Prior to Covid-19, the packaging industry’s primary focus was sustainability. Companies looked to introduce solutions that replaced plastics which were reusable and decreased overall packaging use. At the peak of the pandemic around April, the only focus for packaging was hygiene and safety, some products even had more packaging added so consumers could remove external layers and feel safe using the product’s core packaging. Consequently, the progression of a circular supply chain was momentarily pushed into the shadows.
The boom in e-commerce also brought about many challenges for the packaging industry and required companies to alter their operations to meet the increase in demand. Reports showcased from April to October 2020 online retail sales exceeded the annual total for eight of the past 10 years and to add to that, it is predicted that by 2040 e-commerce will represent over a third of all retail sales.
As restrictions continue to ease and the consumer paranoia has settled, the focus on long-term sustainability has returned to the fore as we look to move forward. Yet with no signs the e-commerce boom is slowing down, it seems packaging companies will need to not only reintroduce their sustainability goals, but also integrate packaging innovation into product development with the consumer needs at the forefront.
One example of the push for sustainability in the industry is the introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT), introduced as a result of the estimated two million tonnes of plastic packaging being used each year. Taking effect from 1 April 2022, the new legislation will see a PPT applied to plastic packaging produced in, or imported into, the UK. Listed in the top five processors of plastic in Europe, the UK will be impacted greatly by the new tax.
Industry and businesses will need to act now to avoid paying tax by ensuring they have a suitable product range available that adheres to the new packaging requirements, in that all packaging must contain 30 per cent recycled plastic.
Naturally, this has sparked the ongoing debate of plastic vs paper which has dominated the industry for the good part of the past few years and resulted in many businesses once again questioning – ‘what classes as sustainable’.
The overarching voice of the debate deems plastic as the ‘bad guy’, the most harmful material for the environment in comparison to others, such as paper. While in some respects this is true, at Southgate, we acknowledge the benefits of paper products and the ease of recyclability. We are firm believers that plastic is not evil and can have equal benefits when sourced responsibly.
We see the debate from both sides and there are benefits and disadvantages to using both materials. This is why we believe that when a business is looking to provide input into a more circular economy it should be a healthy mixture of both plastic and paper, used in the most environmentally responsible ways.
It is all about research and consideration, switching to alternative materials to appear more sustainable can sometimes lead to additional issues, resulting in higher energy, water-use or increased CO2 emissions in production and transport.
There is a lot to think about when considering the production process for each step of the way, now paired with new consumer requirements and increased demand, the industry will have to work hard to introduce innovation into its production lines in order to respond. Sustainability is a key focus for Southgate, just recently for example, we launched our most sustainable mailing bag yet the Kraft Padded Paper Mailing Bags, while fully compostable made from mixed recycled and virgin paper they also ensure maximum protection when in transit.
As the industry continues to evolve and we look to 2022, we are focusing on the benefits the increase in usage of sustainable packaging will have not only on generating a more circular economy, but how it will help the industry align with consumer expectations, right from the start of the supply chain to the end user.