Demand for sustainable packaging solutions has grown steadily in recent years, and industry-watchers say the trend is accelerating in a post Covid-19 world as consumers reassess their values and demand even greener solutions from consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies.
The trend is everywhere at this week’s Pack Expo Connects, an online version of the annual Pack Expo trade show, which focuses on packaging innovations for a range of vertical markets. Highlighting the demand for sustainable packaging, the event featured for the first time a “sustainability track” of educational sessions designed to showcase some of the newest innovations in green packaging as well as companies leading the way in implementing them.
“There is now a broad recognition across the board that packaging of the future needs to be developed with the end in mind and contribute to a circular economy,” Fabio Peyer, sustainability director at Amcor Flexibles North America, said during a presentation about the company’s portfolio of recycle-ready solutions for food, beverage, pharmaceutical, medical-device, home, and personal care industries.
Others echoed those sentiments in the opening days of the event, which runs through this Friday, November 13. Some of the key trends and technologies discussed include recyclable packaging materials and demand for durable, returnable packaging solutions.
Packaging companies are increasingly trying to include more recycled content in their products—to reach their own sustainability goals and to meet customer demand, according to Alison Zitzke, a senior product manager for reusable packaging solutions company Orbis Corporation. Another key goal: Ensuring that packaging can be 100% recycled at the end of its life. Both goals can be difficult to achieve and expensive for many reasons, but companies are setting incremental goals to get there, and demand is growing, Zitke and others said.
To address that demand, Orbis unveiled a plastic pallet during the show that is made of 100% recycled material and is also completely recyclable at the end of its life. The 40 x 48 Odyssey pallet includes optional steel reinforcements that can be removed for recycling at end-of-life and molded-in frictional elements that eliminate the tendency for plastic pallets to slip in certain applications. The heavy-duty, rackable pallet is designed for food and beverage industries, but can be used in a range of other applications as well, Zitke said.
Most importantly, it meets the accelerating demand for greener packaging throughout the supply chain.
“[We’re providing] even more recycled content in our products—with the Odyssey and with others,” she explained. “So we can tell our story, but so customers can tell theirs, too.”
Another emerging trend: durable, returnable packaging that hearkens back to the “milkman” model. Returnable packaging company Loop is working with CPGs to create customized, zero-waste solutions for household goods—primarily grocery and health/beauty items. Products are delivered to customers in reusable containers (stainless steel and other materials) that are then picked up when empty, washed, refilled, and restocked for delivery to other customers. Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of Loop’s parent company TerraCycle, referred to the service as a “platform for re-use” during a presentation with CPG partner Seventh Generation, which is using the service with three of its products—two types of dish liquid and a laundry detergent.
“This is something that’s completely brand new for Seventh Generation,” said Kelly Murosky, senior packaging engineer at Seventh Generation, noting that the company’s three products are being delivered in stainless steel containers designed to seamlessly flow through its production lines, like a plastic bottle would.
Demand for such solutions will only grow in a post-pandemic landscape, according to Devorah Kaufman of research firm Euromonitor International.
“Surprisingly, sustainability is more important than ever,” Kaufman said during a round-up presentation on the sustainable packaging and processing landscape. “The [Covid-19] outbreak has affected consumer values, elevating interest in sustainability as well as broader social welfare issues. Consumers are re-assessing the things they value most, turning their back on excess consumerism, and demanding more from the companies they buy from and work for … A sense of purpose is now the key to connect with consumers.”