2018’s Top Sustainability Trends in Packaging

As we turn the page to 2018, the packaging industry continues to make significant progress on environmentally friendly innovations that meet consumer demand for a more sustainable society. Globally, there is a noticeable uptick in awareness on not only the issue of food waste and how high performance packaging can enable a longer shelf life, but also the need for sustainable end-of-life options for plastics waste. Governments, brand owners, and materials suppliers are all working collaboratively on packaging solutions and technologies that address these preferences and help make our world a better place. For a glimpse of what developments may be in store for 2018 IN interviewed sustainability thought leaders from the Americas, Europe and Asia for their insights on the emerging trends to watch this year.

Trend: Reduction of Resource Use
David Clark, Vice President of Safety, Environment and Sustainability, Amcor

“As a producer of plastic packaging, both rigid and flexible, we’re working on the issue of plastics waste. Our goal is to help people understand that plastic is a great material that’s doing exactly the job it’s supposed to do, which is to efficiently get products through supply chains to where people need them, with minimal loss and waste. In addition, we need to make sure it gets recovered and recycled into something valuable. For converters that produce packaging, the first step is reducing the resources we use. Converters have made major progress when it comes to producing new packaging that can do the same job as before but with less raw materials. Many sustainability efforts go into programs that consumers never see — efforts that reduce our carbon footprint and boost the energy efficiency of factories, reducing the waste that the industry generates and sends to landfills. Others are easy for the public to see and feel, like how our plastic water bottles are so much lighter and thinner than they were in the past. Now, we’re moving toward making all plastic packaging so that can be recovered, and working with recyclers, governments, and NGOs to be sure recycling programs are in place.”

Trend: Corporations Embracing Sustainability
Nina Goodrich, Executive Director, GreenBlue; Director, Sustainable Packaging Coalition

“The most exciting trend is corporations viewing sustainability as a journey with long-term goals and constant improvements instead of a single achievement to check off. The corporate world has stepped up to begin viewing sustainability as an embedded aspect of their overall mission, and as an opportunity. It has helped set the stage for corporate leaders to tackle new challenges. For example, as part of the Beautify China initiative, China has banned imports of many plastic scraps, which includes films and many types of postconsumer plastic. These developments changed the landscape and made industry leaders and recyclers realize that we need to create the internal capacity to increase recycling here, where we have good infrastructure.”

Trend: Legislation-driven Sustainability
Virginia Janssens, Managing Director, EUROPEN

“In Europe, important industry trends are very closely related to European Union (EU) regulations. While regulations may be viewed as obstacles in the U.S., EU regulations tend to increase harmonization and ensure that member nations agree on standards and practices so that businesses have scalability and trade can flow freely across the 28 member states. A big trend in 2018, from an EU perspective, will be how European nations and industries change to comply with the Action Plan for the Circular Economy. The legislative dossier sets higher targets for recycling, waste reduction and other initiatives. Member states and the brand owners and converters who do business in the national EU markets then take action to comply with regulations. That includes implementing projects that reduce food waste through superior packaging and increase the recyclable packaging options for consumers. Circular Economy plans will drive further sustainability improvements in the EU for years to come.”

Trend: Reduction of Food Waste
Gail Tavill, Vice President of R&D, Conagra Brands

“Many of the sustainability initiatives in the food industry revolve around working to continually design better systems that address the issue of wasted food, and packaging is part of that. A good package helps you transport food from the farm to the manufacturer, from the manufacturer to the retailer and from the retailer to the end consumer. It reduces wasted resources on each leg, increasing efficiency in the supply chain. It also helps reduce waste at home. This isn’t an emerging trend; the focus on reducing food waste is a trend that has been building and is becoming a more mainstream goal. If we aren’t thoughtful about the materials we use, we will reduce our access to resources over time.”

Trend: Convergence of New Technology and Sustainability Goals
Brian Wagner, Director, AMERIPEN; Co-Founder and Principal, PTIS

“This year will be important for the Circular Economy and creating long-term plans across industries. Industry leaders are approaching their business cases considering greater implications on society and the environment. Over the last 20 years, we have worked with futurists to examine megatrends in the packaging industry. We are starting to get to the point where trends in e-commerce and regulations, new material technologies and R&D breakthroughs are poised for convergence. For example, soon we’re going to get to see what happens when the kind of big data that powers companies like Google and sustainable material research are brought together. We’re poised for a digital transformation in our industry that could be as significant as it was for retail.”

The global packaging industry is multifaceted, and every type of packaging has multiple functions. Some of the aspects that influence packaging materials and design are unchangeable, like the need to protect its contents, and some influences are purely aesthetic, like color. However, when it comes to sustainability, industry leaders report there is an increased demand for more efficiencies in all aspects of the supply chain. Suppliers, converters and brand owners are working with governments and consumers to increase the sustainability of their packaging.