Regulators, FMCG companies, and retailers commit to enhancing sustainable materials in packaging, creating both challenges and growth prospects for the industry.
The ever-growing concern surrounding single-use packaging waste, coupled with the pressing need for sustainability, is reshaping the landscape of consumer packaging. In response, regulators, Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies, and retailers are making substantial commitments to improve the sustainability of packaging systems, heralding a pivotal shift in the industry. While these changes pose potential threats to packaging converters and their value chain, they also present lucrative growth opportunities for those willing to adapt and innovate.
Consumer packaging is an integral part of our daily lives, offering convenience, reducing food waste, and minimizing product breakage. Over the past decade, the global packaging industry has flourished, driven by the adoption of plastics, economic growth in emerging markets, and consumer demand for convenience. However, the widespread use of single-use packaging containers has resulted in an environmental crisis, primarily stemming from two challenges:
- Packaging Recyclability: A significant portion of the packaging currently in use cannot be effectively recycled, particularly multi-material packaging. This challenge remains largely unresolved.
- Packaging Recycling and Leakage: Recycling rates for plastic packaging are alarmingly low, with the United States reporting just 28% for packaging and food-service plastics. In contrast, Europe reports a somewhat higher recycling rate of around 40% for plastic packaging, but this still lags behind paperboard (80%) and metal/glass (75-80%). Emerging regions, especially in Asia, face immense pressure due to their rapidly increasing packaging demand, inadequately scaled waste-collection systems, and limited recycling infrastructure. Globally, around 19% of plastic material flows end up as leakage or unmanaged waste, with only 16% recycled to create new plastics. The majority of plastic waste is incinerated (25%) or ends up in landfills (40%), squandering valuable resources.
In the past 12-24 months, public awareness regarding packaging waste, particularly plastic waste, has reached unprecedented levels. Powerful images depicting the devastating effects of ocean plastic pollution have stirred global consumer sentiment, prompting a collective call for change.
The Path to Sustainable Materials
In response to these challenges, it is imperative for packaging converters to proactively embrace sustainability as consumer expectations and regulatory mandates multiply. Collaboration along the value chain, including partnerships with suppliers and customers, will be crucial to driving change and advancing sustainable packaging solutions.
The future of packaging sustainability hinges on adopting system-level approaches and fostering collaboration throughout the value chain. It is not merely a necessity but an opportunity for the packaging industry to reinvent itself, aligning with evolving consumer preferences and regulatory demands while minimizing its environmental footprint. Through innovation, adaptability, and a shared commitment to sustainability, the industry can emerge stronger, offering consumers eco-friendly and responsible packaging solutions that protect our planet for future generations.