Folding Carton

The Packaging Dilemma – A Time for Action

Anyone specifying packaging should carefully consider all relevant issues when making their choice of packaging material. There seems to be momentum for cartons. Members of ECMA recently travelled to Schiphol Airport for their annual Business Seminar that focused on the opportunities for cartons created by the discussion around plastics.

To give members a better understanding on the discussion around plastic waste which ends up in the environment, Merijn Tinga a.k.a. the ‘Plastic Soup Surfer’ was invited to talk about his mission, a plastic free ocean. His message was that we need to deal with single-use plastics in a different way. He’s not against plastics, but he is against the public’s attitude and the way our society deals with plastics.

Tim Barker (Truffula) presented the outcome of his independent study on ‘Sustainability of Cartons and Plastics Packaging’ that had been commissioned by Pro Carton. There are clear concerns about the way we handle plastics and we need to move from a linear to a circular model, retaining the value included in the product and packaging. Both packaging materials clearly have their own benefits and advantages, but renewability of the resources and the high recycling rate are still the main advantages of cartons compared to plastics.

Plastic has a place in today’s society. It is a valuable packaging material, but how we manage it needs to change. We need to explain that other, sustainable, packaging solutions are available, and to ensure consumers understand that cartons are inherently good. We need to grow the future, not the waste. Tony Hitchin encouraged the attendees to get out the message and talk to their customers.

As a global company Unilever has to deal with global issues. Rob Hyde explained how the developed world is getting better at recycling, though the developing countries are not. It’s a problem that needs to solved. For Unilever, it’s clear that single use plastics are the vast amount of the waste. Therefore brand owners are looking for alternative solutions.

The folding carton industry has to deal with some mega issues and challenges (substitution, migration, changing retail channels). But there are also some clear opportunities. The question is: How are we going to use the ‘opportunity’ that is plastic? If we don't change the way we produce and use plastics, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050, according to the Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans.

Mike Coup (CEO J. Sainsbury) stated, “Many of our suppliers have a lot of embedded capital in machinery that they have invested in over decades. To change the substrate of plastic packaging will require a huge amount of investment over time. It could take decades.” But do we have decades? Probably not. So the industry needs to get out and talk to customers to discuss their problems and offer them alternative solutions.