How do you pack the future?


Packaging is a hot topic in the world of sustainability. Everyone tries to take their own steps according to the Refuse, Reduce and Recycle principles. But what steps work better? And do we compare the right things?

Over the past 10 years, the demand for packaging has increased enormously. Explosive economic growth in China, among others, and consumer demand for greater flexibility and convenience has been focused on growth over the past decade.

In the next 10 years we will see again major changes in the packaging world. However, different trends will force companies to innovate in order to maintain their right to exist.

The 5 trends that will affect the packaging industry over the next 10 years [1]

Growth and pressure on the packaging industry

Increasing demand driven by E-commerce and new consumer needs will need to boost production once again .

Growing demand is running parallel to the increasing pressure on the sector. Everything needs to be thinner, cheaper and more durable. Companies with innovative qualities and the ability to switch quickly will benefit most from this. Companies that know exactly which button to turn for a corresponding result will gradually make the right innovative choices.

Public opinion is important

Despite the fact that plastic packaging is being applied more efficiently and sustainably, public opinion still plays an important role in the current plastic policy in Europe. Plastic, for many, stands for ocean pollution and littering. Pressure from consumer organisations and environmental organisations retailers are increasing and forcing retailers to think better about their packaging choices.

The increasing pressure to reduce the environmental impact of packaging, and the new preferences of customers ensure that packaging converters (raw material producers) need to invest in their innovation capacity. In general, internal operations are now being used; reducing waste and optimizing energy consumption.

This is often to the detriment of innovation in product differentiation. Historically, the focus has always been on quick wins such as reducing weight and material use with cost savings as the main reason. In recent years we have seen a change from focus to packaging waste and material choice.

Green frontrunner

For example, Oerlemans Packaging, one of the largest producers of plastic packaging and foils in the Netherlands, is already well on the way. Sustainability is not a new theme. The company has been producing biodegradable agricultural and horticultural film based on maize starch since 1992 and has its own regenerate line for the recycling of unprinted foil.

New pressure from legislation, E-commerce and consumers on Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) producers ensures that only material or efficiency innovation is no longer enough. Producers are now starting to experiment with full packaging redesigns and fundamentally redevelop the supply chain[1] .

For example, an American detergent company recently launched revamped packaging specifically for online orders. The detergent was also more concentrated, the packaging thinner and made from monomaterial.

For example, general manager Joan Hanegraaf of Oerlemans Packagingagrees. “The industry should focus on design for recycling: standardizing and simplifying packaging so that they can be optimally recycled. Then plastic, like glass and paper, has a future.”

Sustainability: Often (too) complex

However, it is good to realize that the knife often paradoxically cuts on two sides. The world of sustainability is full of complex trade-offs and challenges:

  • Recyclability vs. CO2 footprint or food waste
  • Technical and economic feasibility varies greatly by plastic-type and the way it is used. This goes many times beyond simply costing the material.
  • Any material or design choice has implications for branding a brand.

But what’s the right choice?

To make the right choices as a company, you can no longer get out of your way without an environmental management system. Every material and design choice has an impact on both the production process and the use phase of a product.

For example, Ecochain recently calculated the difference in total ecological impact between plastic and glass for the same product. This includes aspects such as: food waste by breaking packaging, the shelf life of the product by packaging, transport emissions due to difference in weight and energy consumption for the recycling process.

Without taking all the steps, you can’t make a fair judgment on a material. It is not simply the comparison between the impact of a kilo of glass with a kilo of plastic. The entire life cycle needs to be looked at.

Sustainable procurement

Packaging challenges can be addressed from different places in the supply chain. For example, a buyer has a huge influence on the overall packaging footprint. “Buying with impact becomes the new normal” says Gerard Bakker, chief executive of the Department of Judicial Establishments.

In the past, our buyers asked themselves the question: what is good procurement? Is that a business transaction where the price you pay and the products that come are balanced? Or is that too limited? The buyers found the latter. Good purchasing policy should support DJI’s social mission, they voted.

This was the start for a nice collaboration between Ecochain and DJI. Together with the suppliers, DJI wants to reduce the environmental impact of packaging materials. It may not be the most obvious thing you think about in prisons.

But all the locations together consume a lot of packaging every day. “If you want to seriously reduce an organization’s ecological footprint, you need to look critically at the possibilities together with suppliers” says Roel Drost, Chief Value Officer of Ecochain.

With our Environmental Intelligence platform, we will map out the environmental impact of three standard types of packaging material within DJI over the next four years. These materials are plastic bags, cardboard boxes and shrink film.

Ecochain looks at the entire life cycle of packaging, from raw material to what happens to the packaging material after use. The result is a nice cross-section that allows you to see right away where your process can make the most progress.

After zero measurement, DJI will talk to suppliers to discuss what improvements are possible. For example, can less shrink wrap be used per pallet? Or is another material more suitable? And what can DJI do to better separate waste within the devices?

Dji and its suppliers are talking about these kinds of questions together and they will start working together. “This way you raise sustainability in the purchasing department pragmatically and we can see every year whether progress is being made.”

The chances of sustainable packaging

It is now up to producers to position themselves strategically. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. They are complex issues and trade-offs that need a tailor-made solution over and over again. McKinsey[1] identified a three-part approach to embracing these sustainable opportunities:

Step 1: Low-hanging fruit

These are steps that producers or FMCG companies can fully bet on. These are steps that have a low impact on capex, OPEX, product function or attractiveness of packaging:

  • Removing unnecessary packaging.
  • More use of recycled plastic in product development for non-food packaging. Here will also need to look at the redeveloping of design for better recycling use.
  • Material replacement. Increased use of mono materials and a decrease in the complexity of plastic combinations.
  • Better communicating the sustainable story of a product. The Plastic alliance campaign “Rethink plastic” and the new packaging of Santa Maria are great examples of this.

Step 2: Supply Chain integration

This is a fundamental approach between up and downstream partners in the supply chain. An example of such cooperation is, for example, the DJI project where the customer actively looks at its suppliers.

Or the collaboration between a dairy manufacturer with its packaging converter and raw materials suppliers in order to fully adapt the design. The new design uses liquid cardboard and recycled plastic to reduce the impact by 50%.

Working together in the chain is key.

Step 3: system change

In order to make a really significant difference, the packaging industry needs to come together to achieve broader changes in production and the recycling system. The development and implementation costs of such changes will be many times greater than in previous steps and cannot be borne by individual players.

Yet such steps are not unthinkable. While the recycling rate of plastic in Europe remains stuck at 28$, paper is already recycled for 80$ recycled and metal and glass between 75-80%[2]. This did not happen by itself, this is the hard work of various parties in the packaging industry that have invested heavily in the glass, metal and paper recycling infrastructure.

In addition to the above three steps, a company must have the following sharp ly to begin the steps:

  1. A clear method of really benchmarking packaging products in terms of sustainability, costs and convenience.
  2. An understanding of the full opportunities and risks to which your product portfolio is subject is by stricter environmental requirements.
  3. Clarity and innovation in your packaging and technology roadmap. Together with partnerships, you need to be prepared for increasing differentiation of demand from your customers.

Ecochain has been helping companies find and improve their sustainable interface for 8 years. See where you stand with our free sustainability consultation. Use the form downstairs to request a conversation without obligation.

Without start, no finish

Are you a frontrunner, or are you running behind? Talk to our specialists to understand the state of your sustainable efforts.

Get started now: Make an appointment with our specialists