What does the future hold for packaging – a professional perspective on the matter

All4Pack Emballage Paris conducted a survey of 211 packaging decision-makers who will either be visiting or exhibiting at the trade show. It aims to shed light on the sector’s state-of-mind regarding the necessary ecological transition and challenges this poses, as well as how using more sustainable materials could prove revolutionary.

A pressing need for change

“If we continue on this same path, the oceans should contain more plastic than fish (in terms of weight).”

This was the observation made during the World Economic Forum last January, where many plastics manufacturers were invited to question the future of their sector, in particular the materials used during the packaging process. In all, 40 manufacturers responded to Ellen MacArthur’s call to collectively think about a sustainable future for the packaging industry.

A central issue

For the 211 people who were interviewed, the trend seems to be clearly one of asking questions. In fact, 88% of companies using plastics are aware of the profound need to change how we use packaging materials, and consider this issue to be a priority. More than 50% of suppliers also agree with this point of view and it should noted that 100% of French suppliers responded that they were concerned and active in this transition.

Packaging survey
ALL4PACK Emballage Paris’ survey infographic

In additional to environmental protection, there are various reasons for transitioning towards using new materials. For plastic using companies as well as suppliers, these reasons come in different forms, such as changing consumer expectations, who are increasingly becoming concerned about the fallout from society’s excessive consumption. Another motivation, which is ultimately a consequence of the first, is the beneficial effect this could have in terms of the brand’s image. Finally, these changes may also be driven by changes in legislation, or even by the will of individual managers.

A path full of ambushes and traps

While the transition is perceived by the majority as unavoidable, it is coming up against a variety of obstacles, which are slowing down the process. For user companies, a primary concern are the costs associated with using these more respectful materials which are much higher than those conventionally relied on. Then, to a lesser extent comes the availability and quality of these materials, which can constitute an obstacle to their acceptance within the industry. Finally, it is worth noting the difficulty posed by investments required to use these more virtuous resources, particularly for suppliers with fewer than 50 employees.

Taking stock of the current resources

Paper, cardboard and plastic remain the main materials being used by the packaging industry. Collectively, they continue to be the base for packaging design, with up to 77% for paper/cardboard and 73% for plastic materials.

The share of biomaterials being used in the industry therefore remains relatively low in comparison, currently only making up 18% of the material used to design packaging.

Future prospects for packaging

Despite the relatively small share of biomaterials being used today, it is clear that people are becoming increasingly conscious. Indeed, 34% of user companies surveyed said they had decided to reduce the proportion of plastic used in their packaging, which is an improvement, even if this material is not going to disappear given its central and practical aspect.

At the same time, there is a growing appetite for using more biomaterials, with 37% of respondents saying they plan to start using them in the next two years. Paper and cardboard materials are expected to rise among 46% of respondents. Therefore, it appears there is a clear decline in plastic in favour of more virtuous materials, particularly within the food industry.

In addition, a number of new resolutions have emerged with the increase use of biomaterials. On the one hand, 32% of respondents who use plastic packaging announced they want to significantly reduce their use of this material, while 5% said they are intending to put a stop to it definitively.
On the other hand, there is a pronounced desire to make greater use of biomaterials. Their use is therefore likely set to progress drastically, with an estimated 56.6% increase.

The same is true of paper and cardboard materials, whose usage is expected to increase by 66.3% in order to meet growing demand from business users. Once again, the agri-food industry is a good example of this trend, as biomaterials are only used at 24% currently and expected to increase to 64% within two years.

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