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Voice of the Packaging Industry: Sustainable Packaging

Sixty CPGs were interviewed for a new sustainability report by PMMI Business Intelligence. They had much to say about machines, materials, new formats and sustainable initiatives, as well as what they need from suppliers.

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Packaging professionals from engineering, packaging, operations, and sustainability in the food, beverage, household products, personal care, and pharma industries were interviewed for Packaging Sustainability: A Changing Landscape. 51% are from large companies of $500 million or more, 37% small (under $100 million), and 12% are from $100-$400 million, or medium-sized companies.


  • “Helping our customers meet their sustainability goals and consumers’ expectations of performance is a challenge that requires deep partnerships and innovative solutions.” - VP, Innovation, Material Supplier
  • “We understand we can’t make changes without overcoming machine handling issues with new materials.” - Corporate Engineering Manager, Store Brand Food Products
  • “We need to be able to rely on our equipment’s ability to handle a wide range of substrates.” - Packaging Engineer, Canned Products
  • “Equipment is typically designed for a certain material and changes cause problems; machines need more advanced tooling to accommodate variances.” - Manager, Packaging R&D, Shelf Stable Products
  • “Better settings are required for auto changeover with greater precision; tweaking is not enough; it needs to be defined through a precise process.” - Engineer, Global Beverage Leader
  • “Every adjustment on every machine should have an indictor to achieve exact changes.” - Packaging Manager, Rx Contract Packager
  • “OEMs need to work closely with material suppliers to test new materials and be part of the process when changes are being considered to present and suggest solutions for machine modifications or alterations.” - Sr. Director Plant Engineering, Confectionery
  • “We converted our medical products packaging from a rigid tray to prefilled pouch, which required a new FFS machine.” - Sr. Director of Packaging, Global Leader in Healthcare Products
  • “Our labeling has been improved by using rotary type labeling which is faster and more precise.” - Packaging Engineer, Vitamins/Supplements
  • “Our goal is to make multiple layer packaging compatible with PE so it can be recycled through existing PE recycling streams and run on standard film equipment.” Director, Material Supplier
  • “We tried to implement a new stand up pouch but went back to a flat pouch since it was too complex for our packaging line.” Engineering Manager, Frozen Foods
  • “We will be investing in automation equipment and some robotics to relieve the burden of retaining labor; we will need pick and place robotics, case packers, and palletizers.” - Manufacturing Engineering, Contract Packager
  • “Machine builders need to design machines that can run a greater range of substrates as more recycled content is introduced on both primary and secondary packaging machinery.” - Operations Manager, Personal Care

Carbon Footprint

  • “We are looking at how we can use energy more efficiently; we installed solar panels and are capturing rainwater for use in the plant.” - Packaging Engineer, Nutraceuticals
  • “We have a company culture to be good stewards of our resources and reduce the impact on our environment by monitoring our water and electrical usage.” - Sr. Director of Packaging, OTC Pharma
  • “Our internal goal is to reduce our carbon footprint and overall costs; there is a push to lower utilities costs, reduce water usage, minimize gas emissions, and keep waste out of landfills.” - Continuous Improvement Manager, Frozen Foods
  • “To heat the air, it was decided not to use electricity as the energy transfer medium but to work directly with gas to prevent energy being lost during transport from the producer to the consumer. This saves up to 50% in energy costs and CO2 emissions are cut by as much as 60%.” - Packaging Product Manager, OEM
  • “We don’t have any sustainability goals for packaging right now, we are focusing on monitoring and reducing our utility usage.” - Packaging Manager, Contract Manufacturer, Pharma
  • “We’ve achieved one of our sustainable goals: all materials are now landfill-free, and we incinerate some waste materials for power.” - Director of Manufacturing, Meat, Poultry, and SeafoodSustain 8 2


  • “We are evaluating our entire product line to achieve more packaging sustainability and use as much PCR content as possible.” - Packaging Engineer, Household Products
  • “We need to improve our material selections from resin suppliers and use more post-consumer recycled content to offer a more diverse product portfolio.” - VP Technical Excellence and Innovation, Material Supplier
  • “Needs to be sturdy and strong enough, not brittle, and easily sealable for use with seal bars or ultrasonic sealing.” - Manufacturing Engineering Manager, Snack Foods
  • “The key is having protective barriers that don’t allow air flow to extend shelf life . . . the material has to be strong and remain stable at hot fill temperatures of 195°F.” - Director of Engineering Services, Processed Foods
  • “A new material would be ideal if it reduced the need for multilayers; it would require flexible equipment to run it.” - Principle Packaging Engineer, Shelf Stable Foods
  • “A new material needs to be strong enough for the product, but it seems the thinner the material is, the more scrap we generate.” - Director of Engineering, Refrigerated Foods
  • “A new packaging material needs to be compatible with existing processes as a drop-in replacement to existing equipment.” - Managing Director, Contract Packaging


  • “Our goal is 100% recycled materials in the future; looking for biodegradable closures now but we have not yet found a solution.” - Operations Director, Personal Care
  • “One of our main challenges is communicating the up and down sides of implementing sustainable packaging with CPGs to help make them aware of the impact at all levels of their organization.” - Packaging Services Director, Material Supplier
  • “We are concentrating on using less packaging material, our goal is zero landfill packaging.” - Director of Engineering, Leader, Fresh and Frozen Meats
  • “In general, we are moving our products to more flexible packaging; thinner walls, smaller sizes, and lighter weights.” - Packaging Engineer, Frozen Foods
  • “We are trying to eliminate the need to cellophane wrap our cosmetic products but still looking for a tamper evident solution.” - Project Engineer, Personal Care
  • “We are eliminating the plastic film used for wrapping the product and putting the product directly into a paperboard box.” - Process Development Engineer, Frozen Bakery
  • “Large packs are now placed directly onto cardboard trays without the need for an extra wrapping of stabilizing film.” - Packaging Product Manager, OEM
  • “We are proactively and aggressively looking at single-use plastics and have put a pause on plastic initiatives; we asked our engineers to submit ideas to reduce plastic usage or present a more sustainable packaging solution.” - Sr. Director of Packaging, Global Leader in Consumer Products
  • “We are researching many solutions now to move away from single-use plastic and offer more compostable or recyclable packaging.” - Process Engineer, Hemp-Based Foods
  • “We are changing all our primary and secondary packaging; material review is underway to incorporate PCR (post-consumer recycled) content, home composting, or recycling.” - Principle Engineer, Food and Beverage
  • “We are considering using a more sustainable, recyclable package for our new line of skincare products; looking at glass or tubes.” - Director of Operations, Personal Care
  • “We want all the elements of the package to be recyclable: ideally, the label, the materials, and the cap would all be recycled together.” - Sustainability Engineer, Leader in Food and Beverage
  • “Our consumer products group will redesign all plastic packaging to be recyclable or made from some post-consumer recycled content by 2025.” - Sr. Director of Packaging, Global Leader in Consumer Products
  • “Cost overrides all decisions; if a cost competitive model for returns existed, then it might happen.” - VP Technical Excellence and Innovation, Material Supplier
  • “We are piloting one product now with a returnable packaging start-up company.” - Engineer, Global Food Leader
  • “We have explored a program to return the package through distributors and maybe provide a reward or benefit for returns, but it’s not been developed further.” - Packaging Engineer, Vitamins/Supplements
  • “We are a contract packager and have tested a recyclable pouch that would be returned to the grocery store; compostable materials we tested didn’t pan out.” - Manufacturing Engineering Manager, Contract Food Packager
  • “We’ve created healthcare product recycling for hospitals and a returnable program for vision care products.” - Sr. Director of Packaging, Global Leader in Healthcare Products
  • “Some companies have reusable plastic cases instead of cardboard boxes for a circular retail distribution channel.” - Regional Sales Engineer, OEMSustain 8
  • “We are moving from cans to plastic and glass using aseptic equipment and looking at retort pouches, but plant-based materials can’t survive the retort process.” - Principle Packaging Engineer, Shelf Stable
  • “We have a pureed fruit product that is moving from PET to a flexible pouch.” - Director of Engineering Services, Perishable Products
  • “PET containers don’t get recycled; we are looking at aluminum for beverage containers as a more sustainable solution.” - Technical Innovation Manager, Packaging Supplier
  • “Walmart has announced edicts to reduce plastic but it’s not necessarily the right choice; we are looking at a bag-in-a box or flexible pouch to achieve greater sustainability.” - Sr. Packaging Engineer, Household Products
  • “We’ve done away with the need for stabilizing cardboard pads or trays; the taut film gives a good shrink pattern and a sturdy pack.” - Packaging Product Manager, OEM
  • “Sustainability has affected our entire manufacturing process as we move from single-use plastic bottles to dispensers for hotels; we are having to purchase entirely new equipment.” - Operations Manager, Personal Care
  • “If brands want to achieve sustainability with flexible packaging, they need to consider the entire package, which means identifying partners and suppliers who can provide the right materials, including films, adhesives, labels, and closures.” - Market Development Manager, Package Supplier
  • “Label requirements are changing all the time to answer to the consumer for cleaner label ingredients and recycling information, but it’s causing so many graphic changes on the label.” - Packaging and Process Expert, Global Leader in Food and Beverages
  • “We consider the lifecycle of each material we use, as well as labeling.” - Sr. Director of Packaging, Global Leader in Consumer Products
  • “We need more sustainable options, such as ink that is plant-based instead of solvent-based.” - Packaging Engineer, Vitamins
  • “Child-proof closures need to perform the same or better if more sustainable materials are used.” - Packaging Manager, Pharma Contract Manufacturer
  • “We silkscreen our products to eliminate the need for a label, making them more sustainable.” - Director of Operations, Personal Care
  • “Foil lids and safety seals on bottles need to be fully recyclable; we are also trying to incorporate PCR into labels.” - Corporate Engineering Manager, Store Brand Products

Sustainable Initiatives

  • “We have a company culture to be good stewards of our resources and reduce the impact on our environment.” - Sr. Director of Packaging, Global Leader in Healthcare ProductsSustain 8 3
  • “Sustainability initiatives are business driven and there needs to be a willingness to spend more on packaging, but it must be favorable to the bottom line.” - E-Commerce Expert, Materials Supplier
  • “There need to be global symbols on the label that communicate packaging end-of-life: recyclable, returnable, refillable, or compostable.” - Sr. Director of Packaging, Global Leader in Consumer Products
  • “Municipalities need ways to streamline recycling programs with clearly identified coding for each channel, on each package.” - Packaging Engineer, Vitamins/Supplements
  • “We have deepened our partnership with our film providers, conducting trials with material solutions that maintain packaging integrity while offering sustainable solutions.” - Business Development Manager, Packaging Supplier
  • “An ongoing major challenge for the new year, particularly in the food and e-commerce sectors, will be identifying eco-friendly packaging solutions that can maintain the highest standards of protection when goods are transported through the supply chain, while also remaining practical and cost effective.” - E-commerce and Logistical Packaging Lead, Packaging Supplier

Source: PMMI Business Intelligence, “Packaging Sustainability: A Changing Landscape 2020

Download the FREE Executive Summary below, or PMMI Members can download the entire report here.

Make plans to visit PACK EXPO International, November 8-11, to see on-trend sustainable processing and packaging machinery and materials.

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