Packaging trends for 2016 – Sustainability, flexibility and barrier films

Materials World magazine
5 Jan 2016

Sustainability has been an important focus for packaging over the past few years, but what trends can we expect to see in 2016? Natalie Daniels reports.  

'Packaging cannot be sustainable, it can only be resource efficient,’ said Dana Mosora, EMEA Senior Value Chain and Sustainability Leader at Dow Packaging and Performance Plastics. The word ‘sustainability’ was used frequently during the Smithers Pira Packaging Forum, held in London, as delegates discussed the environmental perception of packaging and predictions for the future. Tracy Sutton, Packaging Design and Brand Sustainability Consultant, Root Innovation, said, ‘In my opinion, sustainable packaging has always been a bumbling thing – implementing it is a real challenge. Everyone wants to be doing more, but hopefully over time sustainability will be an even bigger driver in packaging.’ 

One success story is the work of Dow Chemical’s Packaging and Specialty Plastics in collaboration with Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) and Accredo Packaging, to produce the first recyclable dishwasher pod packaging for the US market. Dow developed the resins for the recyclable polyethylene stand-up pouch that ensure the package is stiff and tough. Accredo Packaging then transfers these materials into pouches, which can be recycled at more than 18,000 drop-off locations throughout the USA.

Mark Geers, CEO of PaperFoam, a bio-based packaging solutions company in the Netherlands, said, ‘There has been a huge shift in environmental issues – we have to reduce our carbon footprint, but still be functional at the same time. It is not easy. There is not much knowledge about sustainable materials. Packaging with high sustainability must be able to be reusable, compostable and have a low-carbon footprint.’ PaperFoam, is a material made out of starch, natural fibres, water and a special premix. ‘It is a bit more brittle than carton packaging – it gets crushed faster, but we can definitely compete.’ The foam has an average weight of 180 grammes per litre and weighs less than those made from plastics and pulp. Geers describes the injection moulding process as like baking cookies ‘if you bake them and take them out too early they come out brittle, leave it for a little while and you have your perfect cookie, similar to our process.’ Though we probably won't see this process on the Great British Bake Off anytime soon. 

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Consumers can expect to see more flexible and easy-to-open packaging in their increasingly hectic lifestyles. According to Canadean Packaging, nearly 800 billion units of flexible packaging will be consumed within global retail food markets in 2018, meaning flexible packaging is set to expand in the food packaging market to 53.1% in the next three years. ‘The food market has become quite persistent with flexible packaging. It is light-weighting that has created more efficiency on the market,’ said Dominic Cakebread, Consultant with Smithers Packaging. 

New technologies in barrier coatings for packaging are stepping forward to replace foil laminates and metallised films. According to new report The Future of Functional and Barrier Coatings for Paper and Board Packaging to 2020, published by Smithers Pira Packaging, demand for these materials is expected to increase from 2.4 million tonnes of material in 2014 to more than 3.2 million tonnes by 2020, with the market value growing at 5% annually from nearly US$5.4bln to US$7.1bln. The trend in high-performance film structures that extend shelf-life, and enhance smells and taste in food packaging will dominate the market as more complex barrier materials make it onto the market. 

As technology grows, so will packaging, and it appears QR codes, augmented reality and modified atmosphere packaging show no signs of slowing down. Personalised goods will also continue throughout the year, with Marmite, Nutella and Coca-Cola leading the way. 

The next few years will see the future of packaging change and grow, but it remains to be seen whether sustainability will stay the biggest driver. As one of the delegates stated, ‘You cant just have sustainability without innovation. I think both are needed to drive future growth.’