Packaging innovation: Forward always, backward never (even if it still jerks)

Image source: Chaosamran_Studio, Shutterstock

Sustainability was at the heart of packaging innovation in 2022, and we look back and draw a line – focusing on material efficiency, minimizing material use and using more sustainable materials in packaging design with aspects such as paperization, flexible packaging, overpackaging and secondary packaging. In the outlook for 2023, we reaffirm trends from the outgoing year and focus on regulatory work, the energy and raw material crisis, reuse models and recyclate use.

 

The packaging innovations of 2022 were guided by one central idea and had to face a central yardstick: Are they sustainable? Or are they not sustainable?

As B+P, we have featured the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s concepts and ideas for the packaging industry in newsletters throughout the year – from prevention to substitution with paper to the use of new, more sustainable materials.

 

What remains as a conclusion and what can we learn from it?

Looking back at the most exciting innovations in 2022 and looking ahead to 2023, we look at three topics in more detail: material efficiency and minimizing material use, the use of more sustainable materials, and best practices for innovative packaging design.

 

Material efficiency and minimization of material use

  • Overpackaging: Innovative packaging design today places great emphasis on minimizing material consumption and developing lightweight packaging solutions. Topics such as overpackaging are moving into the spotlight. The new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) will give these issues a further boost. In the “Sustainability” section of our newsletter, we take a look at PPWR.
  • Flexible Packaging: In a statement, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) calls for the avoidance of flexible packaging. As part of a catalog of measures, flexible single-use plastic packaging is to be avoided completely in the future, as it is very difficult to eliminate as waste, regardless of material or geography. However, the foundation recognizes that there are applications in which flexible single-use packaging could not be replaced at the current level. The EMF sees their recycling and the substitution of plastic with paper or bioplastics as a necessary part of the solution – even if the yield and quality of these approaches are limited.

 

Use of more sustainable materials

First of all, we are convinced that, despite social pressure, it is important not to blindly replace one packaging material with another when it comes to material sustainability. The functionality of the packaging should always be placed in the foreground (again).

  • Paperization: The turn to paper in particular also to substitute plastic has remained a strong trend in 2022. Experts from paper manufacturer UPM-Kymmene Oyj estimate that up to 4.7 million primary food packaging items could be used annually by 2040. Compared to Euromonitor data, this is about twice the current volume. Industry experts surveyed in Euromonitor’s Sustainable Food Packaging report believe that up to 40 percent of this packaging could be made of fiber.
  • Attention secondary packaging: But even for fiber-based packaging, all that glitters is not gold. We see a growing movement in the market to the next step. While initially it was (only) an effort to move away from plastic and towards paper visibly, the question now arises: Is there a fundamental need for this packaging or can it go (even if it is made of fiber). For example, Tesco’s initiative to eliminate secondary packaging for toothpaste tubes.

 

Best practices for innovative packaging design

Currently, best practices for innovative packaging design are based on a whole life cycle perspective (LCA – Life Cycle Assessment).

Accordingly, materials are considered sustainable if they:

  • Have a reduced carbon footprint during their manufacture.
  • Can be integrated into circular economy models that minimize packaging waste. Recyclable or reusable materials are high on the list in this context. According to McKinsey, 60 percent of all companies are working on measures of this kind.

Fundamentally simplifying packaging was also among the best practices for 2022 – with resubmission in the new year. This applies regardless of the material used and whether composite or mono-material. That’s because simplifying packaging pays off on both of the above points.

The use of biobased materials or materials from renewable sources still remains a niche topic in the year that is coming to an end. But it is developing and we can look forward to seeing what progress 2023 will bring.

 

What’s coming in 2023 and what can we learn from it?

The trends from 2022 have not reached their expiration date. On the contrary, they will become even stronger in 2023. We would like to highlight two points that will have an impact on innovations and packaging design: The impact of regulations, the energy and raw material crisis, and the issue of recyclate.

  • Regulations: Regulations will continue to have an increasing and ever greater impact on packaging design. The new EU regulation on the use of recyclates in the food sector and the new PPWR as well as the single-use plastic laws are examples here (which we address in the “Politics” section of this newsletter).
    • The discussion about reuse models is also being intensified by regulatory intervention. This is already leading to visible new reusable innovations on the market – for example for the out-of-home sector.
  • Energy and raw material crisis: The energy and raw material crisis is forcing packaging manufacturers to revise their production processes. This could trigger innovations in packaging design and a movement towards less energy-intensive materials and processes.
  • Recyclate: 2023 will be an exciting year in the field of recyclates – when secondary raw materials from a wide variety of technology streams enter the market. However, massive leaps are needed to achieve the self-imposed and/or required targets in 2025, 2030 and 2040. This concerns not only the material side, but also the understanding in the design and marketing departments. Because a higher use of recyclates requires new thinking in marketing and branding.

 

Our assessment

  • Fossil raw materials are in retreat.
  • For plastic packaging, the future lies in weight reduction and the use of more sustainable materials.
  • For the cartonboard and folding carton sectors, the main topics on the agenda are overpackaging and the trend towards reducing secondary packaging.
  • At present, it is still difficult for companies to keep track of all In some cases, they are also confronted with squaring the circle – according to the motto: 100 percent recyclate use but still pure white.
  • Energy and supply chain issues will continue to be with us in 2023 and pose challenges for all companies.
  • Fundamentally, however, the train has sailed in the direction of a new, more sustainable packaging design. The major framework conditions have been defined.


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