With changes in consumer attitudes and behaviours towards the use of plastics in the packaging of goods, it is probably no surprise that a key focus of the industrial packaging sector in coming years looks set to be the development of sustainable and environmentally friendly products, at least according to Adam Gendell, associate director at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

Gendell and other industry experts see the development of sustainable packaging as a growth area, one set to increase in value by at least 3.5% a year for the next few years and which will, by 2020, be worth approximately £740 billion. This packaging will not just be for the end product, that purchased by consumers, but for use across the supply chain, including industrial packaging.

In addition to consumers, this change is being driven by product manufacturers and retailers, keen to keep their customers happy and, potentially, attract new ones. Government legislation is another factor, one which could have a significant impact if laws which limit the use of plastics or impose fees and fines related to plastics’ use. It means that companies producing industrial packaging will need to look at the materials they use and the processes they have in place and come up with ways to align these with consumer demand.

Considerations here will need to include how to develop a circular economy, one where materials can be recycled or reused as part of a product’s lifecycle, and the putting in place of sustainable materials management processes, helping reduce the impact on the environment. This might mean moving away from plastics and an increase in the use of responsibly sourced wood, fibre and paper. Metal packaging might be another option as it can be reused and more easily recycled in existing recycling facilities.

While coming up with solutions to these problems will present challenges, Gendell said that he believes they are solvable and he called on the industry to look for ways to become more efficient in how materials were handled, processed and transported. This might include the development of new systems or adaptations of existing products, using bulkier pallets or crates for example, which has already begun.

Bioplastics, a biodegradable plastic derived from biological rather than petroleum sources, offer another potential solution. Having recently entered the market, their use is set to grow by 17% a year in the next four years, with a market value of £5.3 million.

While looking for new developments, however, industrial packaging providers should not forget about existing solutions and how these can be developed further. They might want to look at how to promote recycling, for example, ensuring that consumers can easily understand which of their products – or parts of their products – can be recycled.

None of these changes is likely to come without a cost attached to it, especially the introduction of new products or the investment needed in changing manufacturing processes. However, in the longer term, the efficiencies created should lead to cost benefits.

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