The timeframe for transitioning away from plastic is still considerable

When it comes to switching from plastic to packaging solutions with improved ‘end of life’ outcomes in the FMCG sector, the intent is strong but the execution is slow.

A new study by Aquapak, ‘FMCG flexible packaging: accelerating the move from plastic to paper’, reveals that 92% of FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies plan to stop using plastic in their consumer packaging altogether. The report, launched on 14 May at the Rethinking Materials Innovation and Investment Summit in London, shows that paper and paperboard are the replacement materials of choice, followed by new polymers, bioplastics, and multi-materials.

However, the study, which is based on research with 100 UK packaging experts responsible for packaging R&D, technology, design and sustainability for FMCG brands, finds that despite the commitment to move away from plastic, the timeframe for transition is still sizable, with 27% of packaging experts expecting this to happen by 2027, 35% by 2028, and 28% by 2029. Just under one third (30%) of respondents described the move to new packaging materials in their business as too slow, 58% described it as ‘moderate’ and only 11% said it was fast. The majority (87%) want the switch to alternative materials to replace conventional plastics to take place more quickly.

According to the study, currently, the main barriers to using more environmentally friendly options are the higher cost of alternative packaging, which was cited by 53% of respondents, the availability of alternative materials (50%) and ensuring the functionality and product protection remains the same (46%).

When asked about the key drivers that would help the FMCG sector speed up new material development and implementation, the research showed that 70% of respondents believed that more ambitious recycling targets were key, while 62% wanted to see increased investment in new materials, and 54% said greater collaboration to accelerate R&D was needed. Respondents do believe that switching to more sustainable packaging solutions is important, with half saying that an industry-wide commitment to move away from conventional plastic was necessary, while a further 47% cited tighter environmental regulation through taxation of materials with poor environmental performance was important.

“Our study shows that the FMCG sector is highly cognisant of the need to move away from conventional plastics to more environmentally friendly materials which offer better end-of-life outcomes, be it improved recyclability or biodegradation to make life easier for their customers and other stakeholders,” said Dr John Williams, chief technical officer at Birmingham, England-based Aquapak, which develops and manufactures a range of adaptive polymer-based material technologies. “There is undoubtedly some confusion in the market by the number of ‘new’ materials which all offer some potential, but all too often exaggerate the properties and availability of the material, causing delays in the use of genuine solutions by using valuable time in the packaging development process. It is important that there is an acceleration in the use of materials which are available at scale, offer the required functionality, run down existing conversion lines, and have a viable end-of-life solution to the consumer. These solutions are available now and, in the market, but only in low numbers.

Dr Williams added that Aquapak’s research also suggests that the sector needs to be bolder in its commitment to new packaging materials. While 37% say they are more focused on switching to innovative, environmentally friendly materials, 25% are developing existing materials, and 38% are placing equal importance on both. “Is this really embracing innovation and change or sitting on the fence until regulation forces the industry’s hand?” he asked. “New materials already exist and can facilitate the move from plastic to solutions which are functional, provide the product protection needed but do not harm the environment when they come to the end of their useful life.”

The research for the study was conducted by PureProfile with 100 packaging experts working for FMCG brands in the UK, in March 2024. To download the report, visit aquapakpolymers.com/fmcg-report-download.

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One response to “The timeframe for transitioning away from plastic is still considerable”

  1. ljhon says:

    It’s encouraging to see such a high number of FMCG companies committed to ditching plastic packaging! However, the slow pace of execution is a bit concerning. The report highlights paper and more sustainable materials as replacements, which is a positive step.

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