According to statistics gathered by the Smither´s Pira organization, demand for the world packaging industry is likely to reach $1.05 trillion by 2024. This 2.8 percent estimated growth rate is (and will be) driven by both consumer and industry demand. And the digital packaging market is expected to reach $28 billion. The purpose of this article is to focus specifically on the current trends in flexible packaging for the purpose of developing the most relevant questions pertaining the packaging industry. We may even throw in a prognostication or two.
Definition: A quick Google search tells us that flexible packaging is “a package or container made of flexible or easily yielding materials that, when filled or closed, can be readily changed in shape. They are used for consumer and institutional products and in industrial applications, to protect, market, and distribute a vast array of products.”
Single-Use v. Eco-Friendly
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, packaging options were trending away from single-use plastic. More eco-friendly options were being adopted by retailers across the globe at increasingly exponential rates.
During the pandemic, however, as fears of physical contact mounted and in-person shopping waned in lieu of online ordering and home delivery, the marked shifted. Consumers prioritized convenience (out of necessity and limitations), as well as hygiene, over sustainability. Will this trend continue? Will consumers prefer hygiene-focused or sustainability-focused flexible packaging?
Our prognositication: Eco-friendly wins. Flexible packing is, by nature, more eco-friendly than traditional packaging. It uses fewer materials, thus reducing energy consumption and raw material cost for the manufacturer. And for the caring eco-conscious consumer, many of the materials are designed to be reusable and/or recyclable. It’s win for the manufacturer and a win for the consumer.
As mentioned above, convenience is the driving factor in e-commerce growth, but product integrity matters too. For example, e-commerce can be problematic when packaging fresh meat. Seal failures and unwanted punctures can occur when delivering the package from point A to B. And delivering liquid products safely can be an issue too.
Can flexible packaging deliver the goods?
Our prognostication: With stricter e-commerce integrity requirements, the need for higher quality flexible packaging will continue to increase. There will be more demand for packages that offer better product protections. For instance, businesses´ are now investing in flexible packaging that offer optimum impact and puncture resistance, protecting the products from the many people that handle the packages en route.
For more information about flexible packaging from leading packaging experts, watch the panel discussion below.
Experts predict that, moving forward, consumer demand for sustainable packaging will increase. The effect? Companies will continue to create recyclable packaging. Design for recycling is shifting away from the traditional packaging that uses laminates, polyester, polythene, cellophane, and the like. All of which are a challenge to recycle.
Instead, flexible packaging will look to replace these problematic substrates with polyethylene (PE) films that aren’t as difficult to recycle. For example, one such substrate is oriented PE, either mono-oriented (MDOPE) or bi-oriented (BOPE), which has already been successful in the industry. Another example is the stand up pouch (SUP). It is made using recycled material from full PE laminated pouches and ExxonMobil’s performance polymers – including Exceed™ XP, Exceed™ and Enable™ – and Exact™ plastomers.
Another environment problem is mixed polymer streams, which are notoriously difficult to recycle. They have plagued the industry for years.
The bad news: Mixed polymers do not look to be going away anytime soon.
The good news: There are innovative solutions in the industry to help curb the damage. For example, compatibilizers can bind polyolefins with incompatible polymers, while minimizing the loss of properties. In many cases it has been found that adding high-performance polymers, like Exceed™ XP, can act as a performance boost. What does this mean? Results have proven that adding high-performance polymers can prevent degradation in mechanical properties for packages, which reduces the risk of breakage.
Our prognostication: While it may be over our heads, the science is promising for the packaging industry.
Keeping Track via Technology
Another trend is asset tracking. What is asset tracking? “The method used to track a company’s physical assets either by scanning barcode labels or by using tags using GPS or RFID, which broadcasts their location.” (assetpanda.com). Specifically, Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things (IoT) are allowing the industry to transform the way it does business, including enabling traceability options so that package composition can be tracked. This is going to prove invaluable for packaging recyclable content because it will be possible for a company to know if their delivered package was recycled by the consumer.
Our prognostication: As we forge ahead into 2021 and beyond, the packaging professionals who can pivot quickly to meet the ever-evolving consumer demands while honoring brand-owner commitments and constantly shifting regulatory standards will be successful.
Need help with your packaging? RSN helps companies make their packaging more sustainable. Learn more about our sustainable packaging services here.