Packaging professionals from all over the UK battled the adverse weather conditions to attend Packaging Innovations, Empack and Label&Print 2018, at Birmingham’s NEC. Attendees were treated to over 300 industry leading suppliers, a who’s who of major name speakers and the country’s most hotly anticipated plastics debate.

Sustainability was top of the agenda, with Coca Cola, Co-Op, Marks & Spencer and Iceland forming an expert panel, as part of a new feature – The Big Plastics Debate. The discussion, which proved so popular that it had to be live-streamed on four of the other stages to house the interested audience, posed the industry’s hottest plastic questions to the UK’s leading retailers, with innovation, collaboration and ambition coming up as the key themes. The panel agreed that more needs to be done to battle the use of plastics and highlighted that litter plays a major role in bringing the subject of packaging to the public’s attention. They also felt that as leading retailers, they should be doing more to combat the issue, using their influence to change the way the industry works with plastic.

Nick Brown, Head of Sustainability at Coca Cola European Partners said: “Our aim is to make our packaging as sustainable as possible. I think it is fair to say that all of the panel have the same ambition. This will not be a quick process, as we must not compromise on safety or hygiene as we go, but through collaboration with the other big brands we will get there. Also, we must use our brand power in a positive way, contributing the right recycling and littering messages, as well as showing the public that we are doing more.”

Continuing this theme, Robert Thompson, Packaging Technologist at Co-op, took to the Ecopack Stage. He discussed how packaging recyclability is important to 85% of Co-op members. Thompson announced that as of January 2018, 71% of Co-op’s packaging is easy to recycle, but there is still more work to be done, with CPET, flexibles and vanity black plastics being cited as the top three challenges. Discussing Co-op’s sustainability strategy moving forward, Thompson commented: “Our goal is to have 100% of our packaging easy to recycle. We have removed vanity black trays from a lot of produce, such as mushrooms and premium tomatoes, and we will be completely free of vanity black trays in produce during 2018.”

By popular demand, the Ecopack Challenge returned, with five companies battling it out in a Dragons’ Den style session, for the chance to further develop their sustainable packaging concept with M&S. VTT Technical was crowned champion for its fully biobased cellulosic alternative to plastic packaging. Head judge, Kevin Vyse, Senior Packaging Technologist & Circular Economy Lead at M&S said: “The Ecopack Challenge launched four years ago, and this has been by far the most impressive year yet. All shortlisted companies presented truly innovative and sustainable packaging solutions, but VTT thoroughly deserved the win."

New for 2018, The Sustainability Trail provided visitors with the opportunity to discover the latest ‘green’ innovations within the marketplace, detailing where visitors needed to go to find the most environmentally friendly suppliers. Also joining the sustainability agenda was the new Sustainability Wall, which saw visitors share their thoughts on sustainability, with a professional artist on hand to turn these ideas into art-reality.

Visitor, Anne Garrigan, Packaging Technologist at Park Cakes Bakeries, was just one of many pleased by the heavy focus on sustainability. Garrigan said: “We have been to the show before, but this year we primarily came for The Big Plastic Debates. The big names were a huge draw for us and the subject of sustainability is such a hot topic we were keen to find out more.”

As always, innovation was right at the heart of the show, with the new Innovation Zone offering visitors the chance to get hands on with an array of ground-breaking products, materials and services from both exhibitors and non-exhibiting companies. Attendees voted for their favourite product, with RPC M&H Plastics being unveiled as the winner for its ‘green’ plastic flexible Sugar Cane Tubes, live on the showfloor.

With innovation in mind, over 100 products were launched over the two days. For example, Colpac launched its Cookpack Hot Boxes and Compostable Ovenable Trays; Greenearth Food Packaging introduced its new range of biodegradable wooden food trays; James Cropper 3D Products debuted COLOURFORM™, its plastic-free packaging, made from 100 percent renewable natural wood fibres; and OAL unveiled APRIL EYE, its intelligent date code verification system that cuts food waste in the supply chain.

Shahissta Ratyal, Director at Green Wednesday, was amongst those who visited the show to discover the latest innovations within the industry. Ratyal commented: “We have found some really interesting recyclable and sustainable solutions, including an alternative to bubble wrap that is truly innovative. We have never been to the show before and have found a number of suppliers that we wouldn’t have found otherwise.”

It wasn’t just the visitors that had a successful show. 70 per cent of onsite exhibitors rebooked on the spot for next year. One of these was Phil Donaldson, Managing Director at Advanced Labelling Systems, who shared his experience of the show: “This year’s show has surpassed all of our expectations, particularly given the weather conditions. We have had a great response from visitors and some good enquiries, so we are really pleased. We have been coming to the show for 10 years and have already rebooked for next year.”

Another exhibitor who had a successful show, including a product launch live on the showfloor, was David Harding-Brown, Founding Partner at Packaging Collective, He stated: “We are so proud to have unveiled a new product at Packaging Innovations 2018 and are really grateful to the show for providing such a fantastic platform for us to do so. We have had huge interest from a variety of visitors and received fantastic support.”

James Drake-Brockman, Divisional Director of Easyfairs’ Packaging Portfolio, concludes: “Firstly, let me thank everyone who attended the event. We know the weather conditions were not ideal, but those who did make it, helped make the show a resounding success. The event came at a time when the packaging industry is under more scrutiny than ever before, with the government, media and consumers all calling for change. The show and our exhibitors really rose to this challenge, with visitors highlighting our Big Plastics Debate, Ecopack Challenge and Sustainability Trail, plus all the exhibitor innovation as key moments from the two days. It was a real opportunity for the industry to show what it’s capable of, and it delivered.”

The next Easyfairs packaging event will be Packaging Innovations & Luxury Packaging London, which takes place at London Olympia on 12 & 13 September 2018.

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