Despite shifting habits due to the pandemic, consumers are continuing to seek out sustainable products when making a purchase.

Many recent studies into shopper behaviour discovered that around 60-75% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging (Trivium Packaging).

This trend is led by increased media coverage of the environmental impact of pollution and brands transitioning from plastics – whether it’s straws, grocery bags or plastic water bottles. Consumer focus is on sustainable living now more than ever, and they’re willing to pay to protect the planet. Brands have a real opportunity to sway purchasing decisions by offering sustainable options to their customers.

“However, it will be interesting to see if this trend continues over the coming months as the cost-of-living crisis in the UK continues to escalate and puts pressure on consumer finances,” comments Mark Shaw, Sales Account Manager at Parkside Packaging. “We may see a return to the practicality over promiscuous shopping habits we saw at the start of the pandemic.”

With the introduction of Extended Producer Responsibility policies and plastic packaging taxes – not just here in the UK but across Europe too – packaging manufacturers, brands and retailers are focused on creating packaging that contains higher recycled content and is easier to process and recycle post-consumer use. Recyclability is now a core consideration in pack design, whether it relates to plastic or paper-based packaging.

For plastic packaging producers in particular, the challenges lie in delivering a pack that contains a level of recycled material (here in the UK, the Plastic Packaging Tax is negated by packaging that contains at least 30% recycled content), is easily recyclable through Local Authority infrastructure and yet does not compromise performance, presentation and protection of the product within.

With rigid plastics, the strength and durability achieved with virgin material can now be replicated and even surpassed when incorporating recyclate thanks to novel innovation in design. Additionally, new sealant technologies have enabled manufacturers to remove laminates from trays – essentially creating a monopolymer packaging solution that is easier to recycle.

Similarly with flexible plastic packaging, innovation is focused around eliminating multi-layer laminates that cannot be recycled. Parkside, for example, has created a range of recyclable flexible packaging solutions under the brand name Parkflex.

Parkflex PE HB is a high barrier single polymer polyethylene laminate that can be recycled through the carrier bag recycling infrastructure in large retail stores. Meanwhile, Parkflex PP HB is a high barrier single polymer polypropylene laminate, which is recyclable at large supermarkets due to its suitability for collection with soft plastics. It is also available with bio-based renewable feedstocks that do not affect the recyclability of the final product. And Parkflex Paper HB, a high barrier recyclable paper solution, offers barrier protection to grease, oxygen, aroma and moisture, ensuring strong pack functionality is maintained.

Two of the biggest challenges facing packaging manufacturers and brands in their pursuit of more sustainable packaging solutions are higher costs (novel materials often attract premium prices) and the need to maintain pack performance using less material or material containing higher levels of recyclate.

In addition, the introduction of legislation like the UK Plastic Packaging Tax is driving demand from the industry for higher volumes of recyclate. The question must therefore be asked whether there is the infrastructure in place to keep up with demand and deliver the quantities needed to manufacture more sustainable packaging.

If recycled content is in short supply and costs become too high, the supply chain may consider that it is cheaper and faster to pay the tax than it is to offer more sustainable solutions.

Adam Platts, SMI Director at DS Smith UK Packaging, comments: “Increasingly we are seeing consumers wanting products that are sustainable and environmentally friendly, and packaging is a key component in this. With consumers engaged and responding well to recycled packaging, it’s clear they are putting the expectation on brands to help them consume ethically.

“At DS Smith we are constantly working with our customers to design circular packaging solutions that achieve more from less, delivering for rapidly changing consumer lifestyles with minimum impact on the world around us.”

We’re continuing to see innovation and focus to move towards recyclability in the products that are created by the packaging industry. Using its Circular Design Principles – a set of five principles which guides the design and innovation community to become experts in circular design and to develop more circular packaging solutions – DS Smith developed the Circular Design Metrics.

These metrics allow the firm to measure and compare the performance of a packaging design across a range of indicators, one of which is recyclability. They provide a clear indication of circularity performance and help identify areas with potential for improvement.

“With this ethos in mind, we have committed to manufacturing 100% reusable or recyclable packaging by 2023,” adds Platts. “Beyond this goal, we are working together with partners to develop fully circular strategies, from design to production and supply to recycling, creating positive impact packaging for our changing world. It is our aim that by 2030 all our packaging will be recycled or reused.”

In the corrugated industry, simply using recycled papers to make a box is no longer acceptable as a sustainable solution. Customers are demanding more granular information on all elements that make up a corrugated box, from inks to glues and tapes.

Many of the challenges to create more sustainable packaging can be combated at the design stage, as this dictates a large amount of the environmental impact of the packaging.

“By using our Circular Design Metrics, you can easily see the result by comparing the circularity performance of your design choices,” says Platts. “Our 700 designers and innovators understand the unique needs for each customer and apply Circular Design Principles in the packaging design process.”

Well-targeted design tweaks and simple changes to materials are often enough for brands to make an outsized contribution to the environment. The key is to think about the full lifecycle of the package – from the materials used in its production to what happens to it once it’s in the hands of the customer – and consider ways to make these more circular.

“We believe that replacing problem plastics in packaging with completely renewable fibre-based materials is the sustainable alternative consumers are both demanding and actively seeking out,” Platts continues. “At the end of 2021, we had replaced 170 million pieces of problem plastic with paper-based solutions for supermarkets and online retailers around the world.”

This work includes creating more than 1,000 completely recyclable fibre-based packaging solutions for hundreds of thousands of products for both traditional and e-commerce retailers – from wine boxes and ready-meal trays to shrink wrap and fresh fruit punnets.

Alan Lockhart, Business Unit Director at KM Packaging, comments: “In the flexible plastic packaging sector, mono material solutions ensure packaging is designed for recycling in line with guidance from CEFLEX. KM also offer lidding film solutions that allow the food processor or manufacturer to use a recyclable mono material tray, including solutions where the whole pack (tray and lid) is of the same mono material.”

The collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure for flexibles is probably the biggest challenge in achieving sustainability. UK supermarkets have led the way with in-store collection points, filling the gap until kerbside collection is introduced nationwide. This is expected by 2027 and will be funded through the EPR scheme currently in development by the UK Government. To date, the focus has been on the recycling of polyolefin packaging, which is often recycled into a lower value product. Rigid PET is widely recycled globally, and the recycling of flexible PET packaging back into food packaging presents a great opportunity for circularity in packaging. The development of chemical recycling technologies will be a big step in realising this, but it takes time to upscale solutions.

KM Packaging have launched PCR (post-consumer recycled content) lidding film solutions across several product ranges. All the product specifications that contain PCR derived from mechanical processes meet the minimum of 30% content required to avoid the tax. These are suitable for chilled and “remove before heating” applications.

For dual-oven heating, KM can offer chemically derived PCR lidding film, however such solutions will not provide any tax relief. It’s understood this is under review. All KM’s PCR films are classed as 90%+ mono material specifications.

KM also offers mono material lidding film solutions across its K-Peel, K-Foil, K-Seal, and K-Reseal brands, all designed for recyclability.

KM’s C-Range of compostable packaging enhances its portfolio of sustainable flexible packaging solutions. The firm’s bio-based portfolio of compostable products has been developed in partnership with Treetop Biopak, and solutions include bags, stretch wrap, shrink film, netting, and tape.

Smurfit Kappa has introduced a cleverly engineered new packaging solution for detergent pods and capsules. The child-proof TopLock Box provides a safe, convenient and sustainable alternative to the traditional plastic box for laundry products.

The patented TopLock Box features an ingenious opening mechanism making it a very attractive solution for companies seeking a sustainable alternative for their certified child-proof packaging solutions.

The TopLock Box is a 100% plastic-free solution made entirely from FSC® certified paper-based packaging, which is renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. It has significant environmental benefits and offers a 40% carbon footprint reduction in comparison to the traditional rigid plastic alternatives.

The box, which is leak proof, is delivered as a flat, single item creating inbound logistics and storage savings. The dimensions of the pack can also be tailored to increase supply chain efficiency.

Commenting on the announcement, Vice President of Innovation and Development at Smurfit Kappa, Arco Berkenbosch said: “We are delighted to introduce our newest child-proof packaging solution to the market. Our innovation team has worked tirelessly to develop a brilliant solution that has the potential to be used for other products that need to be kept out of reach of children like, for example, medication.

“We have created an adaptable and flexible solution that can increase the efficiency of our customers’ supply chains which ultimately helps them achieve their sustainability and business goals and creates a fantastic consumer experience.”

The TopLock Box is the sister packaging solution of Smurfit Kappa’s innovative Click-to-Lock Pods Box, which was launched last year.

John Garner, Head of Innovation and Design, Antalis Packaging, comments: “Recent surveys conducted by Antalis Packaging suggest consumer choices are increasingly driven by a perception of sustainable packaging use – this is particularly true in age group of 18–35-year-olds. We are all aware of social media posts highlighting excessive packaging use, which have led to negative publicity for brands and e-com providers.”

There has been a move to more mono-materials i.e., paper-based packaging to ease recycling options and move away from plastic. The industry is heavily engaged at looking for friendlier options to traditional media – a great example is bio plastics which, whilst still having the potential to be polluting if not handled responsibly, are carbon neutral through their life cycle because they don’t release carbon from fossil-based materials.

“It’s a longer process to transition to new materials than consumers may think,” adds Garner. “For example, there has been a significant strain on both virgin and recycled fibre in the last 18 months, which has been driven by a huge growth in online shopping throughout the pandemic, coupled with uneconomic conditions for many mills. This has resulted in increased pricing, increased lead times and low capacity due to decreased production through lockdown periods. It’s fair to say that free solution made entirely from FSC® certified paper-based packaging, which is renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. It has significant environmental benefits and offers a 40% carbon footprint reduction in comparison to the traditional rigid plastic alternatives.

The box, which is leak proof, is delivered as a flat, single item creating inbound logistics and storage savings. The dimensions of the pack can also be tailored to increase supply chain efficiency.

Commenting on the announcement, Vice President of Innovation and Development at Smurfit Kappa, Arco Berkenbosch said: “We are delighted to introduce our newest child-proof packaging solution to the market. Our innovation team has worked tirelessly to develop a brilliant solution that has the potential to be used for other products that need to be kept out of reach of children like, for example, medication.

“We have created an adaptable and flexible solution that can increase the efficiency of our customers’ supply chains which ultimately helps them achieve their sustainability and business goals and creates a fantastic consumer experience.”

The TopLock Box is the sister packaging solution of Smurfit Kappa’s innovative Click-to-Lock Pods Box, which was launched last year.

John Garner, Head of Innovation and Design, Antalis Packaging, comments: “Recent surveys conducted by Antalis Packaging suggest consumer choices are increasingly driven by a perception of sustainable packaging use – this is particularly true in age group of 18–35-year-olds. We are all aware of social media posts highlighting excessive packaging use, which have led to negative publicity for brands and e-com providers.”

There has been a move to more mono-materials i.e., paper-based packaging to ease recycling options and move away from plastic. The industry is heavily engaged at looking for friendlier options to traditional media – a great example is bio plastics which, whilst still having the potential to be polluting if not handled responsibly, are carbon neutral through their life cycle because they don’t release carbon from fossil-based materials.

“It’s a longer process to transition to new materials than consumers may think,” adds Garner. “For example, there has been a significant strain on both virgin and recycled fibre in the last 18 months, which has been driven by a huge growth in online shopping throughout the pandemic, coupled with uneconomic conditions for many mills. This has resulted in increased pricing, increased lead times and low capacity due to decreased production through lockdown periods. It’s fair to say that many businesses enjoyed 3-5 years growth in e-commerce sales over an 18-month period.”

A rapid acceleration to right-sized packaging and automation to minimise the amount of board used and allow a greater yield from existing board supplies. This again is driven by both consumer demand and as a reaction to reduced material availability.

Antalis Packaging is well regarded as a solutions business utilising excellence in packaging design, innovation and automation opportunities. The firm is the market leader in supplying holistic solutions, looking at the whole packaging operation, from goods-in to despatch.

Gavin Ashe, Managing Partner, Kite Packaging, comments: “From our experience, businesses (and by extension, their consumers) are certainly willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. However, increasingly, they don’t need to. Due to the rising demand for eco-friendly packaging, manufacturers are constantly developing cost-effective initiatives that are equal in price or even less expensive than traditional non-sustainable products.”

For example, switching from bubble wrap to Hivewrap instigates a 35% cost saving due to the latter’s expandability. The flexible honeycomb cells also reduce the storage space required for the packaging by 20 times compared to bubble wrap; this saves money as users can access wholesale prices by being able to buy and store more than before.

Kite Packaging Hivewrap and Hivefill products are plastic-free and made from 100% recyclable, biodegradable and FSC certified paper. These qualities appeal to the increasingly eco-conscious marketplace while the aesthetic texture of Hive paper keeps the customer experience high.

Providing paper alternatives to popular plastic products continues to be the favoured way to help businesses embrace recyclable, eco-friendly packaging. Unlike plastic, paper or card can be recycled up to 26 times without losing strength or quality. For this reason, Kite supplies a wealth of recycled and recyclable paper products that are suitable for an array of purposes.

In particular, glassine represents a recyclable packaging innovation through being 100% paper with a translucent finish. This material can hence be used as a document wallet wherein the courier can easily view delivery details and the contents are protected from weather conditions. Previously, this element of a package would always have to comprise of clear plastic, stifling business’s attempts to be plastic-free or send out fully recyclable parcels.

There is an environmental section on Kite’s website dedicated to these innovations that serve to ‘replace’ conventional plastic packaging without sacrificing any of the integral properties.

“At Kite, we are rigorous in our testing to make sure that sustainable packaging swaps always achieve the same or better results than their less sustainable counterpart,” adds Ashe.

Stretch film has been notoriously difficult to make sustainable as recycled content can reduce the strength of the material, making a recycled film potentially unsafe for securing pallets. Load stability is of critical importance for avoiding damages and ensuring the safe transportation of goods; this is not a quality that can be compromised.

However, a new super strength performance film has recently been introduced by Kite that contains 30% recycled content while outperforming traditional 20mu films. The film grade is high performance, making it suitable for wrapping irregular pallets and withstanding cold temperatures. This hand stretch wrap features an extended core to make its use ergonomic and efficient. Furthermore, the 30% recycled content avoids the new Plastic Packaging Tax, helping to keep costs low.

 

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