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Packaging as we know it, is changing! Thanks to ever-accelerating technological advancement and innovative methods of production, contemporary packaging design is a feat of artistic, scientific and engineering mastery. With companies incorporating recycled cartonboard, compostables and even marine-biodegradables into their pack designs, the sustainable packaging sector is only just getting started.

With heightened environmental concern making new steps towards a sustainable future a daily occurrence, it’s never been more vital for all sectors of the packaging industry to get updated on the sustainability agenda. The European Packaging NetworkConference aimed to do just that.

The two-day event united industry professionals throughout the packaging supply chain around how to develop a sustainable future for the sector. A plethora of humanitarian issues, globalisation & the circular economy were explored, alongside discussions on innovation, quality & sustainable development. A mixture of workshops, speeches, presentations, interactive group discussions, one-to-one meetings and networking sessions formed an industry-wide focus, from various angles and levels of depth.

The chairperson for the day was Sanjay Patel from The Packaging Collective. Sanjay set the scene and explored the industry’s current position as one of the world’s largest employers and revenue-generating sectors.

Read on to uncover each speaker’s primary focus, The Packaging Collective’s take on the day’s events and the conclusions that were reached:


Nick Brown – Head of Sustainability at Coca Cola

Brown, a Coca-Cola veteran with more than 20 years at the company, opened the event by showcasing the brand’s sustainable action plan. Brown talked to the importance of having robust packaging systems in place for future sustainable endeavours, explaining how packaging manufacturing today has to go beyond simply developing good eco-friendly, innovatively designed packs. Instead, there also has to be a controlled, sustainable supply chain system in operation.

In addition, Brown referenced how Coca-Cola’s vast influence over consumers is a significant tool for promoting sustainable awareness and has achieved this through on-pack messaging; bottle caps have been marked with ‘please recycle this bottle’, for example. Broader sustainability initiatives include partnering with a Lincolnshire recycling plant to support Coca-Cola’s drive to recover all its packaging for recycling and minimise littering, as well as increase corporate knowledge of recycling infrastructure and processes.

For many contemplating the sustainability challenge, Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) have been put forward as a way to recover packaging for re-use or recycling. Brown said for any such scheme to be efficient and viable on the scale that is needed, it is crucial that is managed well. He suggested that estimates put more than £3 billion of consumer money to be involved on the current deposit rates and the number of items in circulation.

Carbon footprint is at the core of sustainability and Coca-Cola has made strides in putting this at the forefront of its action plan. The company now manufactures 97% of its products intended for the UK market at UK sites.

The Packaging Collective says: “Coke is putting enormous effort and money into pioneering the sustainable agenda within the beverage market. Coke believes that ‘there’s always more to be done” – an attitude that The Packaging Collective feel consumers do not fully appreciate.”

Halyna Habegger - Global Leader for Rigid Plastic Packaging at Nestlé

Habegger gave the room insight into Nestlé’s worldwide plastic packaging operations and the company’s response to the sustainability challenge.

Nestlé sells one billion products every day, with 98% of sales involving single-use plastics - a packaging format which was technically banned by the European Court on October 24, 2018, due to concerns over littering. Legislative changes with the UK budget’s tax on single-use plastics are also forcing brands like Nestlé to re-evaluate their sustainability agendas.

Nestlé’s approach to plastics is evolving, combining lifecycle thinking with circular economy principles. The brand’s vision is for zero percent of its plastic packaging to end up in landfill and for 100% of its packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2025 - a target underpinned by the company’s roadmap to sustainability:

· Eliminatehard to recycle plastics

· Designbetter packaging to aid recycling processing

· Introduce recycled content

Nestlé recognises the importance of sustainable innovations and admits the venture will be ‘extremely challenging’.

The Packaging Collective says: “Eliminating 98% of Nestle’s single use plastic will be a substantial challenge, especially with the lack of food grade PCR available. Innovation and developing cost-effective scale will have to provide an effective solution.”

(Workshop) Gianluca Maurizio & Hans Fogelberg- International Sales Managers at Billerudkorsnäs 

Packaging is a worldwide phenomenon responsible for the safe transportation and hygienic distribution of produce. The workshop saw Maurizio and Fogelberg discuss the functions of packaging and address the perception of it being a necessary evil in the supply chain.

The duo considered how globalisation and e-commerce is changing the way packaging is having to evolve and went on to discuss how the primary functions of packaging – protect, present and preserve – are often neglected in any sustainability debate. They referenced the fact that traditionally, the sustainability focus has been placed on the product rather than its packaging until recently.

By now also taking into account packaging, there was now a myriad of complexities for manufacturers and brands to address in order for them to create a truly sustainable supply chain; from transportation of goods and pack performance, to a requirement for closer industry collaboration and greater education and knowledge around different packaging substrates.

The Packaging Collective says: “Packaging has to be seen as an integral part of the overall package rather than an afterthought once the product has been created and manufactured. The rise of Ecommerce and unboxing videos underlines how it needs to become part of the product experience.”

(Workshop) Staffan Sjoberg – Public Relations Manager at Iggesund Paperboard

Sjoberg talked to the industry looking for alternatives to plastic packaging and cited how the paper/board industry is moving from being an environmental villain to preferable packaging partner.

Iggesund’s studies with the Swedish Research Institute were put forward by Sjoberg. The research compared different packaging materials and their performance from both cradle-to-gate and gate to grave.

Sjoberg presented several examples including a comparison of plastic v board sleeves for the packaging of sports underwear. He claimed the CO2impact of the plastic packaging was 23 times that of the board packaging.

The Packaging Collective says: “Figures quoted, and methodology was interrogated by audience and agreement was that the devil is in the detail. PC stressed the importance of using figures to support a position that are backed up by applying the correct LCA tests and using accurate data to convey the facts.”

(Workshop) Patrick Pagliarani - Global Packaging Quality Assurance Manager at Danone

Quality and innovation are of paramount importance to the multi-billion dollar packaging industry. Expert of quality control within multiple global food and beverage brands, Pagliarani, examined the mechanics of their relationship and questioned whether they were true allies or enemies – can you ever achieve both successfully?

Innovation was identified as a catalyst for new pack development and brand refreshes but Pagliarani stated that there were many challenges to overcome to deliver successful innovation.

He said quality issues due to system errors in the artwork, print and packaging supply chain were leaving FMCG manufacturers having to manage problems on pack relating to mis-registration, colour deviation, ink quality and absence of print.

Absence of print was highlighted as the second highest print defect, accounting for 7% of total product recalls. This has major legal implications in terms of mandatory on-pack information including ingredients, health and allergy data – particularly pertinent in light of recent national headlines.

Pagliarani explained Danone’s internal system has been introduced to safeguard the consistent quality of print. By developing partnerships and working with the whole supply chain to enable better quality printing, Danone is committed to ensure the right supplier and print method are in place to deliver right, first time jobs.

The Packaging Collective says:Experienced professionals running quality-orientated systems is the way forward. Automation isn’t always the answer; imperfections still occur. There’s no denying that innovations in quality are a giant leap towards a sustainable tomorrow.”


Kevin Vyse - Packaging Technologist and Innovation Leader at Marks & Spencer

Vyse took the room ‘back to the future’ by assessing the relevance of packaging in relation to the product lifecycle and the Human Centred Design (HCD) principals; a management framework designed to solve problems while considering the human perspective.

He considered how packaging innovation had developed over time according to consumer needs and lifestyles and questioned whether sustainability had been sacrificed at the expense of convenience in the past. For a long time, pack convenience has been a front-runner in packaging innovation and development but consumer thinking has changed and sustainability is now high up in consumer consciousness. As a society addicted to convenience, Vyse commented, can it and sustainability ever go hand-in-hand when it comes to packaging?

Vyse talked to the impact social media has on current thinking around sustainability and how knee-jerk, mis-informed reactions can have a significant, long-lasting negative effect. The plastic packaging industry has felt the brunt of this ever since the Blue Planet programme aired in 2017.

Marks and Spencer advocates circular economy thinking and Vyse questioned whether innovation can fill the gap left by plastic. Vyse introduced M&S’s strategy to reduce its plastic output to just three polymers – part of its Plan A program launched in 2007. Vyse said that while industry is seeking out plastic alternatives for packaging, these may not prove to be the solutions really needed and could, in fact, have many unintended consequences.

Vyse emphasised the importance of plastic management over plastic desertion in the pursuit of sustainable packaging. He referenced the circular economy as being a long-term business transition, which brands must ease towards to secure their future relevance. The talk concluded with the taxation of unsustainable packaging being suggested as a practical solution.

The Packaging Collective says:“M&S are doing huge amounts through the Plan A program as industry leaders in the Circular Economy, but maybe haven’t always shouted about it loud enough to customers. Adopts a sensible and rounded approach to packaging sourcing and development rather than knee-jerk reaction to press publicity.”

Gilonne Traub - Senior Research Analyst of the New Plastics Economy at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Innovation is the driver of all developments, including the circular economy, said Traub who highlighted the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) in promoting the New Plastic Economy.

Traub dived into the circular economy challenge, estimating that 50% of packaging (by the number of items) and 30% of packaging (by weight) requires a redesign to adhere to circular economy principles. The total reuse potential of the plastic packaging market is upwards of 20%, she said.

Innovation within the packaging industry is crucial in order to re-shape society’s thinking on plastics, Traub exclaimed.

The Packaging Collective says:“Packaging industry needs to accelerate the opportunities for greater innovation and redesign to fit Circular Economy principles. With some 50% of packaging items estimated to require resign to be fit for purpose under the new models, the task in hand is huge and needs coordinated effort across the industry.”

Linda Crichton - Technical Advisor of Resources & Waste at the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

Waste is the packaging industry’s largest plague, hence why an effective waste strategy is essential to sustainable operations. So are disposal methods in need of an overhaul and should brands consider more ethical waste management?

Crichton addressed the government’s latest legislation towards waste and touched on the packaging sector’s Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) by discussing the requirement for cost-effective and efficient waste management practices.

Exciting news surrounding governance models for a full packaging EPR scheme was discussed, focusing on four models; two market-based and two with producer-led management organisations. The government will discuss the scheme on March 28, 2019, aiming to cover key design principles, the mechanics behind the scheme and its potential scope.

DEFRA stressed the priority of manufacturing more recyclable plastics. Packaging Recovery Notes (PRN) reforms are proposed to monitor recycling rates and will concentrate on circulating the generated funds back into the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, formed in 1985 to represent local government recycling officers.

Crichton touched on a proposed plastic tax, designed to penalise those who manufacture plastic packaging without 30% PCR and praise those who develop sustainable alternatives.

The Packaging Collective says: “The government’s future sustainable strategy is an intriguing take on resources and waste management. Areas to watch will be the financial implications of EPR and DRS schemes and how they attempt to remould the industry.”

(Discussion) Future Packaging Technology

New materials, applications, functions, technologies and ideas all shape the sustainable agenda of tomorrow, as long as they have public support. So how can companies unite to gain public support and raise the status of packaging up the industrial and corporate ladder?

The discussion began with how to convey the understanding of packaging end of life scenarios and its cost per litre when progressing from ‘bricks to clicks’. Thoughts soon turned to the traceability of a material through its lifecycle and focused on the tagging of materials to penalise littering and reduce waste. This incentive, alongside the scrapping of black bins, was proposed to encourage more extensive recycling incentives.

The discussion highlighted sustainability as an issue that requires all companies throughout the supply chain to unite. An integration model was recognised as an essential tool in bringing together industry competitors. This presents substantial networking opportunities and newfound incentives to the financial markets.

Conclusions were drawn around standardisation and simplification; a responsibility of the entire industry. The room agreed that while the packaging industry is at the heart of this issue, sustainability is underpinned ultimately by the actions of the consumer.

(Discussion) Chemical recycling

Chemical recycling is code for turning materials into new bottles, clothes and everyday essentials to be re-introduced to the front end of the production cycle. Whilst chemical recycling is not a new concept in itself, it could hold the answer to our plastic waste problem and transform the way plastic is recycled.

Whilst all plastics can be chemically recycled, including flexible PE, PP and multi-layer compounds, a particular focus was around the recent technological breakthrough surrounding the chemical recycling of PET.

Currently, PET is mechanically recycled, involving expensive machinery to sort, shred and wash the plastic. Yet this has its limitations when it comes to recycling PET for food packaging; only existing food-grade plastic can be recycled for this purpose, meaning there is limited supply of good quality, food-grade PET on the market.

PET chemical recycling is currently being researched by DEMETO, a consortium of partners all working to make the chemical recycling of PET a sustainable, profitable and scalable process. Funded by the European Union, DEMETO is working to bring to life a revolutionary technology invented by Swiss-based start-up, gr3n. The technology can break consumer PET down into its basic components — ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid — using microwave radiation to speed up the process.

The room discussed adapting chemical recycling to coincide with the current collection and sorting infrastructure; higher quality sorting and collection making the process more efficient.

The discussion quickly moved towards investment in the methods of chemical recycling currently being developed, especially surrounding PET. The room agreed that chemical recycling would be an area of attraction to various industries and investors, including raw material producers, converters of resins, packaging producers, textile and fabric producers and collection companies.

Future challenges and areas of development were identified including a full carbon footprint assessment; a procedure to ensure the correct management and clarification of a chemical recycling plant’s legal operation within the EPR.

(Closing discussion) Brand and consumer engagement

The conference concluded with an emphasis on action. The room focused on the On Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) scheme sustainability guidelines, due for release in Q2 of 2019. Discussion recognised how the guidelines might impose on print and decrease the impact of both brand and legal requirements.

Communication is integral to success. Education throughout schools, organisations and communities is an essential part of spreading the sustainable mindset. Simple, intuitive and visual infographics will be vital in developing sustainable initiatives in a worldwide community context.

The industry should impose less sustainability pressure on the consumer and instead inspire them to pursue a sustainable lifestyle. Whether this is via influencers on social media or raising sustainability awareness through public campaigns, sustainability is no one person’s responsibility. It’s everyone’s responsibility!

What did The Packaging Collective learn?

Sustainability is the future! The circular economy provides an effective model to judge sustainable developments and their effects. Sustainability is a fast-growing consumer concern and will offer brands a competitive advantage if adhered to, through increasing the consumer value of specific products.

Sustainability is by no means perfect. The industry requires an effective communications strategy and a method of promotion, which doesn’t ram sustainability down the proverbial consumer’s throat. In addition, increased management and collaboration throughout the packaging sector are required for sustainability to attain a prominent seat on the industry agenda.

The Packaging Collective is a free-to-join packaging-focused community founded to give sustainability a global voice. The organisation operates across the UK and encompasses a vast level of environmentally focused professionals and innovators across the print and packaging sector.

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