Packaging Innovations 2020: What does the future of sustainable packaging hold?

Over the 26th – 27th of February, Birmingham is home to the largest packaging expo in the UK: Packaging Innovations 2020.

This year, the focus is on sustainability. As well as informative talks from industry experts, visitors can expect to experience six different packaging companies battle it out Dragon’s-Den style to win the title of ‘most environmentally friendly’.

Plus, attendees will get to take part in ‘The BIG Carbon Debate’, discussing how plastic bans would impact the UK’s ability to reach its target by assessing the carbon footprint of plastic vs the ‘sustainable’ alternatives. So, no biggie.

And after the bad news at the end of last year that supermarkets had actually increased the amount of plastic on their shelves – despite multiple government initiatives to achieve the exact opposite – it will be interesting to see what the industry leaders have to say about the future of sustainable packaging.

Plastic makes (not quite) perfect

Not all plastic is bad plastic.

Coca-cola brand GLACÉAU smartwater swapped all their bottles to 100% recycled plastic (otherwise known as rPET), working out at around 3,100 tonnes of plastic per year. Impressive. Also, making plastic bottles this way uses less energy than using virgin resin (PET). Even more impressive.

It’s currently the only brand in the UK to make all of its bottles out of recycled plastic. That works out to a whopping 120 million bottles in total. Let’s hope other drinks brands are paying attention!

Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels

Sadly, it’s not all good news. Despite significant steps forward, it appears that using recycled plastic is becoming more challenging for manufacturers.

Fuelled by the growing demand to use recycled plastics, new plastic now costs less to produce, thanks to a flood of petrochemicals production from the US. And counterbalance that with the UK’s plan to tax companies on their virgin plastic use, where does this leave smaller, local manufacturers who can’t afford the constant price hikes?

From sustainable to digestible

Aside from recycled plastic, what other sustainable options are we going to be seeing more of?

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric from Pexels

Thanks to a rise in online shopping, corrugated cardboard packaging is predicted to increase. Highly recyclable with minimal manufacturing costs, this biodegradable wonder-product is made from birch or pine pulp; trees that not only grow quickly, but also in a range of conditions.

There is a downside to this type of packaging (especially in the UK), in that it doesn’t hold up in poor weather. Rain can saturate the cardboard, damaging it – and its contents. Maybe this would encourage drivers to take a bit more care with parcels? (Although most likely, probably not…)

Another trend prediction for this year is edible packaging. Sound futuristic? It is! And a bit strange? Absolutely!

Ooho capsules were developed by UK-based start-up Skipping Rocks Lab, and are made from Notpla – a mixture of seaweed and plant materials. Used as a replacement for plastic bottles to package small amounts of water, Notpla has the same biodegradable lifespan as a piece of fruit.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

While the pros are clear, the cons present equal challenges. Namely a limited shelf life, plus the miniature proportions offer barely a gulp of hydration. Ideal for sporting events – they partnered with Lucozade to give out freebies at last year’s London marathon – they might not be the best outright alternative, but viewed better as a sort of add-on. For now, at least.

Want to chat about how to make your packaging more sustainable? Get in touch!

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