Since 2018, the entire packaging industry has been on the move – stirred up by the new Packaging Law. But it is not only the legal requirements and license fees that are driving the manufacturers and packaging industry, the increased demands of consumers and retailers are also creating activity. The focus is on the following topics:
– Less or preferably no plastic use
– Recyclability of the packaging used
– Use of more recyclate in packaging
– The use of renewable raw materials for defossilization.
Less or preferably no plastic use: New material solutions are emerging everywhere that can replace plastics. With the elimination of plastic, these solutions are now getting a strong boost, raising the same questions as current packaging materials: how can these materials be disposed of or recycled? What is the carbon footprint or eco-balance? What is the footprint in nature if not disposed of properly and what are the health aspects?
Recyclability of packaging: Recycling is propagated by many stakeholders, which increases the pressure on manufacturers to use recyclable packaging. In addition to the quota target set by the German government, there is also a growing awareness that good recyclability usually ends at the national border. Recycling also does not mean that high-quality recyclate is produced that is suitable for use in food or other products. Unfortunately, this has also often led to the use of PET recyclate from single-use deposit bottles. With the consequence that the existing cycle of PET from bottle deposits is interrupted and the recyclate is condemned to incineration in the next step. At least the industry is becoming increasingly aware of this.
Recyclate use for packaging: Apart from the above-mentioned rPET from the one-way deposit system, no recyclate from industrial recycling sources has yet been approved for food. This will only change with widespread, ecological chemical, enzymatic or solvent-based recycling. These techniques allow a comparable quality of raw materials as virgin batches and can also be used for food. In addition to policy openness to these methods and an industrial scale of recycling, jurisdiction and approval is also required.
Use of renewable raw materials: The majority thinks of renewable raw materials primarily in terms of plastics. However, there are many solutions based on paper and fibers. The topic "bioplastics" is mostly discussed very emotionally, less fact-based. It is becoming apparent that the application potential will continue to increase in the coming years. The focus is primarily on recyclable materials such as PE, PP, PET or PEF and the use of bio raw materials for barriers. In addition, there is the importance of mass balancing of biomass, which – as soon as regulated framework conditions are defined – should give an impression of how much biomass is contained in a package. This approach is comparable to green electricity, but much more complex due to the recycling options of packaging.
In our view, the use of reusable packaging will have a strong impact on the global waste problem. Here, we see a whole, disruptive approach to the existing reusable system to leverage the optimization potential. The end result will be a simple, international system for consumers and significant cost and material savings for manufacturers.
Packaging today and in the future
What environmentally responsible packaging looks like to us today: Today's “sustainable“ packaging is an intermediate solution between the requirements of “no/less plastic“, recyclability and biodegradability. We are seeing more fiber-based packaging solutions with barriers. And plastics that are more recyclable. Whether this then happens in the sales market is questionable. Recyclate use is also being pushed hard, e.g. with rPET – but this interrupts the closed cycle of deposit disposable bottles. So rather a facelift of the decades-old worldwide waste problem. What could environmentally friendly packaging look like tomorrow? We see three trends by 2030: fiber-based barrier packaging mostly as single-use solutions that are recyclable and biodegradable. Plastic packaging that can be better transformed back into high-quality raw materials through solvent-based, chemical, enzymatic or “plasma“ recycling – possibly also with a significantly higher proportion of bioplastics. And the use of international reuse packaging to avoid waste. We ourselves are initiators of such a reuse system.