There are many challenges facing the packaging industry today, heavily influenced by legislation, and the biggest is to bring new innovative products to the marketplace while still targeting sustainability and profitability goals for both consumer and packaging company, says Sealed Air. Sanjay Ghoshal, global head of packaging at India’s Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, agrees when he says: “Today the biggest challenge facing the packaging industry is the environmental impact it creates and the design that it can have to lessen the burden on the environment.”

A major driver in the quest for sustainability is the EU’s revision of its ‘circular economy package’ recycling targets to meet its goal of 75% of recycling of packaging waste by 2030. Given the global population growth this target may get harder to achieve. The corrugated cardboard global economy alone, for example, is expected to grow to $269 billion by 2021, so without also emphasising the need to eliminate packaging wherever possible any recycling targets may be difficult to achieve.

It’s true to say that if you don’t have a policy for packaging it will result in a proliferation of packaging and in 90% of the cases the bigger one’s supply chain the more need there is to repack. This means that individual companies should resist the temptation to optimise their own company’s packaging issues because it could cause the opposite effect throughout the supply chain.

Unfortunately, it seems that there are very few companies with a helicopter or holistic view of this topic that provides an accompanying policy.

The packaging industry has made great innovative strides to reduce the amount of packaging, wasted air in transport and increase the reusability and recyclability rate all without harming the protection afforded by the packaging but that has been mainly targeted at the business to business community.

Should, therefore, the retail industry interface with the public play a more proactive role to help achieve sustainability targets because ostensibly they are being somewhat profligate with packaging? Visit any food supermarket and chances are you will see plenty of fresh goods placed on virgin and recycled paper trays covered with plastic film that hardly enhances product protection and which the customer must take home where it finally ends up in landfill sites. Go into many shoe shops and you will find that your bought shoes are given to you in a box and a plastic bag but what is wrong with just placing the shoes in a plastic or re-usable canvas bag one has brought along for the occasion so that the boxes could be returned to the shoe supplier perhaps in foldable form like wine bottle cardboard carriers? Government inspired disincentives for the throwaway plastic bag society could help here with and a good example is the 5p charge for every plastic shopping bag, which over the course of a year has seen use of plastic shopping bags fall by over one billion as shoppers switch to re-usable bags.

The extent to which there is much room for packaging waste disposal improvement can be seen in the fact that two thirds of all plastic packaging used for consumer products in the UK ends up in the landfill or for incineration. That situation looks set to worsen owing to e-commerce developments.

If one has examined all the aspects of the connected supply chain to see where packaging can be reduced through, for example, one-touch returnable packaging, as in direct line-side deliveries to car plants or use of roll containers with slots to hold plastic food rays and so eliminate pallets and stretchwrapped palletised outer cartons but still one is lumbered with disposal of large amounts of cardboard and polyethylene stretchwrap film then it could pay to install compactors and balers.

During 2016 recycled, clean cardboard prices were between £65 and £105 per tonne and for plastic film it is currently about £300 per tonne.