Sustainability continues to underpin all major trends within the packaging sector and has infiltrated every aspect of the industry, including legislation, products, research, and the supply chain.

Most recently, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has fast-tracked existing sustainability initiatives that will have a lasting impact on the packaging sector.

Packaging will become a key element of the economic ‘green recovery’ which will create unprecedented behavioural trends– notably, the long-term shift to e-commerce which was not supposed to occur for another 5 years.

New research commissioned by DS Smith reveals a permanent structural change to the e-commerce landscape – 89% of Brits say they will continue to online shop at the same level or more post-lockdown and 93% now feel more confident buying online than pre-lockdown.

Even as physical shops reopen and we begin to transition to a post-lockdown environment, the increase in online shopping is for the long term.

“As such, we’re supporting companies to meet this rapidly changing environment by helping them to transition online quickly and easily with tailor-made packaging solutions,” says James Lomax, UK Sales Director at DS Smith Packaging. “Most recently, we supported the London Essence Company, a premium mixers brand, launch its new direct-to-consumer offering for the first time by developing a bespoke sustainable packaging range, comprising of branded staple bulk boxes through to luxury gifting boxes.”

Packaging sustainability initiatives vary for each business.

“At DS Smith we believe that the packaging trends seen before the pandemic will continue to profoundly impact manufacturers, brands, retailers, and producers,” adds Lomax.

A survey by DS Smith for example, revealed that six out of ten Europeans are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, suggesting that companies will not only need to be able to adjust to consumer changes, but also act on them and win.

DS Smith offers “supply cycle thinking” to its customers, offering a range of expertise and services into all areas of the supply chain process, from design and manufacture, through to recycling. The firm’s packaging solutions and unified process are designed to eliminate complex methods and DS Smith offers services that can address every stage of the supply chain to anticipate and solve problems for customers.

“Our recently launched ‘Circular Design Principles’ allow us to design for recyclability, design out waste and pollution and create packaging suited to a circular economy that makes it easier to provide labelling to help consumers recycle more,” says Lomax. “These have already proved essential as we support the challenges our customers are facing and the need to design effective solutions.”

DS Smith is known for sustainable innovation – and an example that typifies this is the recently launched ECO Bowl – an innovative solution for fresh foods in modified atmosphere packaging that consists of corrugated cardboard. Designed and produced in strategic partnership with MULTIVAC, the ECO Bowl is a fully recyclable corrugated cardboard tray covered with a plastic skin film and lid film that reduces plastic by up to 85% versus a traditional tray.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the speed at which DS Smith achieves the sustainable innovations it has become renowned for,” comments Lomax. “Indeed, the pandemic has not necessarily created a need for more packaging, but the need to design packaging solutions to fit our customers changing needs quickly and effectively.”

An example is the self-assembly, self-locking Provisions Box. This was originally designed for chilled and ambient grocery deliveries but was also adapted to safely and quickly supply emergency provisions to the most vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ‘stack, drop and go’ design means that boxes are filled by food retailers and left on the doorsteps, offering a more time efficient and hygienic solution that frees up valuable time for more deliveries.

Several of DS Smith’s food supply customers approached the firm to design this new packaging solution and a new design was delivered in under 24 hours. This was subsequently prototyped, tested, manufactured and delivered in less than a week.

Global flexible packaging and lidding films supplier KM Packaging has launched a new range of mono-polymer material lidding films, made from polypropylene (PP), that is designed for recyclability.

The sustainable films seal and peel to PP and PE-lined PP trays and can be used during microwave cooking as well as being suitable for ambient, chilled, or frozen applications.

Part of KM’s K Peel range, it allows food manufacturers to meet the growing demand, particularly from supermarkets, for mono material packaging that is designed for recycling.

The lidding films are ideal for the packaging of poultry, meat, and chilled prepared foods.

As well as satisfying the needs of supermarkets and consumers who are seeking more recycle-ready solutions, KM is helping to future-proof its food packaging.

KM Packaging’s commercial director Graham Holding explained: “If you have a piece of flexible packaging that, for example, is a combination of paper, plastic, and aluminium foil, then that would be a really difficult thing to segregate and put into a recycling stream.

“It is anticipated that the UK government’s Extended Packaging Producer responsibility regulations, due in 2023, will quite highly penalise packaging like this that is difficult to recycle.”

The new PP lidding film is also designed for recycling around the world, with some countries already having well-developed recycling infrastructures for polyolefin (polyethylene and polypropylene) plastics.

In the UK, front-of-store recycling facilities allow consumers to return polyolefin-based flexible packaging. A similar approach is taken in other markets. For example, Australia’s REDcycle initiative and, in South Africa, polyolefins are the largest plastic commodity recycled by weight.

Therefore, putting a tray/film combination of polypropylene onto the market feeds into an already well-established recycling system.

And the new “Designing for a Circular Economy” guidelines from CEFLEX focus on polyolefin-based flexible packaging. This is due to the material making up an estimated 70-80% of the flexible packaging waste stream and because the ability to sort and mechanically recycle it is already proven at an industrial scale in Europe.

The new polypropylene lidding film products follow KM’s recent launch of all-polyester (PET), weld-seal, mono-material lidding films within its K Seal range.

Both solutions are designed for recyclability and will allow customers to avoid putting multi-layer trays and films with different plastics combined into the market.

Parkside has collaborated with premium producer of chilled savoury products, Addo Food Group, to produce a sustainable and reclosable pack for its range of Tesco mini sausage rolls and pasties.

The specialist packaging solutions provider has created a complete 100% recyclable PET tray and lid solution for Addo, comprising a clear tray and heat-seal lidding film laminate with built-in reclose technology suitable for sealing to APET trays. The packaging design also delivers improved barrier performance to keep the product fresher for longer, as well as utilising a single polymer design ideal for consumer recycling.

Paul Tomkins, Packaging Technologist at Addo Food Group, said: “As a business, we pride ourselves on being innovators and industry leaders in the chilled savoury pastry market. The new packaging created by Parkside fits perfectly with our ethos and has enabled us to provide our customers with a fully recyclable and user-friendly pack.”

A recent study by The European Parliament found that European households now produce around 88m tonnes of food waste every year. This innovative reclose feature from Parkside supports consumer efforts to reduce waste by retaining moisture within the pack and preventing the product from drying out after opening. It also enables the consumer to avoid the use of additional plastics, such as cling film, to protect the food once opened.

Tomkins added: “We work tirelessly to understand the needs of our customers and by developing this pack with Parkside we know that the ability to open and reclose packs for longer-lasting products delivers greater convenience and helps the consumer reduce food waste at home.”

Staci Bye, New Business Development Manager at Parkside, said: “This was a great project for us to be involved in and we are incredibly proud of the finished solution which meets two vital consumer trends in terms of sustainability and convenience – something not often achieved in a single design. By changing to a heat seal laminate, Addo Food Group has been able to move to a complete PET solution, significantly boosting the recyclability of Tesco packs.”

This summer, despite major operational obstructions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Heineken UK rolled out its innovative 100% plastic-free cardboard topper across thousands of UK retailers. The topper features on Heineken, Foster’s and Kronenbourg 1664 multi-pack cans before rolling out across its entire beer and cider portfolio.

The company’s commitment to innovate sustainably during this unprecedented time has kept the business on track to eliminating this type of plastic from supermarket shelves by the end of 2021.

The new packaging not only removes plastic but minimises the use of materials and reduces waste. The combination of the new topper, dubbed Green Grip, and the removal of shrink wrapping on consumer packs will eliminate over 517 tonnes of plastic annually – the equivalent of 94 million plastic bags.

With the installation of the new packaging machinery set to take place at the same time as travel restrictions were implemented across Europe, Heineken UK overcame a significant logistical hurdle by using virtual technology to partly help install the machinery at its brewery in Manchester.

The team in Manchester used smart glasses to collaborate with Italian engineers on the installation process and receive virtual training on how to operate the machinery safely, allowing fewer people on the shop floor to support social distancing guidelines.

Michael Gillane, marketing director, Heineken UK, said: “This is a game changer – for so long, the plastic pack rings on cans of beer and cider have been rightly scrutinised. We have been working on a solution for several years – one that is durable, totally recyclable, and completely plastic free. Importantly, this is an innovation that can be used at scale on hundreds of millions of cans every year.

“After announcing our intention in November last year, we’re extremely pleased to launch Green Grip – our plastic free, recyclable and compostable topper in UK supermarkets this summer, especially during such a challenging time. The easy decision would have been to postpone the launch, but that was never an option. The use of innovative technology, combined with the hard work of our team in Manchester, meant we stay on track to achieve our ambition to eliminate single-use plastic on our products from supermarket shelves. This is a significant milestone in our journey, and we look forward to rolling the innovation out across the rest of our beer and cider portfolio in 2021.”

James Bull, Head of Packaging at Tesco said, “We have plans to remove all non-recyclable and excess packaging from our business and are working with a number of brands to achieve this. It’s great to see Heineken UK eliminate plastic from its cans of beer – our customers want to use less plastic, so I’m sure they’ll appreciate this change.”

Commenting on overcoming challenges posed by Covid-19 in commissioning the Green Grip line Brewing & Operations Director, Matt Callan said: “Introducing a brand new technology is challenging at the best of times, but doing so at a time of social distancing measures and when we’ve adapted our operations to meet heightened supermarket demand is a testament to the adaptability and determination of our brewery and project teams. We continue to look at further options to eliminate single-use plastic, including in our logistics and distribution network as we remain committed to eliminating unnecessary plastic in our total supply chain.”

This scalable bespoke innovation was piloted at Heineken UK’s Manchester brewery, with its Tadcaster and Hereford sites to follow in March 2021.

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