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A sustainable view of packaging in 2022 and beyond


March 28, 2022
By Dieter Niederstadt

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There are many aspects of what we used to think of as normal life that have been irreversibly changed by two factors: the pandemic and the climate crisis. And the packaging industry is not immune to these changing dynamics.

That being said, the industry – across the entire supply chain from raw materials suppliers to manufacturers, brands and consumers – is shifting the way we think about packaging. In 2018, the EU passed Directive (EU) 2018/852 for packaging waste which states that by end of 2025, a total of 65 per cent of all packaging waste should be recycled. Consumers are beginning to demand less product packaging that is more sustainable yet can still adequately protect products. Brands are responding to these demands – and to their own sustainability goals – by turning to packaging converters for greener packaging options. And converters, in turn, are looking for ways to incorporate more sustainable materials and practices into their product development, manufacturing and distribution processes. The ultimate goal is to achieve sustainability across the supply chain. But achievement of this goal is not necessarily in line with corporate cost savings goals. In order to improve sustainability, investments must be made. And consumers need to be educated about the value of more sustainable product packaging and be willing to pay a premium for it.

Sustainability: A goal worth pursuing

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Due to both consumer demand and climate crisis pressures, we see that sustainable efforts are becoming increasingly important to brands. To achieve a low carbon impact, brands must engage the entire supply chain for a life cycle assessment of the carbon footprint for each of their products. To the extent that other stakeholders across the supply chain have measured their carbon footprint in accordance with PAS 2050, the brands can actually apply those CO2 emission calculations to their own footprint. Thus, brands should be looking for suppliers who are pursuing a carbon measured strategy or whose products/materials have already been measured.

Packaged versus fresh

There is another trend that is important to mention, and that is the growth of what is known as “Zero Waste Shops” selling unpacked food stuffs. While this approach is admirable in reducing packaging waste at a local level, it may not be able to solve the food waste problem on a larger scale. Food waste is a significant problem globally, and in many areas of the world, food security is a growing issue. Packaged food, on the other hand, especially if packaging material can be reused as a new raw material in a closed loop circular economy, can actually be more sustainable. Using lightweight functional barrier films in packaging to prevent moisture, oxygen and contaminants from food contact can vastly improve food shelf life and reduce food waste. In the end, non-packaged food on a large scale likely results in more spoiled food, actually wasting this valuable resource. Not everything needs to be packaged, of course. But there is value in a smart hybrid model for retail food that can minimize waste and maximize sustainability.

A final note

For flexographic operations, in addition to careful supply chain management, efforts toward carbon neutrality, and other sustainability initiatives, we see three growing trends that can help these operations be not only more sustainable, but also more profitable in 2022 and beyond. These include:

  • More automated platemaking which reduces time, cost and carbon footprint in the value chain.
  • In-house platemaking at the converter site. As more automation is introduced into the platemaking process, it becomes easier and more efficient and sustainable to bring platemaking in-house. A side benefit is that plate production times can be reduced from days to hours.
  • Transitioning away from a hydrocarbon-based solvent wash platemaking process to non-VOC based alternatives such as water-wash.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that life is not as predictable as we may have thought. And it is absolutely clear that the world has truly changed, even beyond the threats posed by the Coronavirus. We must come together to address these challenges in a meaningful way.

In the past one to two years, there has been a marked increase in awareness regarding problems of greenhouse gases, plastic waste, food waste and other issues related to achieving harmony between the development of human society and the global environment. No one individual, company or government can single-handedly cure the climate crisis. It takes universal, global collaboration and co-operation to get the world to a point where climate deterioration is eased.

Dieter Niederstadt is technical marketing manager, Asahi Photoproducts.