A sustained effort

24 September 2018

There is currently no bigger issue in the packaging industry than environmental concerns, and brands are evolving to ensure their packaging is eco-friendly from start to finish, from the cultivation of the raw materials and the manufacturing process, through to its ease of recyclability for the end user. Dave Howell talks to brand representatives and people in the know to find out more about how brands are achieving the goal of sustainability.

The packaging and manufacturing processes that brands use are changing. Research from API, a leading manufacturer of foils and laminates, speaks volumes; it reveals that 73% of respondents to their survey believe sustainability is a good opportunity for their brand, with half having already created packaging with sustainable features. The increasing availability of sustainable packaging materials, and a converting landscape that is itself moving towards more responsible manufacturing, is resulting in new packaging materials and processes.


Some brands, such as Marks & Spencer, have reduced the complexity of some packaging as a way of elevating their sustainable credentials. How materials are used is just one component of a wider debate that will require massive changes to take place if brands are to meet their customers demand for packaging that is less wasteful and more easily recycled.


In this scenario, there is no magic manufacturing process or miracle material. Many point to bioplastics, which will see a global production increase of 50% to six million tonnes by 2021, as a potential tipping point, but this is an individual component of a complex equation. Material science will need to meet new manufacturing processes to improve the levels of sustainable packaging in use.


Nina Elomaa, director of corporate responsibility at Frazer Group, explains that the manufacturing process is vital in delivering greater sustainability, “When it comes to food products, consumers might forget that the environmental impacts of the packaging are minor compared to the environmental impacts of the production of the products and the cultivation of the raw materials.”


Outlining the bigger picture, Elomaa says, “Optimal packaging is essential for contributing to a better environment. For example, throwing away just one slice of bread causes a bigger carbon footprint than producing the bread packaging. The share of packaging in the total environmental load of a product such as bread is about 2-5%; but if the product is destroyed because of poor packaging, the effect is ten times higher. So packaging solutions and the correct packaging size reduces food waste at the consumer end. For the same reasons, sustainable packaging can, in the end, turn out to be more less eco-friendly in the overall picture.”


Already, brands including PepsiCola, Heinz and Nestlé, together with manufacturers such as Tetra Pak, have developed bioplastic packaging. Nestlé has also developed its Packaging Impact Quick Evaluation Tool (PIQET) and EcodEX tool so as to better understand the entire lifecycle of a product and the impact its packaging is having.



Committed to change



There are tangible moves to make packaging more sustainable. The Plastic Pact, led by WRAP, has already signed up 42 businesses, with a further 15 showing their commitment. The targets for the initiative are to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative delivery models; make 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable; and to ensure that 70% of plastic packaging is effectively recycled or composted – all by 2025.


On announcing the new signees, WRAP CEO Marcus Gover said, “Together, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink and reshape the future of plastic so that we retain its value, and curtail the damage plastic waste wreaks on our planet. This requires a wholescale transformation of the plastics system and can only be achieved by bringing together all links in the chain under a shared commitment to act. That is what makes the UK Plastics Pact unique. It unites everybody – business and organisation – with a will to act on plastic pollution. We will never have a better time to act, and together we can.”


This home-grown initiative will need the support of many more brands and their manufacturing partners. Simply dealing with packaging waste once it has been created is one element of what will become a multifaceted approach to packaging design and development.


Ramon Arratia, Ball’s European sustainability director, points out, “Many brands claim that their products are recyclable even if the materials don’t actually end up being recycled. Are the materials recyclable everywhere or just at one facility in the world? Are they recyclable just once or many times over? Is all of the product recyclable or just part of it? And how much of the material is lost during the recycling process?”


“Ball helps brands to offer sustainable options to end users,” says Arratia. “The aluminium cans manufactured by Ball and supplied to customers worldwide can be separated easily from other substrates in the waste stream. Approximately 70% of all aluminium cans are recycled globally, making the can the world’s most recycled packaging product.”



Preaching to the converted



The converting industry as a whole is also moving inexorably towards more sustainable processes, as the market demand is placing pressure on these businesses to react. Brands now understand they must react to consumer concerns about the impact packaging has on the environment. Recently, the Kraft Heinz Company announced the expansion of its Growing a Better World strategy, which aims to deliver 100% recyclable, reusable and compostable packaging materials by 2025.


At the time of the announcement, Bernardo Hees, CEO at Kraft Heinz, explained, “Our collective industry has a massive challenge ahead of us with respect to packaging recyclability, end-of-life recovery and single-use plastics. Even though we don’t yet have all the answers, we owe it to current and future generations to find better packaging solutions and actively progress efforts to improve recycling rates. That’s why Kraft Heinz is placing heightened focus on this important environmental issue.”


How brands and their manufacturing partners are developing their packaging strategies is wide-ranging. Julie Entwistle, packaging buyer at Crown Paints, gives some insight into how the company is innovating to move its packaging to more sustainable materials via new manufacturing processes, and how, from a brand perspective, it is critical to have environmentally sensitive packaging.


“Our customers, whether they’re decorating contractors working on multi-million-pound refurbishments or homeowners redecorating one room, are increasingly concerned about their impact on the environment,” she says. “It’s therefore vital that we offer as sustainable a product as possible to meet this demand, and the packaging plays a key part in this.


“Also, our packaging communicates a lot about us as a brand, so pledging to use 100% recycled post-consumer waste (PCW) plastic in our paint containers sends a clear message about our environmental credentials and will help our customers make a more environmentally conscious purchasing decision.”


Entwistle continues, “We recognise that reducing unnecessary plastic packaging waste is becoming increasingly important to our customers. For the past six years, we’ve partnered with local social enterprise Nimtech to recycle used paint containers and turn them into new benches, rather than send them to landfill. Our new 100%-recycled paint containers are also fully recyclable once empty and clean again, supporting the circular economy.”



Crowning achievement



Crown Paints recently pledged to a sustainability target, which involved changes to its manufacturing process, as Entwistle explains, “It’s been ten years since we originally launched our earthbalance sustainability programme, which sets out our company-wide commitment to be more sustainable, less wasteful and to help customers make responsible decisions about our world. This involves looking at all aspects of manufacturing and evaluating the full lifecycle of our products – from manufacture to application and beyond.

Outlining the company’s specific targets, Entwistle says, “Our current sustainability targets for manufacturing are a 5% reduction in energy, waste and water consumption by 2018, and a greenhouse gas emission reduction of 12% by 2020.”


Obviously, all of this change does not come without challenges. The paradigms of sustainability are forever shifting, and a refocus on what companies are looking to achieve with their packaging produces technical challenges. But it is clear that the sustainability of a products packaging is now a key component in a brands identity, and one which can greatly increase brand differentiation in the marketplace. Entwistle explains, “The new plastic paint containers mark a significant investment for us and have been several months in the making. Plastic paint can producers have been striving to break the 25% recycled level for many years, so to reach 100% recycled PCW plastic is a huge achievement, and one that we’re proud of.


She continues, “The technical requirements of these containers were challenging, but we worked closely with packaging solutions expert Emballator, in co-operation with leading plastic recycler ImerPlast, to achieve the 100% recycled level, while ensuring that the new packs met the same high-performance standards as traditional PP packs.

“As a company, we’ve always prided ourselves on being able to offer customers a more sustainable choice, and as the demand for more environmentally friendly packaging options intensifies, we wanted to demonstrate that we can do things differently. Sustainable manufacturing of packaging is a critical component for us and one that we hope to develop further in the future, as we roll our PCW-plastic packaging out across our full Crown Paints product range.”


“Plastic waste is of huge concern to all our customers,” Entwistle concludes. “We’re proud to be able to play our part. As consumers look for more environmentally sensitive products, being able to offer a sustainable packing solution like this will differentiate our products from others on the market. The new cans are manufactured in a distinctive dark-grey shade and are clearly labelled so that they’re instantly recognisable to consumers.”


The future of packaging is a move towards simplicity; packing made of multiple materials that are difficult to separate – and then often not entirely recyclable – will become a thing of the past, and bio-based materials will also become more commonplace. Brands know that sustainability is now a key factor in success, and they will call upon packaging manufacturers to innovate, which will continue to fuel the development of sustainable packaging across all sectors.

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