BY GAIL BARNES SUSTAINABILITY SPECIALIST
PMMI, the producer and owner of Pack Expo, recently released a Global Packaging Trends report identifying the top three trends affecting global packaging, namely greater consumer awareness of health and wellness, stronger influence of recycling and environmental issues, and increasing disposable income and purchasing power.
The Middle East and Africa are being particularly influenced by these factors while other important regional trends include urbanisation, convenience, smaller pack sizes, branding strategies, internet retailing, and “premiumisation”. Globally, flexible plastic remains the dominant pack type with a share of 29%, with PET bottles in second place at 12%.
Eco is the new black
Sustainability has emerged as a major trend in the packaging market, as many companies capitalise on conservation in their marketing. According to Jorge Izquierdo, vice-president market development for PMMI, commenting on these three trends in a PMMI press release, “these trends are affecting packaging because they’re driving consumers’ purchasing choices. Recyclability and reusability of packaging are dominant trends”.
The results of the PMMI report are in line with the recent report by Mintel that identified twelve key global food and drink trends for 2016, where one of the key trends called out in the report was that “eco is the new reality”. According to this report, sustainability is evolving from being good for the bottom line to being a necessary new product development consideration for the common good.
The results are also in line with the EcoFocus Trend Survey which found that consumers in the healthy beverage shopper category make a strong connection between their personal health and the environmentally friendly choices they make. They also have high expectations about packaging because of the impact it can have on the foods and beverages they buy and use. These consumers are speaking with their dollars: 60% have avoided purchasing products from companies when they learned that they did not have socially responsible practices and 55% have avoided purchasing products from companies when they learned that they did not have environmentally responsible practices.
Environmental issues of flexible packaging at end-of-life
At 29% of the global market, flexible plastic packaging is not only the largest of the packaging types identified in the PMMI report, the market is also growing: according to a recent Canadean report, the global flexible food packaging market is set to reach close to 800bn pack units in 2018. This growth will exacerbate what has been described as the “plastic packaging industry’s greatest challenge”, since the source-reduced nature of flexible packaging makes it extremely difficult to deal with in terms of traditional recycling, leaving landfill as the only end-of-life alternative.
In order to address the issue of recycling flexible packaging, a study to sort out hurdles of recycling was recently announced, with Nestlé USA, PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble among the project sponsors, along with Dow Chemical Co., Sealed Air, SC Johnson, the Association for Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, the Flexible Packaging Association and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
According to Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, “this new sortation research is critical in helping to close the recovery loop for flexible packaging and we are committed to this collaboration to drive solutions for increased recovery rates”.
The research will be a part of a series of projects to create a mainstream recovery system for flexible packaging using technology currently in place. The results are expected to be published in the second quarter of 2016.
Another approach to an end-of-life solution for flexible packaging is that taken by the manufacturers of compostable flexible packaging. According to Daphna Nissenbaum, the CEO of one such company, Tipa, on the company blog, “our packaging solution offers a way to treat packaging like organic waste, like a creation of nature, like an orange peel. The infrastructure is there – we just have to integrate into it. I believe that in the future the only place for flexible packaging will be in the food waste stream, and this is where it ought to be. Get into the compost system, decompose, and go back to nature. In this future world the piles of plastic that we use for packaging we disappear within a short time. The world will take care of its waste”.