With the Plastic Tax in place since April and the upcoming Extended Producer Responsibility UK (new packaging waste legislation) on the horizon, there’s no surprise that companies are heavily keeping these in mind when it comes to packaging innovations moving forward.
This means that new sustainable packaging innovations are continuing to grow as professionals look for better materials. This hasn’t been easy though. Industrial Physics, a global test and inspection partner, surveyed 255 packaging professionals globally and they found that professionals said testing new sustainable materials is challenging. Almost half of those surveyed (49%) said meeting testing standards was one of the biggest challenges they faced in the wider adoption of sustainable packaging materials.
The Plastic Tax is said to not going as well as planned either with skyrocketing prices for food-grade recycled plastic wreaking havoc, and costs of recycled plastic polymers shooting up by as much as 100% a year. On top of these rising prices, the availability of recycled plastics needed to be in-line with the tax are difficult to get hold of, especially when everyone is after them.
However, despite these problems, we are continuing to see new developments. In this article, we explore all the latest packaging developments on the market for:
Sustainable packaging developments
Since environmentally friendly customers are looking to avoid single-use plastics, packaging suppliers are continuously looking for new sustainable packaging materials. For example, IIT Roorkee researchers have come up with a new packaging material – an ethylene scavenging functional paper made from pine needle waste! According to IIT Roorkee researchers, the high cellulose content in pine needles means they are a proper sustainable packaging material that is the best alternative to paper and can form a good replacement for harmful plastic. Interesting right?
Not only that, but if you hadn’t heard – seaweed extracts could form the next generation of biopolymer coating materials for the food and drink industries. It is said that seaweed presents a more environmentally circular solution and will reduce plastic pollution. Speaking of using food items for packaging, Australian start-up Fungi Solutions has also been experimenting – but this time with mushrooms! That’s right, the business is making moulded forms from mushroom waste and say that it is an ideal alternative to polystyrene or single-use plastic.
Now we will look into the new packaging innovations arising for particular sectors, most of which are keeping sustainability at the forefront.
Food and Drink Packaging Innovations
Sustainability is continuing to be the main focus for the food and drink industry as packaging companies hunt for improved materials that can support the product in the same way, whilst being more sustainable and in-line with the Plastic Packaging Tax. In 2020, the amount of plastic packaging being recycled increased from 44% to 52%. The small changes such as this are what add up to make a big difference when it comes to recycling. One particular development we are seeing is surrounding attached caps on bottles that is said to be easier to recycle whilst reducing litter.
For example, Coca Cola Great Britain and Coca-Cola Europacific Partners launched attached caps to its plastic bottles. The soft drinks company has said this move will help address collection, recycling, and littering. This move is just one of the steps Coca-Cola are taking as part of their ‘This is Forward’ Sustainability action plan and forms a key element of their 2040 net zero target.
Similarly, Waitrose is to permanently scrap coloured milk caps in all its 331 shops across the UK. In a UK first, the bottle and new clear cap can now be recycled together in a ‘closed loop’ system allowing the caps to be recycled and re-used as food grade material which was not possible with the coloured caps. Waitrose claims the move could increase the amount of recycled HDPE available on the market back into the food sector by 1,560 tonnes per annum. Waitrose have said by introducing clear caps with a closed loop system, there will be more recycled HDPE available on the market, further reducing the dependency on virgin plastic.
Photo credit: KGP Chronicle
Further exciting packaging developments in the food and drink industry include:
Recyclable food and drink packaging
Only the highest quality plastic can be used to remake food and drink packaging, but it is estimated that the UK currently only produces around 1.4 million tonnes of foodgraderrPET every year. Everyone wants to include recycled content in their products but as previously mentioned, there just isn’t enough to go around. However, this has not stopped developments from taking place:
- Ribena & Lucozade: The company has announced that all of its on-the-go 500ml bottles (excluding the cap and label) will be made from 100% recycled polyethylene tetraphyte (rPET) by the end of the year. The demand for rPET is pushing up costs – rPET is currently 39% more expensive compared to virgin PET. Even though switching to 100% rPET for their bottles was an important step in their commitment to achieving 100% sustainable packaging by 2030, they recognise there has been a historic under investment in the UK’s recycling and collection infrastructure meaning less than a third of bottles are turned back into bottles. Because of this, the company has said they will be collecting, sorting, and turning it back into bottles.
- KP Elite: Offers modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) solution for fresh protein that delivers end-to-end sustainability. This award-winning product is made from up to 100% recycled PET (Rpet), which is recyclable, highly efficient, reduces food waste and extends shelf life.
- Baby Food Company Little Freddie: recently launched UK’s first baby food pouch that can be recycled through normal household recycling. The company spent several years of trialling to decide upon a PP (polypropylene) mono material structure for their pouches. The pouches will carry a recyclable label, meaning they can be accepted by kerbside recycling. Over the next 12 months, the company hopes to save over 350,000 pouches from landfill, equivalent to 2.5 tonnes of plastic!
Edible food and drink packaging
Cupffee is a Bulgarian start-up that produces edible, crispy wafer cups as an alternative to single-use plastic and plastic-coated board coffee cups. The 110 ml and 200 ml Cupffee cups remain crunchy for up to 40 minutes. They are made from natural oat bran and wheat flour, uncoated with chocolate or sugar, are just 56 or 105 calories and have a neutral taste, so that it does not affect the contents of the cup. We love to see the new developments in edible food packaging – that’s one way to reduce waste!
Renewable drink packaging materials
Lipton Iced Tea Netherlands has switched to SIG aseptic carton packs with a full barrier packaging material, where all the polymers used are linked to certified forest-based renewable materials via a mass-balance system. It is designed to reduce carbon footprint compared to a standard pack using plant-based polymers. This is in-line with their aim to become a fully circular brand and significantly reduce their carbon footprint and that of their customers.
Beauty and Retail Packaging Innovations
New research has claimed more than half (52%) of UK consumers would be prepared to pay more for environmentally friendly packaging when they buy clothes and accessories. The majority (76%) also said that they do not think fashion brands are doing enough to reduce single-use packs, and 67% said they want to see greater use of paper-based packaging. With that being said, let’s have a look at the current developments in the beauty and retail industries.
Biotech firm Shellworks plans to scale its technology and invest in commercial growth to put an end to single-use plastics, starting with the beauty industry. The team formulates its new material, Vivomer, using bacterially derived components that are grown via a fermentation process. Once a Vivomer packaged product is finished, the packaging can be either reused or placed in a personal compost or industrial compost bin, where it is broken down enzymatically. The beauty industry currently creates 120 billion units of plastic packaging annually and Shellworks is committed to finding a scalable solution to tackle this. Could the solution be Vivomer? Only time will tell.
- Johnson's Baby: has launched a new refills range, sold in recyclable paper-based cartons containing 90% less plastic. Johnson’s Baby becomes the first baby toiletry brand to launch a paper-based, recyclable refill carton in the UK. The refill cartons are made predominantly from FSC Mix Certified paper and only contain a small amount of plastic (around 8g per one-litre pack), representing a reduction in plastic-use whilst protecting the formula inside and maintaining the structure of the pack. Once the cartons are empty, they are recyclable where facilities exist – 92% of the UK’s local councils have recycling options for paper-based cartons. Alternatively, they can be recycled at household recycling centres.
- Hitam France mono-material polypropylene container: Hitam France teamed up with Berry Superfos to launch a mono-material polypropylene (PP) container for their wet wipes range that is said to be both resealable to retain freshness, and refillable – while also being easy to recycle.
- Ariel liquid container: Ariel will now offer its All-in-1 Pods in a recyclable cardboard-based box made from FSC certified materials mixed with other recyclable materials. The pack is fully recyclable in curbside paper collection streams, and they have said up to 6,500 tonnes of plastic could be saved each year.
Recycled Aluminium Packaging
Novelis, a leading sustainable aluminium solutions provider, announced it is expanding its Evercycle portfolio to the cosmetic packaging market. Evercycle cosmetics is certified to contain 100% recycled aluminium and can achieve customers’ quality expectations. This is in-line with Novelis’s hopes to decrease their carbon emissions 30% by 2026 and become a carbon neutral company by 2050 or sooner.
Pharmaceutical Packaging Innovations
The pharmaceutical industries are constantly innovating and looking for more sustainable packaging solutions. This stems from their realisation that the pharmaceutical packaging most commonly used may not be the most sustainable, adaptable, or safe for the future, and so new innovations are needed to meet consumer expectations.
Here are some interesting pharmaceutical packaging innovations coming into the market:
Mono-material PET pharmaceutical packaging
Huhtamaki has launched a mono-material PET, free from aluminium Push Tab blister lid. It is described as ‘game changing’ and designed to meet the stringent safety requirements of highly regulated pharmaceutical packaging. The Push Tab provides the industry with a more sustainable alternative to traditional push-through blister packaging. The recyclability of the packaging is significantly improved while remaining compatible with existing high performance blister packaging lines without needing any modifications or extra investment. Blister packaging usually contains multiple materials so it’s difficult to recycle them in a single recycling stream, Push Tab Blister Lid is said to solve this problem.
Recyclable Laminate Packaging
Amcor has strengthened its pharmaceutical packaging portfolio with the addition of new sustainable High Shield Laminates. The recycle-ready packaging meets high barrier and performance requirements for the pharmaceutical industry while complying with recyclability expectations. The packaging is low carbon and features a more sustainable pharmaceutical sachet, stickpack, and strip pack packaging available in both paper-based and Polyolefin-based materials.
Photo credit: Amcor
Intelligent Devices and Pharmaceutical Smart Packaging
Another exciting area of development is intelligent devices and packaging that secure a two-way communication between patients and their healthcare providers. The technology has been increasingly used in clinical trials, especially during covid-19. Wearable devices worn by patients are one component of this new approach. It allows clinicians to track and analyse health information such as heart rate and pulse, temperature, blood oxygen levels, stress levels and more. The second component is the integration of intelligent technology into existing medical packaging. This is chipped with a wireless electronic device that allows tracking of drug use as soon as the tablet is ejected from the blister packaging. Each time a tablet is removed, or a medical device is activated, a signal is then sent from the packaging to the bracelet.
Similarly, the use of QR codes on pharmaceutical packaging is also an arising innovation. By scanning the QR code on the packaging, patients can see instructional videos on how to take their medication. With the aid of technology such as this, patients are getting more out of their products and receiving more support.
Intelligent Connected Packaging Innovations
Many brands are recognising the advantages of using intelligent, connected packaging. This is because many of today’s consumers (particularly the younger generation) have become inseparable from their phones, and so connected packaging is seen as a way for businesses to feel closer to their customers.
In February, digital experiences studio Appetite Creative released results from a packaging survey that showed over half (54%) of respondents claimed to have already incorporated connected experiences into their marketing plans, and 85% were confident they would become increasingly important to the packaging industry in the next 12 months and beyond.
One recent innovation, Dairy company Yeo Valley, now has SKU-level QR codes across all of their products, making it the UK’s largest rollout of connected packaging. By scanning the QR code, customers can get access to useful and time-relevant content including breakfast recipes.
Connected packaging is great for showcasing a brand’s storytelling that can include information about the brand mission and product benefits. For example, global skincare, cosmetics, toiletries, and fragrance manufacturer Clinique, partnered with SharpEnd for its digitally enabled recyclable glass jar. Consumers just simply tap the NFC base label to access exclusive content and services including access to Clinique’s virtual skin analysis tool.
We hope to see these exciting developments continue to grow, and we will be keeping our eyes peeled for more!
Packaging developments from Swiftpak
At Swiftpak, we always work closely alongside our customers to maximise the potential of their packaging. With the help of our in-house innovations team, we consistently bring new products to market.
If you are looking for innovative packaging solutions, look no further. Contact us today and we will be happy to help you find a solution!