The rise of e-commerce, the digitisation of the supply chain and the growing concern for environmental conservation have transformed the packaging industry in recent years. This is reflected in the emergence of stricter regulations on the use of certain materials.
Nor can we ignore events such as the pandemic, the transport crisis and the delayed return to stability that have contributed substantially to change. Not least, the pandemic has led to a consolidation of online commerce, which in turn has led to a change in packaging materials and the needs they must meet. Sustainability and traceability have reached a superlative level of importance to meet the demands of an increasingly aware and demanding public.
The effect of the pandemic on packaging materials
Prior to Covid-19, the packaging industry focused on the following aspects:
- Sustainability. Governmental regulations are becoming more and more demanding and society has become more aware of the need to respect and care for the environment. In this line, the packaging machinery manufacturers are taking sustainable actions against packaging pollution, such as using recycled, recyclable, reusable and biodegradable or compostable materials; reducing the use of fossil raw materials; or designs adapted to the product to avoid excessive packaging, etc.
- Personalisation. The packaging it is an advertising or marketing medium that serves to attract the attention of the consumer and differentiate from the competition.
- Transparency. Transparent packaging, especially in food, allows the contents to be seen, which generates consumer confidence.
- Functionality. Packaging that is suitable for the product, adapted to individual use, easy to open, with the necessary size and which facilitates returns in the event of an incident, are key aspects that help to improve user satisfaction and encourage repeat purchases.
These trends have accelerated and have gradually taken hold as a result of the pandemic and the measures and habits we have adopted. ECommerce has grown in all sectors, especially in the food industry; and the pharmaceutical industry has seen a surge in demand for coronavirus protection products, such as masks, hydroalcoholic gels and tests.
Still in the food sector, an essential characteristic of packaging, accentuated by the pandemic, is that it can withstand thermal processes with maximum safety guarantees. As is the case with thermoformed plastics, they can withstand sterilisation, hot filling and microwave use.
Regarding sustainability, This may not have been at the top of the priority list during the health emergency, but for the industry to be sustainable, both economically and environmentally, the use of environmentally friendly packaging materials and the principle of minimum waste must remain on the agenda. Bioplastics, recycled cardboard and reusable packaging still have a long way to go.
Will cartonboard continue to be used in packaging?
The headline is that: cartonboard has a long life ahead of it in the packaging industry. The rise of ecommerce, its perception as a hygienic and environmentally friendly material, its versatility for the development of very diverse solutions, and regulations that penalise the use ofplastics are all factors that favour the growth of cartonboard.
Corrugated cardboard production corrugated cardboard increased by 4.4% in 2019, and by a further 0.6% in 2020 to reach 5,552 million sqm. (Spanish Association of Corrugated Cardboard Packaging Manufacturers).
Hygiene and prevention needs related to the health crisis have led to increased demand. of disposable boxes and trays for multiple uses in social facilities such as health material, food and basic necessities.
Will plastic no longer be used?
The benefits offered by plastic in sectors such as food, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and cosmetics cannot be substituted by any other material. As explained United Barcode Systems in one of its articles: Unpopular opinion: plastic is necessary. However, regulationsare moving towards the eradication of packaging materials that cannot be recovered for reintroduction into the supply chain. sponsThis is the case for oxofragmentable plastic bags, which are responsible for the micro-plastics that pollute the oceans.
TheEUadopted en 2019 the Single-Use Plastics Directive in 2019, which obliges EU countries to implement a series of measures against disposable plastics, such as a ban on certain single-use plastic products, including cotton buds, straws, chopsticks and cutlery, plates, balloon stems, as well as expanded polystyrene take-away food and drink containers. In addition, the European Commission sets a target of 90% collection rate for plastic bottles, which should contain at least 30% recycled components by 2030.
Plastic packaging manufacturers are developing new bioplastic materials and promoting mono-material solutions as well as recycling and reuse to meet new regulatory requirements and contribute to the sustainability of the planet.
Plastic pallets, an alternative to wooden pallets
The industrial sector is making the most of the benefits of plastic by developing new applications, such as pallets, which bring with them a series of advantages:
- Lightness. Plastic pallets weigh 30% less than wooden pallets, which has an impact on transport costs.
- Hygiene. Cleaning and disinfection is very simple.
- Long life useful without deterioration.
- Safe handling reducing the risk of accidents.
- Recyclability and reusability .
- Applicability. Plastic pallets are very resistant and stackable, favouring the optimisation of warehouse space and are equipped with adhesive solutions to prevent shifting.
At Barcelona Packaging Hub, as a manufacturer of packaging machinery, we are working on the development of packaging materials, such as sustainable single-dose flexible packaging, which contributes to improving and respecting the environment, as well as having energy-saving equipment.