12/01/2021 | Trends
The packaging industry faces huge challenges as the world moves ever closer to a sustainable future. Despite concerted efforts by some of the biggest names on the industrial landscape, it’s a sobering fact that less than 15 per cent of all plastic packaging in the world, for example, is currently being recycled.
The companies leading the way on this are not only ensuring their own products contribute to the principles of a circular economy but are sharing their knowledge and expertise with partners and customers. A good example of this is Germany’s Klöckner Pentaplast who are doing everything from backing street cleaning initiatives in Portugal to working with students in Britain and the USA, cleaning Brazilian beaches, helping a chocolate manufacturer in Turkey swap their old vinyl packaging for recyclable PET and taking part in hackathons in Poland. As a result, the company has been leading the charge for recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) for two decades: depending on it to produce high-quality products while meeting global safety standards.
They predict that, by the end of 2025, they will be using at least 30 per cent of it in their packaging, having recently executed a multi-million-dollar expansion across three locations in North America to increase capacity for developing post-consumer recycled PET products.
Against that background, I put several questions to their Product Manager, Pharma & Health, Tina Jaechel, after first engaging with her at an ACHEMA Pulse live event on sustainability. This is a snapshot of that conversation.
ACHEMA Inspire: Where are we now in terms of our commitment? I asked you that at Pulse and you replied we are on a journey. Can you expand on that?
Most customers have focused on halogen-free or recyclable packaging for their packaging portfolio, but not all alternatives promoted are truly an improvement of the ecological footprint. Decision-makers need to not only focus on just one aspect but on the full value chain of products. A well-known example is McDonalds’ change from plastic to paper straws. The problem? The old plastic straws could have been recycled, the new paper versions can’t.
ACHEMA Inspire: Recent statistics show overwhelming consumer support for sustainable packaging. Do you think the business world generally is ahead of the game here or struggling to catch up?
We can’t stop with the design: we as an industry need to foster the dialog with the leading institutions in recycling to truly improve the global waste situation. One company alone can’t be successful and the only voice. It is reasonable and possible for us as packaging producers to design for recyclability, but it will need the entire supply chain down to the consumer to truly generate a positive impact.
I would say that currently, on the product development side, we are in line with consumer demands but the infrastructure of waste management is struggling to keep up with that development.
ACHEMA Inspire: In pharmaceutical terms, packaging has its own unique challenges. How do they impact on the longer-term objectives?
The integrity of the barrier for the drug is the absolute goal here. Sustainability is certainly important, but the fact that we can safely deliver medication to all regions of the world and improve the lives of millions of people, is one of the things that drives me in my daily work. Keeping that in mind, our sustainable solutions can only be an upscaled solution; which brings us to the difficulty of providing moisture and oxygen barriers without halogens. Currently, all barrier solutions have their shortfalls on sustainability and the ultimate target is to develop a solution which enables both - sustainability and performance.
These needs are indeed a unique challenge which we as a packaging supplier need to take on and provide solutions for customers. I’m confident we’ll see a recyclable, high-barrier solution within the next one to two years which ticks both boxes of barrier and sustainability.
The implementation of these solutions in the pharmaceutical market however, will definitely need more time than in less regulated markets. Brand owners face tremendous amounts of testing and regulatory filing to move to new solutions which will consume time.
ACHEMA Inspire: Eco packaging is about the environment but, do economic and social factors come into play?
EcoVadis, an independent provider of global sustainability ratings for environmental, social, and ethical performance, is our chosen tool to measure our strategy against common standards for sustainability.
We have been awarded with a gold rating by EcoVadis. The gold rating ranks Klöckner Pentaplast in the top three per cent of plastic product manufacturers.
ACHEMA Inspire: All over Europe, supply chains become standard-bearers for the circular economy. Are there any innovations that have impressed you?
ACHEMA Inspire: Finally, and on an entirely corporate level, are there any of your initiatives, either current or upcoming, you’d like to mention as an example of dealing with these challenges?
It runs on all common blistering lines without any change required by our customers. For me, as the Product Manager for our Pharma and Medical Device portfolios, this is a major achievement for us.
It will foster a lot of positive changes. As mentioned before, designing for recyclability is only one part or the equation, we are actively working with the recycling community to establish ways for our material to not only be designed for recyclability but truly close the loop. And this activity honestly is extremely interesting and encouraging, but it’s also a mountain to climb.
The McDonalds paper straw dilemma wasn’t the only controversy to make the headlines as a sustainability fail in recent times. Along with biodegradable crisp packets that customers found too noisy to open and compostable coffee pods that would only decompose in an industrial setting, we had the tale of the UK customer who bought nine rolls of window film to make her home more energy efficient – only to find they were then delivered in nine separate boxes when they’d fit into one. To be fair, the online retailer pointed out its sustainable packaging initiatives had eliminated more than 665,000 tonnes of packaging materials in ten years and was set to meet Paris Agreement pledged 10 years early.
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