Environmental concerns, legislation and technology are driving transition from plastic to paper packaging
The future of packaging will involve a blend of both paper and plastic materials to meet product requirements for different properties, according to a new study from Smithers, The Future of Paper vs Plastic Packaging Markets to 2028
. The new research states that environmentally friendly materials/products are not always the first choice over cheaper materials/products even if the cheaper option does not necessarily meet performance specifications, but as market volatility settles, a move back to more sustainable materials is forecast.
Economy and pricing
The global economy has been in a state of turmoil since the pandemic and recently, the cost-of-living crisis, increased interest rates, and the war in Ukraine are having ripple effects across the retail sector. Prices are increasing across the board and, with taxes payable for packaging through EPR, the cost of packaging will be a major contributing factor to selection of packaging materials.
Consumer pressure, government directives and bans are leading to more sustainable solutions, and better recycling infrastructure is key to this working and the success of the circular economy. Innovation and development for packaging will be driven on material choice following material taxes in favour of more sustainable and recyclable choices. The full end-to-end life cycle analysis is key to make sure that choices in plastic vs paper are suitable.
The packaging industry is facing challenges with regards to innovation, material, packaging design and development progression. One of the biggest challenges is moving from multi-layer materials to mono-materials, while retaining shelf life and barrier performance. By 2028, fundamental changes will have been tested and be in production for all pack types, including the more challenging ones not yet transitioned; pack types such as single use sachets, and stand-up pouches.
Since July 2019, when the EU’s Directive on single-use plastic was launched (SUPD), the mission for a circular economy has been picking up steam. There are now government-led bans and taxes, such as UK Plastic tax, EU plastic tax, littering fees, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), and the EU Circular Economy Plan, which pledges a commitment to ‘ensure all packaging on the EU market is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030’. In effect, this heralds a ban on any packaging that does not meet a minimum standard of recyclability. It is hoped that this will lead to improved waste and recycling collection plans. There are regulations being introduced or modified including the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD), the Waste Framework Directive (WFD) and the Landfill Directive (LD).
With the world population growing, emerging countries are driving demand for packaging. Life expectancy is growing, and some nations have an ageing population. As such, packaging needs to be designed with all consumers in mind to support varying and older age ranges, mixed abilities, and easy open and smaller portion sizes.