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Innovation Not Keeping Pace With Sustainability Demands

OEMs and CPGs agree that right now, packaging and processing technology hinders any significant sustainable solutions. Consumers and brands want it yesterday, but how?

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Packaging companies remain under massive pressure to improve sustainability by reducing packaging waste. Still, the desire from brands and consumers doesn't quite align with what's currently feasible, according to PMMI's 2022 Shaping the Future of Packaging Operations. While reducing the size of packaging remains an easily achievable objective, instituting industry wide change has always been the more challenging to achieve.

Top to Top Summit is an annual networking event of high-level CPGs and OEMs in the packaging and processing industry, who meet to discuss industry problems and solutions with the aim of improving industry outcome. Sponsored by PMMI, this year’s meeting was held in March 2022 in Florida.

A representative of a packaging company working for one of North America's biggest drinks producers summed up the situation, saying, "the technology is limited at this point. There are plenty of great ideas in the marketplace, but not many have made it to the point of being readily available or cost-competitive." 

CPG Sustainability Strategy80 percent of CPGs claim efforts to minimize packaging and reduce waste.Packaging operators recognize that they are somewhat behind the curve regarding sustainability and are aware of the need to catch up. However, a true industry shift will require technology breakthroughs and significant capital investment. One of the major barriers is that sustainable packaging materials often have narrower tolerances than virgin or highly engineered standard materials. At least one respondent made the key point that OEMs need to work closely with the developers of sustainable packaging material to ensure that such material has an adequate shelf-life and can be handled by machines on the market today. 

The drive towards sustainability in the packaging industry presents new challenges for packaging machinery manufacturers, with CPGs calling for new machine technologies that can respond swiftly to ever-changing market demand, offer versatility in packaging format and size, and work efficiently with a range of biodegradable packaging materials. And all the while minimizing material waste and reducing energy consumption during the packaging process.

Linked to this is the idea of developing packaging machine technologies that can reuse packaging. Several respondents identified the issue of reducing or recycling waste on packaging lines, putting the onus on OEMs to improve machine efficiency in terms of material usage. Right now, those waste materials end up in land-fill.

The final point in the sustainability category was energy usage. CPGs and OEMs recognize there is not much packaging companies can do about skyrocketing energy prices. But it does create intense market pressure to make machinery more efficient. Particularly when ever-growing government regulations add even more pressure to both sides of the table.

Source: PMMI Business Intelligence report 2022 Shaping the Future of Packaging Operations

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