Sustainable Packaging: Threat or Opportunity? is based on 20 in-depth interviews with senior executives from leading packaging companies in Europe. The research found that over 70% of respondents feel that sustainable packaging solutions offered a competitive advantage, but that although producers, retailers and customers all claim to want a more sustainable packaging product, they are, in general, unwilling to pay a premium, unless their brand is already built around a sustainable or environmentally responsible message.
Another finding from the discussions is that there is no industry consensus on what constitutes ‘sustainable packaging’. The debate, notably in the UK, has been dominated by a narrow focus on reducing packaging weight and arguments around whether one material is more or less sustainable than another. A consensus-based definition from our respondents on the attributes that sustainable packaging should have includes the following:
- The packaging weight and volume has been considered and effectively reduced;
- Waste-to-landfill has been reduced through designed-in recyclability, reusability or degradability of the substrate;
- The packaging has a lower environmental footprint in terms of resources used in production as well as emissions to air and water;
- The packaging effectively reduces waste through extending shelf life and prevents damage or contamination; and
- The packaging is able to communicate effectively and engage consumers as to brand attributes and sustainable credentials.
Spotlight on bioplastics: Not a panacea for sustainable packaging
Although currently a niche product with c. 300k tonnes of production a year, the supply of bioplastics is forecast to grow to more than 1m tonnes globally by 2011.
Bioplastics are seen by some as a sustainable alternative to petrochemical-based plastics, as they are produced from renewable sources and are theoretically biodegradable. However, certain issues with bioplastics have led many in the industry to believe that they are not the panacea that they were first thought to be.
- The relative lack of supply of bioplastics means that prices remain higher than those for the mainstream petrochemical-based plastics.
- Many of the bioplastics are only biodegradable under very specific circumstances
- The presence of a certain proportion of some bioplastics in the waste stream can contaminate the stream and make it more difficult to identify and recycle petrochemical-based plastics.
It is still early days and their usefulness and impact are not fully researched. It may be necessary to introduce a separate recycling loop for those products, as the contamination of the conventional recycling loops may render other materials unusable.
In the short term bioplastic-based packaging is likely to remain a niche market segment
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