The sustainable packaging market: drivers and perspectives

Consumer demand, government legislation and technology advances will propel sustainable packaging to a $244 billion market by 2018, according to a new report issued by Smithers Para.

The Future of Sustainable Packaging to 2018 details market sizes, projections and five-year sustainable packaging trends to 2018, focusing on key drivers, trends and technologies shaping the sustainable packaging industry. The report breaks down sales by type, end-use market and geographic region, and provides comprehensive coverage of the global market and supply chain.

Sustainability programs are increasingly being seen as a source of innovation that can help in differentiating a company by appealing to the consciences of consumers, the report says. These programs also serve as a platform for new product and market development. The core objectives of these programs have been emphasized by the “3Rs” motto of the UK retail : Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to which Renewable was lately added.

According to the study, the most common sustainable packaging trends are in fact:

  • Downsizing / lightweighting of packaging (Reduce)
  • Increased recycling and waste recovery (Recycle)
  • Increased use of recycled content (Recycle)
  • Increased use of renewably sourced materials (Renewable)
  • Improvements in packaging and logistical efficiency (Reduce and Reuse)

In the recycled material packaging segment, paper packaging is the largest market, followed by metal, glass and plastic. While the demand for recycled plastics remains strong, the material faces several challenges, including lack of affordable cost infrastructure for collection and sorting, international market competition for existing recovered materials and compliance with requirements related to food and drug content.

Driven by demand for sustainable packaging in countries like China and India, the biggest growth comes from the Asian market. The demand for sustainable practices is driving the market for greener packaging, which is boosted by a growing affluent and health-conscious middle-class population. Smithers Pira forecasts that Asia will be the largest market for sustainable packaging in 2018, accounting for 32 percent of the overall market.

The report concludes that the issue of sustainable packaging will continue to grow in importance over the next decade and is predicted to become the number one challenge facing companies, beating cost and other issues by 2023.

Innovation in packaging has a wide reach, particular in the food and beverage industry. European beer maker Carlsberg recently teamed up with a group of global suppliers to develop the next generation of packaging products that are optimized for recycling and reuse, otherwise known as “upcycling.” The companies will use the Cradle to Cradle Design Framework®, created by Pr.Michael Braungart and EPEA Internationale Umweltforschung GmbH, to develop a Cradle-to-Cradle® roadmap and assessment of their products.

The Coca-Cola Company USA), Danone (France) , ALPLA (Germany) and Avantium (The Netherlands) work on the commercialization of the next generation plastic bottles based on renewable, recyclable and bio-degradable polyethylene furanoate (PEF) to replace polyethylene terephtalate (PET).

And last year, UK paper manufacturer James Cropper announced it has developed an innovative recycling process that incorporates cocoa husk waste from chocolate production into unbleached cellulose fiber to produce a food-grade paper. The company says turning the otherwise wasted skins of many of the 3.5 million metric tons of cocoa beans produced each year into paper could be a significant breakthrough for the food and packaging industries.

Of course one can argue the still significant increased cost factor barely translating into a price premium in today’s constrained economy is still a significant obstacle. But this has been an obstacle for any emerging technology and newly developed products. However, it rarely discourages early adopter, amongst them global brand leaders as the ones named above, who consider it an efficient consumer communication track if their main product target is environment and health conscious.

Another recent research cast some new light on how commercial pressures are driving green manufacturing up the agenda with early adopters already reaping attractive benefits.

A report from sustainability think-tank “The Crowd” released in April 2014 pooled thinking from more than 150 CSR experts on emerging models of green manufacture as part of an in-depth crowd-sourcing exercise.

It found that 68% of respondents believed returns generated by green investments have been “attractive”, versus 7% who felt they have been “disappointing”. A recognition of the business case, rather than a sense of benevolence, was identified as the primary driver in adopting such models.

More than half of respondents (53%) felt the best opportunities for progress in greener manufacturing over the next four years were resource-efficient production processes, followed by supply chain collaboration (49%) and designing products that use fewer resources when in use (44%).

Interestingly, experts rated green manufacturing’s role as a catalyst for innovation as having greatest value. Among them was Lego’s director of environmental sustainability Tim Brooks who said: “Green manufacturing is the ability to see an engineering, design or production challenge from a different angle. A ‘green’ lens will often uncover a real win/win business case we would not have otherwise found.”

Greater circularity

One instigator for innovation, the circular economy, was also picked up by respondents as having a valuable role to play: 29% felt it was now the main driver of green manufacturing change.

Assessing the cost and impact of greater circularity, ERM principle partner Simon Aumonier said that manufacturers must now “must measure the efficiency of production in terms of resource depletion, as well as social, financial and environmental impacts and benefits” to establish not only how circular the current economy is, but how quickly they can make progress against that benchmark.

Smaller, more nimble enterprises were also identified as having a vital role to play in driving the transition to a circular economy. A collaborative approach and supply-chain engagement were both felt to be key enablers of greater innovation.

Meanwhile Dr Greg Lavery, CEO of Lavery Rennell, underlined the importance of mindset. “Sustainability improvements can be made by manufacturers at many points. The key question is: which interventions create the greatest benefit and should be prioritised?” he said.

“The slight preference for resource efficiency in the production process suggests it’s recognised as the area which can be addressed most easily, or, where substantial improvements remain to be made.”

In conclusion, we can still see “Reduce” has having the preference and priority over the other Rs within the four. However, we can now expect Renewable to come closer behind. Recycle in turn is always a function of how important one specific plastic waste pool is to justify the emergence of a new recycling stream. My bet is that PLA would be second on the list among the renewable, sugar cane based HDPE being first in volume as it already joins petrochemicals HDPE in the same existing recycling streams.

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One comment

  1. Recycling old plastic waste like plastic bottles, bags and food storage container are good source of plastic materials. In some countries like USA, UK & other european countries are now focusing on renewable plastic materials and self healing plastic materials

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