The shift toward more sustainable packaging and a more circular packaging system continues

As consumers become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of packaging materials and consumer-packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers strive to reduce waste and emissions. A new study from PMMI and AMERIPEN finds that 75% of CPG companies continue to use plastic but are already using or are looking to use sustainable materials in their packaging.

PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, and the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment (AMERIPEN) recently released the 2023 Packaging Compass: Evaluating Trends in U.S. Packaging Design Over the Next Decade and Implications for the Future of a Circular Packaging System, which identifies key trends in packaging design and materials and the implications of these trends on legislation and the recovery systems for consumer-packaged goods (CPG) companies.

The Packaging Compass, based on research and analysis conducted by PMMI and AMERIPEN, highlights the growing importance of sustainability in the packaging industry. This research strives to close the gap between design needs and recovery needs by beginning a conversation on trends, presenting forecasts for the coming decade, and recognising the role of multiple stakeholders in advancing a circular packaging system.

“By releasing this deep dive into the trends driving the circular packaging system, we hope to facilitate an industry dialogue that will help close the gap between design needs and recovery needs,” said Jorge Izquierdo, vice president, market development, PMMI, Herndon, Virginia.

Metal beverage cans, PET bottles, and flexible plastic wrap lead the overall compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in packaging materials, which has shown some fluctuation since 2021, but is projected to decrease to 1.3% CAGR by 2025. Based on the report findings, this slight slowdown reflects the movement within omnichannel commerce to design primary packaging for shipping, eliminating the need for secondary and, in some cases tertiary packaging, along with the return to retail as consumers head back to stores after Covid.

In terms of overall material usage, survey respondents indicate that 75% of CPG companies continue to use plastic, more than those who use paper, and significantly more than those who use metal or glass. However, the report indicates that over the next 10 years, shifts in packaging materials usage are expected as CPGs are increasingly looking to sustainable materials such as compostable, certified SBS paperboard, certified Kraft paperboard, bio-based bioplastics, and post-consumer-recycled content (PCR).

Based on materials changes proposed by the CPG community, the report forecasts growth in lightweight materials like flexible film pouches and food wrappers that are not yet widely recoverable. Compostables are currently viewed by CPGs as seeing a significant increase, although like flexible films, they currently lack a significant recovery system to ensure they are composted after use. Recycled content in packaging is expected to grow with many CPG firms identifying plans to increase PCR content in existing packaging.

The growing importance of PCR was on display at last year’s Pack Expo International (October, Chicago, Illinois) as packaging exhibitors showcased their efforts to reduce packaging waste, increase reusability and recyclability, and achieve a circular economy. The use of PCR plastic is growing because it can be up to 100% recyclable. “There’s really no way to completely get rid of plastic because of its convenience factor, but PCR plastics can help because they can be recycled over and over again,” Chris Kozak, sustainability marketing and communication manager, Amcor Rigid Packaging USA, explained to me at the show. Furthermore, he said that PCR plastics are actually more sustainable than aluminium and glass because they both have higher GHG emissions than PCR.

The PMMI and AMERIPEN report outlines key packaging waste and policy implications brought on by the following shifts toward a more circular packaging system:

  •  Extended producer responsibility (EPR): Shifting financial and operational responsibility for end-of-life management of products to producers, instead of taxpayers and government. (Note: in this case ‘producers’ are CPG manufacturers, not farmers.)
  • Universal Access: Providing all households with convenient and consistent access to recycling and composting services.
  • Standardised Definitions: Clear recycling, composting, and other recovery definitions to reduce consumer confusion.
  • Material Bans: Shifting from material bans to dialogues on the best ways to collect, sort, and reprocess materials to reduce environmental impact.
  • Recovery Innovation: Federal investments into programs uncovering emerging science and data to drive efficiencies across packaging design and waste management.
  • Data Collection: Consistent data collection to measure and benchmark the performance of a circular packaging economy.


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