Given the current economic slowdown, the packaging market is doing rather well; especially since it focuses on responding as closely as possible to the evolution of our patterns of consumption. Although today the sustainable design logic is an integral part of the manufacturing processes, innovation is on-going. With the continuous improvement of the materials’ preservation qualities and the renewed interest for cardboard, packaging is permanently reinventing itself.
Sustainable packaging is now well-established in our society. In this area, we are no longer at a crossroads but in movement and action insofar as brands are actually working on sustainable design and even on recycling design. Every customer meeting mentions these issues and the same goes for tradeshows where these environmental concerns give rise to innovation. Sustainability is no longer an abstract concept, it is an integral part of the companies’ strategies.
Brands are therefore directly affected since it can either be very costly or lucrative. Sustainable design is an integral part of the process.
Packaging Manufacturers are facing major changes
These new trends obviously affect packaging machinery suppliers. Some of them are already ahead on these issues. They have not waited for markets to impose their requirements. Packaging is evolving for good. In the beginning it was designed to solve an industrial problem: preserve its content and transport it to retail stores. However, nowadays, the retail industry model is facing major changes.
Another issue is to reduce materials consumption. Packaging’s impact must be moderate on the environment and on the volume of materials required. The developed countries’ goal is to reach a 75% recycling rate. We therefore have two obligations: improve the environmental impact of packs and above all make them recyclable.
As a result, packaging and material manufacturers can’t afford to work separately. Partnerships are essential. We are moving towards joint solutions.
Yesterday’s material manufacturer will in the future have to take an interest in the machines and the end product – and the same goes for machine and end-product manufacturers. We are dealing with a new cycle, with reinvented systems.
Brands and machine manufacturers are challenging themselves in order to adapt their system in the long run. This revolution is both defensive and prospective. It is not related to packaging itself, but to the evolution of our society, our consumption and purchasing patterns, the supply chain, manufacturing, globalization, as well as local sourcing. Nowadays, we need to see the whole picture, not just isolated events.
Machines are evolving in sync with the end products. They need to be more flexible and communicate with one another.
Intelligent packaging and the return of cardboard
New materials, compacting and associating materials are particularly promising. After having been left aside for a long time, cardboard is back. It is considered the material of the future! Cardboard is becoming less rigid, it can be compacted with plastic film. These developments are directly linked to the price of resources and their image. With inexpensive oil, it was simple to produce plastic packaging.
This is no longer the case today; paper and cardboard have become competitive again, all the more so as thin plastic and polymer films can be added.
There is also much talk about smart packaging. However, the attribute applies if it is used to preserve the food product. It is inherently smart ! Add to that nano-materials and a number of technologies used to extend the food products’ shelf life. Packaging materials’ shelf life itself is continuously improving. Like this astonishing plastic film suitable for ovens at 220°C (430°F) !
Materials are evolving in two directions: they protect what they contain better and they are more convenient for the consumer.
What’s the ideal packaging? Multi-purpose packaging
The idea is quite obviously to design multi-purpose packaging. And to this end, it should answer the fundamental issues raised by its four main customers: industrials who manufacture packages and products, retail stores who sell them, consumers who use them, and waste management companies which must recycle them. Therefore packaging has as many, if not more, functions as life cycles!
For the manufacturer, the ideal packaging preserves what it contains, is cost effective and facilitates logistics. Packaging thus meets all the company’s logistical, economic and environmental requirements. For the retail stores, the ideal packaging is one that sells well and presents the product appropriately, which will in turn increase the value of the store’s brand and its display.
Third, the consumer, for whom the ideal packaging should simplify his life: easy to open, to close, to store, and to empty completely. Finally, during its last phase, the ideal packaging should easily find its way to selective sorting containers, and be repeatedly recycled.
However, there is no single solution to packaging issues – quite simply because it is impossible to isolate packaging from what it contains. We should therefore stop talking about packaging and only packaging since, as such, it is useless! What is useful is a packaged product.
We should therefore talk about a “packaging-product” combination, and there are as many solutions as there are combinations. Most of the time, packaging is black-listed because only its end-of-life aspect is taken into account, it is only seen as waste.
It is time to stop thinking that way! The services rendered by packages are too often forgotten. The issue is thus to find the best “packaging-product” combination by taking all the parameters into account: from the content itself to its place of production and its place of consumption.
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