said Gillian Garside-Wight, consulting director at Aura. “Without the right data, companies are blundering in the dark and may have to optimize after the fact, costing them time and money and negatively affecting how their brand is perceived by consumers.

“Creating sustainable and recyclable packaging is an incredibly complex process. There are billions of combinations of formats and substrates, many of which could be permanently adhered to each other, affecting recyclability.

“And as if that was not complex enough, the rules across countries and markets are very different. That makes it even more incredible that so many brands and retailers are still reliant on manual data collection and analysis tools. There are better ways.”

On a more positive note, there was a 22% decrease in professionals reporting that their business’ supply chain was not as sustainable as it could be or unsustainable altogether, declining from 83% to 61%. Aura also notes an uptake in consumer education outside packaging itself, through initiatives like marketing campaigns; 41% of respondents felt that their companies only utilized packaging for this purpose, compared to 61% in 2023.

“New legislation on packaging is either in place or on the horizon in most territories, particularly Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in the US, Europe, and UK,” Garside-Wight added. “It is unsurprising that a lot of packaging professionals are unsure what regulations now apply and what that means for their organization’s sustainability targets.

“Although there are signs of improvement over the past year, the industry still has a long way to go to make supply chains more sustainable and educate the public in areas like recyclability and composting.”

In a previous Aura survey, senior packaging specialists identified sustainability legislation as the packaging industry’s biggest challenge – and, although 95% of respondents highlighted evolving legislation as a priority, 70% felt that their business did not abide by existing or upcoming sustainability regulations.

More recently, Gartner spoke to a range of North American and European supply chain professionals. It revealed that nearly half of their organizations have formal diversity, equity, and inclusion objectives, rising to 49% in 2023; however, 43% report higher attrition rates among underrepresented talent.

Meanwhile, an Ipsos survey commissioned by WWF and the Plastic Free Foundation suggested that an average of 85% of respondents are in support of a Global Plastics Treaty to ban ‘unnecessary, avoidable, and harmful’ single-use plastics globally.

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