Sustainable Packaging: an overview of the key themes that emerged at Packaging Speaks Green

Two-day Bologna-based event included talks by university professors, brand owners, end users, researchers and representatives from the entire production chain. The focus: the facts and figures of an industry that's set to become ever-more strategic to the economy, especially in light of changing environmental standards and public awareness

Researchers, university professors, brand owners, converters, raw material producers and technology providers recently met up at Packaging Speaks Green, the international sustainable packaging forum held at FICO Eataly World in Bologna on 20 and 21 February. The event was sponsored by SACMI, a key international closures-beverage technology supplier. Over the two days the participants - all industry 'insiders' - explored the latest developments in green packaging, disclosing unpublished data and illustrating unconventional viewpoints.
So which topics came to the fore?
Essentialpackaging is essential, especially in light of sustainability. This was the first point to emerge, one that seemingly contradicts mainstream logic. Yet, just think of the role the packaging industry plays in increasing the shelf life of food to meet the demands of a growing world population. Think of how it offsets food waste (which can be as high as 40% owing to poor preservation and packaging). Then there are the mega-trends of e-commerce and food delivery, which will make packaging increasingly important along the entire supply chain.
On the up – Over the next 20 years, worldwide plastic demand will double. Why? These days, it's an easy-to-recycle material (especially PET) that, compared to other forms of packaging, is both efficient and economic. Above all, in-depth LCA (life cycle assessment) studies have shown that the environmental impact of plastic is, when properly disposed of and re-used, significantly less than that of other materials like glass and aluminium.
Economic – The consumer: only 50% of consumers are willing to pay more for packaging that's 'perceived' as more sustainable. Furthermore, at least a quarter of so-called fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) are distributed via discount retail chains, making the cost variable even more relevant. And this is without even considering that informed consumers tend, when making their purchase decisions, to give product quality precedence over packaging concerns.
A 'Plastic-waste-free world' instead of a 'Plastic-free world'– This point was actually made by university professors and researchers, the people who, in principle, have no vested interest in the industry A plastic-free world is currently unthinkable. This is because there are no technically sound alternatives (the entire compostable sector is, at the moment, industrial compost) and because alternative materials have a higher (economic and environmental) cost. Coming up with tangible plastic-waste-free solutions is both more realistic and more urgent: today, the world recycles just 12% of its plastic, a figure that needs to be increased dramatically.
Global trends – In the EU, strict new standards are set to come into force in 2024 in the form of the Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive (EU) 2019/904. But even before this happens, the main global brand owners are already gearing up to take the market in a new direction. Four key trends are emerging: packaging must be largely recyclable (e.g. dark plastic bottles and trays are already disappearing from store shelves). All multilayer packaging (which typically contains plastic but also paper, aluminium, etc.) should be replaced by single-material solutions that can be fed back, after proper processing, into the same supply chain to make new packaging. Even more importantly, consumers need to be informed and effective collection systems implemented. Lastly, management strategies for residual waste (the portion of plastic that cannot be recycled) need to be assessed from a waste-to-energy perspective (i.e. electricity production, most advanced in Northern Europe).
SACMI's contribution – The international forum's sponsor, SACMI has long been ready - thanks to its cutting-edge technology and in-depth knowledge of materials - to intercept the developments taking place within the industry. Among its numerous plus points, the SACMI range lets producers use PCR (post-consumer recycled resin) in the manufacture of both standard PET preforms (IPS platform – injection preform system) and containers (CBF – compression blow forming platform). Indeed, the intrinsic superiority of compression technology – in which SACMI leads the way – lets producers process, alongside standard resins, different materials such as cellulose, wood fibre, etc. and engage in more flexible management of resins with different viscosities and properties. The outcome? Simpler, more economic, reuse-oriented management of the entire product life cycle.

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