Sustainable Packaging at PPMA Total Show 2019

Sustainability is a front-of-mind topic for packaging companies in all sectors throughout the world. The issue is driven by growing public concern that’s recently been ramped up by the shocking scenarios shown in Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet TV series, as well as by a timely realisation by businesses and politicians that, if nothing changes, disaster awaits.

The figures are a cause for deep concern. An estimated 80 million tonnes of plastic packaging are produced annually. That’s around 10 kilos of plastic for every person on the planet every year. If left unchecked the figure will triple by 2050 (source: Talking Retail). Forbes.mag reports that there were 3.4 trillion units of packaging produced in 2016, 92% of it for food and drink.

Virtually everyone agrees that the way we package goods of all kinds has to change. Leaving aside the Attenborough effect, the issue has come closer to home with China and other nations in the Far East now refusing to accept plastics for low-cost recycling. The opportunities to shift the burden of environmental responsibility elsewhere are reducing. 


Who uses sustainable packaging? 

The answer is that many governments, businesses and private citizens have done so and the number is growing. In January 2018 the UK government stated that the country will eliminate plastic waste by 2042. The EU is energetically developing and setting targets for its Reduce, Recycle, Reuse initiative. 

Businesses of all kinds and sizes – Coca-Cola, Unilever, McDonalds and Danone among them – are committing to sustainability targets, and not just as a ‘greenwashing’ public relations exercise. There is now a realisation that in spite of short-term increases in costs, a commitment to greener working can be a way of building sustainable profits.  

Major supermarkets are trialling refillables and plastic-free aisles, and zero-waste stores like The Clean Kilo in the UK and Precycle in New York have come into being. Individual consumers are making lifestyle choices about how they shop without endangering the future of the planet. As one Precycle customer puts it, “Just having very little trash feels really good.”    

What is the circular economy?

At the heart of the sustainability debate is the circular economy. In its purest form, in packaging terms, it means returning packaging for it to be reused for its original purpose. 

In January 2019 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Loop shopping was unveiled. With the participation of major players such as Nestlé, Unilever and Proctor and Gamble, the Loop initiative utilises sturdy, refillable packaging that can be used many times over. The approach is making headway in cosmetics, personal care, food and retail. The idea of reusing packaging not so new – think back to milkmen picking up empty bottles to be cleaned and reused. But its time has certainly come again. 

Importantly businesses need to focus on not just on the primary packaging that consumers see on store shelves and on websites, but also on the secondary packaging used to move goods from production centres to distributors and retailers.

What packaging is sustainable?

The biggest move in sustainable packaging is to swap single use plastic (SUP) for:

  • Paper 
  • Cardboard
  • Reuseable plastic
  • Biodegradable plastic and bio plastic made partly from plant products


There are also refinements in approach which can have a positive impact:

  • Simply reducing the amount of packaging
  • Packing and wrapping with a close fit to the product to minimise the amount of material used snugly
  • Increasing the fill rate in cartons and other containers 
  • Using monomaterials instead of laminates


A few examples of successful approaches are:

  • Newspaper egg cartons
  • Lightweight card snack boxes
  • Reusable coffee cups
  • Slim cardboard sleeves for t-shirts
  • Ground coffee and beans in paper bags
  • Bubble-wrap made from recycled polythene
  • Thinking (literally) outside the box!


What to look out for in sustainability

The adoption of sustainable materials and packaging practices is set to increase inexorably. There’s plenty to be done including understanding public attitudes to sustainability, and the development of recycling resources. There needs to be greater clarity on which materials are recyclable and reusable. 

We can expect to see significant developments in paper, card and sustainable plastics, and a growing recycling infrastructure. Allied with a move away from fossil fuels for transport and power, and the rise of highly-efficient, technology-driven processing and packaging machinery, the possibilities for a greener future are growing all the time. 


Sustainable Packaging at PPMA Show 2019

Sustainability is high on the agenda at PPMA Total Show 2019. Make sure you have our opening Keynote Address in your diary, On a Mission to Make Sustainability the New Normal from Joanna Yarrow, Head of Sustainable and Healthy Living at Ikea Group. 


Have you registered for PPMA Total Show 2019?

If you’ve yet to register for free admission to this year’s show, you can do so here