Abinaya Gunasekaran: Closing the loop with packaging trends that propel circularity

On day-one of ProPak 2023, Abinaya Gunasekaran, team lead-F&B consulting, of Innova Market Insights (IMI), spoke about five packaging trends that influence the packaging industry in achieving a global circular economy.

29 Aug 2023 | By Aditya Ghosalkar

Gunasekaran: Consumers are willing to pay more for reusability in packaging

Gunasekaran set in motion her session with stats of a survey. The study conducted across 11 countries found that 31% of consumers have taken actions to be more environmentally responsible with food packaging. This includes reducing single-use plastics and opting for packaging made from recycled materials, which has further enabled reduction of CO2 emission by 86.8 metric tonnes (MT).

Companies have been working on solutions to address the challenges of recycling flexible structures like form, fill, and seal packets. Initiatives such as using post-consumer recycled materials and developing recyclable snack packaging have been implemented. Additionally, partnerships and collaborations have been formed to tackle the issue of recycling film waste.

In terms of plastic circularity, there is a growing trend towards using plastic mono materials like LDPE, PET, and PP in newly launched products. However, the use of single-use plastics made from virgin polymers has seen a 50% growth compared to recycled feedstocks. The lack of clear recycling guidelines on food and beverage packaging remains a concern for a majority of global consumers.

Another trend is environmentally friendly practices, such as carbon labelling, reduced packaging, and plastic-free options. Brands are aiming to appeal to conscious consumers and the youth by offering products that align with these sentiments. Educating consumers on proper recycling practices and providing honest, scientifically validated messages have been found to be beneficial. Support for legislation aimed at curbing environmentally harmful practices is also evident.

"This is a step in the right direction. The advanced recycling pack, planned to go operational in 2024, will be able to process almost 15,000 MT of waste per year. Besides chemical recycling initiatives, there has also been significant research into the efficacy of depolymerisation as a less carbon intensive alternative to landfill and incinerators. The research achieved leaves between 36-43% for the trials conducted with polypropylene and polyethylene components."

To improve the plastic circularity, we are noticing in the newly launched products that there has been an increasing shift towards usage of products package using plastic, mono materials, and solutions such as LDPE, PET, and PP material. The fastest growth is coming from LDPE.

Over the past years, in order to appease the youth and conscious consumers, brands are trying to offer the products that capitalise on the consumer sentiments with green hint, such as carbon labelling, reduced packaging, and plastic-free.

IMI has noticed a two-fold increase in the number of global food and product launches featuring trends related to carbon labelling or reduced packaging. Certain products aim to educate consumers on how to separate different components of packaging for recycling in an appropriate stream. And products that brands focus on honest, scientifically validated messages and to benefit among the consumers. There was overwhelming support for the passing of the legislation that aims to curb these greenwashing claims in the EU, the members of the legislative assembly are backing the draft legislation to improve product labelling and durability and stop misleading claims. An overwhelming of 94% of boards were in favour of this.

Another survey conducted by Innova Market Insights, more than two in five consumers agree that they think the environmental information on the product packaging is misleading. Certain brands have been guilty of miscommunication. The sustainability credentials of their packages and the road towards the circular economy has been a struggle with challenges as independent studies are misrepresenting how certain solutions fit within the circular economy.

It is expected to spur a greater investment in renewable materials such as bio-plastics and paper as cost effective alternatives to plastics. According to a recent packaging survey, when consumers were asked to rank different materials based on how their sustainability roles towards the environment are, more than quarter of the consumers indicated that paper to be highly sustainable, followed by cardboard, glass and other materials. When it comes to purchasing decisions, a third of consumers indicate that the use of raw materials positively influences their product choice.

While bioplastics have a place in the plastic circularisation, major players continue the transition towards paper, wherever feasible. The interesting examples that we have identified are the pulp acts, dry-moulded fibre, which uses renewable pulp and cellulose resources to produce low-cost, high-performance fibre-based packaging.

The current prototypes are suitable for packaging, dairy, non-carbonated drinks, even household personal care applications such as diligence, hard care and other applications. In the meantime, similar to other major confectionery companies such as Nestlé, Mars continues the transition towards paper-based packaging to replace their current flexible packaging for their candy bars. 

At Interpack 2023, a company showcased a paperboard direct contact package. It is used for oil-based solids, including the balms, salts, solid perfumes, sunscreen, and deodorants. This is a very interesting innovation because the small diameter spiral paperboard tube has a fitted cap on a tab and the free moving paperboard disk. It features an innovative freeze barrier with no added PFAS. The adhesives are FDA compliant and aqueous rather than solvent based.

Gunsekaran said, "In the realm of traceability in packaging, QR codes are meant only for the consumer or brand engagement or the marketing promotional activities. The connected packaging technologies must be leveraged to support packaging circularity, and facilitate greater accessibility and inclusivity."

In a 2022 survey, IMI asked the consumers about how they are utilising QR codes. The percentage of consumers that responded always or often was 27%. The numbers rose to nearly half of all the consumers the next fiscal as with increased engagement with connective packaging technologies such as QR codes.

"Thanks to this digital world. The GenZ and millennials tend to engage more with connected packaging technologies than the older generations. Overall, the consumers are interested and also familiar to engage with QR codes and near-field communication (NFCs)," added Gunasekaran.

Also, consumers were asked what information they would like to view after scanning the QR code or using a similar technology. The study revealed a vast majority look out for nutritional information first. Followed by information about the transparency, traceability of the products, and thirdly, the sustainable quotient.

In essence, Gunasekaran illustrated the landscape of sustainable packaging in India, supported by number-crunch data from IMI.

Latest Poll

Which is the sustainable packaging product among MSMEs that is most popular?

Results

Which is the sustainable packaging product among MSMEs that is most popular?

Bagasse and biodegradable boxes

 

20.69%

Corrugated boxes

 

48.28%

Paper bags

 

27.59%

Recyclable plastic (bubble wraps, bio-plastic)

 

3.45%

Total Votes : 29

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