The future of sustainable packaging
We have entered an era where people are more conscious of their impact on the planet than ever before. It’s no surprise that as sustainability establishes itself as a key concern for governments, consumers, and companies across the globe, packaging has become an area of keen interest.
But as companies take strides to reduce the use of non-recyclable materials, how does this impact manufacturing?
Protection of packaging
From the plastic packaging that wraps up supermarket groceries, to non-woven materials like sponges and wet wipes, this issue spans a range of sectors within the world of manufacturing. And as companies seek out more eco-friendly alternatives to traditional packaging, ensuring the integrity of these materials will benothing short of critical – which means having the right testing equipment in place is a must. Whether that involves permeation testing, headspace analysis, or burst testing, businesses and manufacturers must be prepared.
The role of packaging in reducing plastic waste
When we talk about reducing waste, the issue of packaging is always a hot topic – and for good reason. Not only does packaging present one of the most visible plastic uses, but according to a 2020 study an estimated 174 kg of packaging waste was generated per inhabitant in the EU in 2018.
The scale of the problem is clear – in the UK alone, an estimated five million tons of plastic is used every single year. In April2021, the UK Government announced a target of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042 in an attempt to combat this crisis. And while at an international climate summit convened by US president Joe Biden, Canada pledged to reduce emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The target exceeds Canada’s previous goal, which was made as part of the Paris Climate Agreement.
This legally binding international treaty on climate change was first agreed in 2015 and has been adopted by 196 parties so far. While this remains one of the most pivotal steps forwards in tackling climate change, it’s fair to say that radical change will be necessary to achieve these goals. And as more legislation is introduced, it’s clear that manufacturers producing packaging will be forced to continuously adapt.
Consumer desire disrupting packaging
But it’s not just government legislation driving change – the desire for eco-friendly packaging is driven by many passionate individuals all over the world. In fact, this has become a powerful motive behind consumer choices. millennials and gen Z buyers are greatly concerned with reducing their environmental impact and are looking at the companies they buy from to help them achieve their own sustainability goals. A 2019 report by Forbes found that 62 percent of Generation Z prefer to buy from sustainable brands, which was on par with their findings for millennials.
There is also an element of brand management to consider here. We’ve all seen images splashed across newspapers of beaches and greenspaces overflowing with plastic bags. These images strike a strong reaction from consumers – would any brand really be happy to see their logo associated with this?
Businesses committing to change
A desire for change is clearly on the horizon. And In an effort to drive this forward – and protect their reputation in the process – many international corporations have already announced sustainability-focused pledges. Last year, a cross-section of American companies signed the U.S. Plastics Pact, committing to a number of targets, such as ensuring all plastic packaging will be 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.Similar pacts have been undertaken by a number of nations.
Big brands have also been putting their money where their mouth is. Fast food giant McDonald’s has committed to making all their packaging recyclable by 2025,while FritoLay recently revealed that it has reduced plastic packaging by more than 7.8 million lbs since 2019.
For many businesses like these, with established reputations on the line, the main challenge is to ensure they’re upholding the quality in packaging their customers are used to, while making the move to more sustainable materials. But what new demands does this put on manufacturers?
The search for high-quality sustainable packaging
High-quality, protective packaging is clearly essential for delivering products in their purest form. Reducing waste caused by damage in transit or degradation due to insufficient sealing is an ongoing challenge for all sectors. In the past, achieving this level of protection involved using materials that are hard to recycle or have a high cost to produce.
But in today’s environment, industries are looking for alternative packaging methods to help reduce their environmental impact without compromising the integrity of their solutions. It’s critical that packaging is fit for purpose in order to protect the product it contains – and during the quest to become more sustainable, this is one element that businesses and manufacturers simply cannot compromise on.
In industries like pharmaceuticals for example, businesses can’t sacrifice airtight protection for a more sustainable material. But does this present more complex problems for organizations looking to adopt a more sustainable approach to packaging?
As businesses begin to experiment with new materials for packaging, quality control arguably has a larger role to play than ever before. As innovation increases, it is increasingly important to invest in the highest quality of test and inspection solutions in order to safeguard quality while sourcing new sustainable alternatives.
Exploring eco-friendly packaging materials
Switching to new packaging materials and adopting new designs may sound simple to consumers, but behind the scenes we know it’s a long and considered process.
Every new potential design implemented by manufacturers must be examined, not only for its environmentally friendly aspects, but also to see how well it stands up to relevant stress tests. Likewise, all changes to packaging will be subject to thorough and ongoing quality control checks to ensure they are providing adequate protection according to safety standards and regulations.
Working with corrugated paper and recycled plastic
Many big brands are making a switch from single use plastic to paper or recycled alternatives. In 2020, Coca-Cola announced a new paperboard solution for multipack cans in Spain. While earlier this year, Nestlé’s Smarties became the first global confectionary brand to switch to completely recyclable paper packaging.
For protective packaging, corrugated paper has also presented itself as a green alternative to less eco-friendly packaging types. However, to ensure this material is fit for purpose, its behavior and properties need to be thoroughly tested. And at Industrial Physics, we have a portfolio of test and inspection instruments designed specifically for use on corrugated paper – these instruments test a number of different applications –including burst testing and crush testing – to ensure the safety, quality, and integrity of corrugated paper packaging.
Recycled plastic also requires rigorous analysis to ensure hat it’s able to safely and adequately perform its role. Even plastics that seem comparable may perform in markedly different ways when exposed to elements or long storage periods. So, its key that manufacturers have the highest quality tools to protect themselves.
Supporting the next generation of packaging
As consumers and brands around the world continue to turn their attention to sustainability and ecologically-sound processes, packaging will remain high on the agenda.
We expect businesses and manufacturers to rise to the challenge. And we look forward to supporting them with the testing processes and support they need – allowing businesses to have full confidence in bringing sustainable packaging solutions to the market.