European packaging industry shifting to more sustainable options

A new report, ‘Sustainable Packaging in Europe: the drive for change’ shows that the European packaging industry is shifting the balance of materials it plans to use in the future and is investing in more sustainable options.

Launched at the Rethinking Materials Innovation and Investment Summit in London by material technologies business, Aquapak, the report, based on research with sustainable packaging experts in the UK, Italy and Germany reveals that 62% expect their company to increase their budgets for investing in sustainable packaging material over the next five years, with a further 23% expecting to see budgets increase dramatically.

The research was carried out by research company Pure Profile with 150 sustainability and packaging experts across the UK, Italy and Germany (50 in each market) in March 2023.

This rise in funding is reflected in the predicted increase in use of multi material (a combination of paper and plastic), new polymers and paper over the next five years, whilst the use of polyethylene is set to decline.

The study shows that when it comes to the three of the most common packaging materials, the majority (83%) of respondents expect to increase the use multi material across their product portfolios and almost three quarters (72%) will make more use of paper over the next five years. When it comes to innovative new materials, 69% and 65% anticipate a greater use of new polymers such as PVOH and bioplastics respectively in their packaging material. These trends are similar over a ten-year horizon.

The data shows it is the use of polyethylene which is set to see a decline over the next five years, with 45% of respondents seeking to use less of the material across their product portfolios.

When it comes to the most important attributes of the packaging material used, product protection is the key feature, with barrier properties, extending the shelf life and functionality – ease of use for the end-consumer, regarded as more important than recyclability.

Commenting on the findings, Mark Lapping, chief executive officer, Aquapak, said: “Our research shows that the European packaging industry is moving towards more sustainable materials such as paper and new polymers as they focus on the circular economy. However, it is also clear that the job packaging has to do is paramount, with product protection and functionality a priority. The good news is that new barrier film technologies exist, offering both performance and environmental responsibility at scale.”

Aquapak has developed Hydropol, a polymer based on PVOH, which can be successfully coated on to both paper and board, with proven gas and grease barrier properties, with additional functionality such as heat seal and increased paper sheet strength can also be imparted, making it suitable for a range of packaging uses such as bags and pouches.

Aquapak has already proven that Hydropol coated paper is 100% repulpable in standard pulping systems and can be fully recycled and it proven to give real improvement when set against current regulations which allow the ‘recyclable’ label to be used if there is up to 15% unrecyclable material in the product. If littered Hydropol is biodegradable, compostable, as well as being non-toxic and marine-safe.

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