Packaging Europe Issue 16.3

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VOLUME 16.3 – 2021









Change your perspective now. With us. And our dynamic performance in the production of packaging. Where speed goes hand in hand with conservation of resources and environmental responsibility. Strong brands that deliver: Your products. And our ALLROUNDERs. Step into the future. With ARBURG.


Sales Director

Victoria Hattersley

Jesse Roberts


Senior Portfolio Sales Manager

Elisabeth Skoda Libby Munford

Digital Editor Fin Slater

Production Manager Rob Czerwinski

Dominic Kurkowski

Sales & Marketing Operations Alain Rizk

Portfolio Sales Manager

Advertising Coordinator Matt Byron Kayleigh Harvey

Digital Analyst

Senior Audience Development Executive

Syed Hassan

Andrew Wood

Operations Director

Audience Development Executive

Amber Dawson

Brand Director

Dominy Jones

Tim Sykes

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Editorial Victoria Hattersley Building a coherent circular economy: The view from the industry How can circularity be achieved? Back to basics – and grasping the future Smurfit Kappa interview Reusable packaging in the COVID age Where next for reusables? Boosting inspection performance with AI and deep learning Weighing & inspection focus Announcing the Sustainability Awards 2021 finalists! Sustainability Awards 2021 Packaging Trend Focus: A look at the 2021 refill landscape The view from ThePackHub The insider perspective on plastic packaging IK interview Printing tech: The digital revolution continues A look at the digital printing landscape Circular Packaging Q&A Vincent Mooij answers your questions On second thoughts... Why current EPR guidelines need clarification



uilding a truly circular economy can mean different things to different people and there are many routes to achieving it, but the destination, we would like to think, is the same. To help us get an idea of what a coherent circular economy would look like, for this edition we have talked to several different members of key industry organizations about the strategies that must be employed. It’s been refreshing to see that there is more agreement than friction here, despite the differing challenges that each material and element of the supply chain presents. As ever, the need for cross-industry collaboration was emphasized by all. Next, I’d like to give a special mention to an exciting new regular column we have introduced. We are delighted to announced that Vincent Mooij, Director of SUEZ.circpack®, will be answering key questions on the subject of circular packaging. We are inviting readers to submit their own questions, so if you have any you would like him to address you can send them to with the subject line ‘Circular Packaging Q&A’, or ask us a question via either LinkedIn or Twitter using the hashtag #CircularPackagingQuestions. We also have interviews aplenty in this issue. Tim Sykes catches up with Smurfit Kappa’s Arco Berkenbosch to consider how the last year has challenged and changed the corrugated market amid an e-commerce boom and ongoing efforts to meet the demands of sustainability. Elisabeth Skoda, meanwhile, discusses recycling and recyclate goals, bioplastics, consumer behaviour and much more with Dr Isabell Schmidt, the managing director at IK, the German plastic packaging industry association. Finally Fin Slater asks John Hocevar, Oceans Campaign Director at Greenpeace USA, whether the risks of Covid transmission via reusable packaging have been overstated. On other subjects, Elisabeth Skoda explores innovations in pharmaceutical and food inspection technologies, boosted by developments in AI, Industry 4.0 and deep learning, while Victoria Hattersley (AKA

Victoria Hattersley Senior Writer

myself) takes a look at how far we have come with digital printing and what the next phase of digital transformation might bring. In the second of his two ‘On Second Thoughts…’ columns, Dominic Hogg asks: are current European EPR guidelines enough to motivate brand owners to switch to more sustainable packaging formats? And as is now customary, I next bring you tidings from elsewhere in the Packaging Europe-verse because, as you know, we are a manytentacled beast. Over at our sister publication, Touchpoints (, we are excited to have launched the ‘Nest’, which gives a platform to packaging design students from across the world. Also, do remember that our Sustainable Packaging Summit is ongoing and you can always view any of the sessions that arouse your interest ondemand at Finally (drum roll…), by the time you are reading this, we will have announced the much-anticipated shortlist for the Sustainability Awards 2021! Once again, I would like to say how impressed – and indeed reassured – we have been by the breadth of innovation in all categories. Thank you to all our judges for the hard work they have put in. We will be sharing interviews with all of the finalists over the coming months, and announcing the winners at FachPack in September. Something to carve into the calendar. That’s all from me for now. I wish you a pleasant and healthy summer. n

Victoria Hattersley Victoria Hattersley @PackEuropeVicky

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BUILDING A COHERENT CIRCULAR ECONOMY: THE VIEW FROM THE INDUSTRY Over the past few weeks, we have been asking representatives from key organizations across the packaging industry two questions: What are the biggest roadblocks to a circular economy in packaging today? and How must the packaging sector you represent respond to these in the coming years if we are to achieve circularity? Here is what they had to say.



ecyclability and recycling infrastructure are not given enough thought when packaging is designed, and although the use of reusable packaging is growing, consumers are unlikely to abandon the convenience of disposable packaging altogether. The solution is multi-faceted but must include the promotion of materials that retain their inherent properties after recycling, known as permanent materials. The Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) 2.0 – a cornerstone of the European Green Deal – is designed to strengthen the economy, protect the environment and eliminate waste. It recognizes the importance of permanent materials, as well as the need to increase high-quality recycling and move away from landfilling waste. Reflecting these aims, APEAL recently announced its 2025 vision Alexis Van Maercke for recycling – zero steel packaging

to landfill. It is an ambitious aim, but if recyclable materials – particularly permanent materials – continue to be wasted, a truly circular economy cannot be achieved. The 2025 Vision will be underpinned by action in four key areas, including a focus on optimizing separate waste collection, establishing a scrap quality standard, the collection and sorting of steel closures, and designing for recyclability. Separate collection is the best way of guaranteeing high-quality input into recycling operations, so establishing a scrap quality standard is also important. To maintain quality in the steel for packaging scrap value chain, quality control must start when the material is at the sorting facility. Improving the recycling rate of steel closures will also make a significant contribution in the drive towards zero steel packaging to landfill, but there is currently a lack of clear sorting instructions and low awareness among citizens, plus ineffective sorting techniques in a number of facilities resulting in collected steel closures, caps and lids being lost. APEAL believes designing for recyclability will underpin the successful implementation of all these measures, helping ensure every product placed on the market can be recycled efficiently.



et me cite three roadblocks to circularity that are top of mind today. Firstly, the inertia behind the current ‘linear’ system designed to meet minimum recycling targets – especially for plastic packaging – and speed of transition to circular funding and policies needs to be addressed and corrected. The aspirations and costs associated with circular materials are very different to those in a system designed and funded to meet recycling targets at minimum cost. Secondly, recognizing chemical recycling as a critical piece of the circular economy for plastics

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puzzle and commercializing it at scale for required capacity in the coming three years. Thirdly, the amount of debate and energy still spent on design guidelines for (flexible) packaging plastics. We know what needs to be done here. The focus needs to switch towards developing end market pull for recycled plastics by making them financially competitive against the virgin equivalent. The true cost of recycling different formats and materials needs to be reflected in the Extended Producer Responsibility contribution, without cross subsidization between materials

or formats. EPR fees paid by flexible packaging need to be ring fenced to collect, sort and recycle flexible packaging and not all plastic packaging or collection and sorting of paper, metals and glass. CEFLEX stakeholders in the front part of the value chain, i.e. material producers, film converters, brand owners, need to accelerate demand for recycled materials by using them in their plastic grades, flexible packaging and products on the market. EPR needs to facilitate this by ensuring recycled plastics are always a better business

Graham Houlder

proposition than a virgin equivalent by modulating the subsidies for these materials to allow them to do so. Parts of the collection, sorting and recycling value chain – now including many material producers – need to invest in the required infrastructure to deliver the CEFLEX circular economy vision.

EPR systems (led by the brand owners) need to underwrite these investments in developing the needed collection, sorting, recycling capacities of mechanical and chemical recycling by reducing the investment risk for these companies through longer contracts at a guaranteed rate of return on their investments.



he Green Deal aims to enhance circularity in all industrial value chains. Meeting this ambition is not a walk in the park, unless the following roadblocks are dealt with: • EU policy incoherence • Failure to recognize the substitution potential of fibre-based products • Lack of harmonized collection systems to further increase recycling of paper packaging • Fragmentation of the EU single market for waste and secondary raw materials • Lack of availability of affordable clean energy. The pulp and paper industry has achieved a 29% decarbonization from 2005 to date. Paper is recycled at a rate of 72% in Europe, which is the highest recycling rate for paper in the world. Paper based packaging is even recycled at 84.6%. However, we are also tackling the aforementioned roadblocks to continue to achieve circularity. For example, by substituting fossil products with forest-based products, our industry prevents the use of fossil materials and fossil CO2 emissions in other sectors. Such a reduction can even be multiplied by leveraging our expertise in the circular economy. This combination also makes the pulp and paper industry an important factor in reducing emissions in other sectors. In addition, the transition to a green and circular economy cannot happen without recognizing the role of the consumer. The European Paper Industry participated in the EU Product Environmental Footprint Pilot project in 2011 and again in 2013-2018: we were one of the 15 sectors that delivered PEF Category Rules. The Intermediate Paper Product PEF Category Rule is a

detailed LCA calculation method for paper that will be converted into finalized products such as packaging, print and tissue. Cepi has developed recyclability guidelines and guidance on how to implement separate collection. Engagement with the value chain is also key to achieving circularity. 4evergreen is a forum to engage and connect industry members from across the fibre-based packaging value chain. 4evergreen members committed to reach 90% of fibre-based packaging recycled by 2030 via design for recycling guidelines and assessment protocol and separate collection. Anna Papagrigoraki



ince 2018, more than 1000 organizations have united behind a common vision and targets for a circular economy for plastic – to eliminate the plastic items we don’t need; innovate so all plastics we do need are designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted; and circulate everything we use to keep it in the economy and out of the environment. The momentum behind a circular economy is huge, as seen in the Global Commitment and the Plastics Pact network, but still there is far more that must be done. The vast majority of progress so far is towards a recycling economy, rather than a fully circular economy, and will leave us stuck in our current model of production and consumption, albeit with a recycling loop added at the

end. This downstream, end-of-pipe thinking lacks the ambition needed to reach a circular economy and constitutes one of the biggest roadblocks to a circular economy in packaging today. Recycling is undoubtedly part of the solution, but it will only take us so far. A recycling economy is more costly than a comprehensive circular economy, emits far more greenhouse gas, and is unable to truly address the problem of plastic waste and reduce ocean leakage. Beyond recycling, we need to fundamentally rethink how we make and use plastic and move our innovation efforts upstream, so that rather than focusing on how we are going to deal with a pile of waste, we focus on how to make sure that waste Packaging Europe | 5 |

Sander Defruyt

is not produced in the first place. This means moving beyond incremental tweaks to packaging design and rethinking products and business models as well. We need to massively increase our innovation efforts towards business models that deliver products to customers without creating packaging waste, and we should take full advantage of the huge opportunity offered by reusable packaging models. We understand this can pose operational difficulties and takes time piloting and exploring, but it is worrying to see that the majority of businesses are not genuinely exploring these solutions. We urgently need to see that changed. In order to assist companies with this, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation recently published Upstream Innovation: A Guide To Packaging Solutions, containing practical guidance and real-world examples.



real shift to a circular packaging industry requires investing in Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Schemes to supply the manufacturing industry with good quality recyclates. Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) can be an option only for those solutions which are not yet collected in an effective manner, and not to replace systems that work correctly. No compromise should be made in any instance on consumers’ health and safety. This is a roadblock that must be strengthened to halt any packaging solutions that could become a potential threat because they include recyclates! And finally, a circular economy must be economically viable: circular materials must make business sense. Glass is already a healthy, reusable and infinitely recyclable packaging and as such we are at the centre of a well-functioning circular business model. To improve it, we must address our major challenge – the high carbon footprint in the production phase. Today, 80% of our CO2 emissions come from the fossil fuels we use for the melting phase and 20% from the virgin raw materials we use to make glass. Therefore, we have designed a twofold sectorial CO2 reduction strategy to complement individual companies’ decarbonization paths. Firstly, to address the 80%, we want to scale up the use of renewable electricity in the melting phase. This will reduce CO2 emissions by 60%. The innovative electric melting technology is currently limited to small-scale furnaces for flint (clear) glass with limited recycled glass content. The ‘Furnace for the Future’ industry project should allow us to scale it up, and use it with coloured glass and increased recycled content. Secondly, to address the other 20% we want to increase to 90% the collection of glass packaging in Europe by 2030 (up from 76% today). This will allow us to increase further the share of recycled glass in the batch and reduce virgin raw materials. We have recently launched ‘Close the Glass Loop’ – a multi-stakeholder platform of local authorities, brands, recyclers, extended producer responsibility schemes and producers.

We also just created the Glass Hallmark for brands to communicate with consumers about their packaging choice and to reuse or recycle it as a great action they can do for the Circular Economy.

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hen it comes to moving the needle on making plastic packaging fully circular one of the main challenges is lack of recyclability. The priority is, in the first place, to redesign plastic packaging to be compatible with recycling technologies. This can be achieved with a common methodology to assess recyclability based on solid scientific results. It must be a dynamic to include any improvements in sorting and recycling technologies as well as new outlets for recycled material. How to put this approach into practice? That is where RecyClass comes into play – a cross-industry initiative, led by recyclers, converters, brand owners, raw material producers and waste management companies, working on advancing plastic packaging recyclability and uptake of recyclates. RecyClass is based on scientifically elaborated Design for RecyPaolo Glerean cling Guidelines where findings from

laboratory testing of a product or new technology in a recycling process are used to continuously update these documents. These guidelines grant recyclability certification. Once the package is recyclable it can be used in high-end applications. Following that logic, RecyClass developed a scheme to track use of recyclates to boost trust in the use of recycled. It is based on a chain-of-custody concept to allow for coherent monitoring of shares of recycled materials and their origin. There is no future for plastics without plastics recycling which must be based on high-quality input materials. The way forward for the industry is to re-design plastics by applying science-based tools. This means that any innovative packaging must be tested before being placed on the market. Encouraging innovation while ensuring compatibility with recycling will build a reliable circular economy where recycled plastic is used for the same applications as primary plastic. A harmonized, factual approach would ensure the credibility of the environmental claims for plastic products and the credibility of the plastics industry while creating a level playing field for recycled plastics. In line with that RecyClass works on harmonizing recyclability definition, design-forrecycling guidelines, recyclability assessment methodologies and recycled content calculation methods.



ne of the immediate roadblocks to polyolefin packaging circularity is the disconnect between available recyclates and the demands of the end markets. This is true for both quality and quantity. The variety in collection and sorting infrastructure is a clear roadblock to large-scale recycling of polyolefin waste streams and generation of high quality secondary raw materials. Greater implementation of design for recycling is also vital to improving quality of the recyclates. On top of which there is already a significant gap between the quantity of post-consumer polyolefin packaging collected (c.12.5MT in 2019) and the current installed recycling capacity in Europe of just c.4.5MT (when operating at 100% capacity) for all polyolefins. That is why PCEP has called on the European Union, member states and all economic actors to use the €1.8 trillion pandemic recovery package to invest in forward-looking infrastructure that will accelerate the transition to circularity. At PCEP, the entire value chain is collaborating to transform the polyolefin system from one designed to collect for disposal, into one that collects to keep. Collaboration throughout the polyolefin value chain is vital if we are to achieve our goal of systemic transformation. We need transformative action based on three principles: designing out waste; keeping products and materials in use; and increasing the volumes of polyolefins recycled into high-quality new raw materials. All of which requires a supportive enabling policy framework. A priority area that PCEP is actively working to address is the use of recyclates to establish circularity for food contact and similarly sensitive applications such as cosmetics and personal care packaging. The legal framework needs to evolve to support all recycling technologies, and the

value chain needs to establish the scientific basis for evaluating the safety of recycled polyolefins. Another important aspect of circularity for polyolefins is to explore and evaluate the business models, infrastructure needs and environmental impacts of reusable and refillable packaging. Finally, it is key that we bring players from across all packaging types together, to ensure that the new, transformed system works for everyn one involved.

Venetia Spencer Packaging Europe | 9 |

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BACK TO BASICS – AND GRASPING THE FUTURE When, in March 2020, we last chatted to Smurfit Kappa about its sustainability strategies, perhaps neither the interviewer nor the interviewee fully appreciated quite how profoundly the pandemic would impact on everyone’s activities – nor how long it would last. Around the anniversary of the first European lockdowns Tim Sykes catches up with Arco Berkenbosch (VP Innovation & Development) to review how the market has changed since then and the progress made on the backdrop of Covid.


Packaging Europe has reported extensively over the last two years, ‘Better Planet Packaging’ was introduced as an initiative to create a concrete agenda associated with innovation projects to develop paper-based packaging solutions that are designed to be recyclable and are recycled, and it has continued by supporting the culture of sustainability throughout Smurfit Kappa. Have the conditions of the pandemic slowed down the transformation envisaged by the corrugated packaging giant? “There are two sides to every coin,” Arco Berkenbosch observes. “We do miss physical meetings but the virtual world opens up lots of opportunities to collaborate with brands, customers and suppliers. For example, without the travel it’s much easier to set up a half-hour meeting. And in the past we were happy to have 500 participants at customer events, whereas recently we held a virtual Better Planet Packaging event and 2700 people turned up. Overall, the pandemic has been challenging but it hasn’t prevented Better Planet Packaging from having a lot of impact. We’ve already implemented over 140 solutions replacing unsustainable packaging.” Among the more interesting recent launches are new portfolios addressing sustainable packaging demands for e-commerce (the explosion of which we’ll discuss later). At the start of 2021 Smurfit Kappa introduced a range of single and multi-bottle formats for beverages. The business has also been investing heavily in bag-in-box – which Arco describes as “todays ideal sustainable e-commerce packaging format for liquids,” considering that, for instance, Amazon certification requires that a package must survive as many as 17 drops. Indeed, in April Smurfit Kappa unveiled a general Amazon Frustration Free Packaging certified three-litre Bag-in-Box for several SKU’s. A first for a generic packaging design, this pre-certification could be a game-changer for producers, who can avoid time-consuming testing in ISTA-certified laboratories by opting for an off-the-shelf product. In addition, a first high-speed packing line for TopClip can multipack toppers is being installed, and an equivalent solution for PET applications is in the pipeline. At a more fundamental level, Smurfit Kappa is continuing to put a lot of research into recyclable coatings, with a particular focus on moisture protection to extend the use of paper-based recyclable packaging.

Arco Berkenbosch

Considering the FMCG landscape overall, I wonder whether we can detect any subtle shifts in the sustainability priorities we’ve been following in recent years, particularly the pressure to embrace alternatives to single-use plastics. In Arco’s view, there has been a change but maybe not in the bigger picture. “Sustainability is for most of us a more mid-term challenge – you don’t care so much about it if your short-term challenge is to prevent your family from hunger,” he says. “This principle also applies during the pandemic, with a greater emphasis on food safety vs recyclability relative to before. Perhaps we’ve seen a bit more emphasis on the low-hanging fruit over the last year, with people for example more reluctant

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Smurfit Kappa’s new, Amazon-pre-certified bag-in-box

to touch areas where there’s a tension between improving sustainability of packaging and food safety. However, looking at longer term values, there’s the ‘build back better’ trend (exemplified by governments setting greening conditions for rescuing airlines). There’s a shared sense that Covid itself is linked to the environmental vulnerability of our planet. So sustainability is still very much on the agenda and the number of sustainability projects certainly isn’t decreasing. In addition, there has maybe also been a slight power shift away from companies and towards governments, and perhaps that has elevated climate change to be on a par with packaging waste as a priority.”

E-corrugated For some time sustainability and e-commerce have been the two biggest market drivers for Smurfit Kappa. As readers know, the e-commerce trend accelerated dramatically over the last year, with Smurfit Kappa seeing some double-digit growth thanks to consumers’ reliance of click-and-collect and home delivery channels at a time of social distancing. Within this picture, however, the demands on packaging are more mixed. For example, turnover in the food segment is high but the role of retailers in delivering orders has, broadly speaking, not dramatically impacted on packaging. On the other hand, the alcoholic beverages market has lost festivals, pubs, etc. as a channel, and so e-commerce has become incredibly important for the segment – but it’s also one of the most challenging products to ship. So have we seen an upsurge in e-commerce packaging innovation to match the growth in the market? “Over the last year, the challenges around

e-commerce have often been more mundane than you’d expect,” Arco suggests. “Everyone has faced huge challenges around meeting the peaks of demand around material supply, meanwhile, you might be surprised how much of the packaging stays the same. I’m an innovation guy, so this may sound off-message, but it’s useful to remember that 70% of e-commerce packaging is still done in a box that was designed in 1917. For the market over the last year the first priority has been simply to get hold of a box and shipping it to the consumer on time and with the product intact. The story of Covid has to an extent been about going back to basics: securing materials and transportation. Brands had to adapt fast, taking ‘emergency action’ to find new channels, often relying on existing entities such as contract packers (who have probably had a very good year). Maybe that shifts the balance away from product innovation and creativity more towards supply chain innovation – but after this first wave of growth, there will be a second wave when the market can pay attention to packaging optimisation, consumer experience, unboxing, etc.” This is not to imply that product innovation has taken a backseat altogether, as the e-commerce-orientated product launches mentioned above exemplify. According to Arco, one of the keys to bringing innovation to market in challenging conditions is adopting an agile ‘launch and refine’ approach. “Big brands have huge R&D departments that rigorously test new formats over several months before bringing them to the market,” he says. “While it’s commercially attractive to go with big volumes right away, we prefer to launch a product faster and on a small scale, learn from it, refine it, and quickly bring out a better version.” Applying this model when launching TopClip with Budvar

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The eFashion open Roller by Smurfit Kappa

in a single domestic market, for instance, and gathering its learnings on small scale, arguably enabled Smurfit Kappa to perfect the format faster than would have been possible had it initially partnered with a much larger brand. However, perhaps more interesting than product innovation is Smurfit Kappa’s more strategic thinking about the omnichannel ecosystem. The business has been spending time examining opportunities such as more agile automation, and working with customers to devise forward-looking packing lines to serve all channels, Arco reveals. Making advances around the logistics of omnichannel, creating flexible formats such as different case count permutations in the same box, machinery that can handle different box dimensions, should be high on the e-tailer’s and brand owners agenda, according to Arco. “The overarching trend today is increasing diversity,” he says. “While e-commerce is growing fast, at the same time the big retailers are still there, the discounters are still there. So it’s very important to have the agility to switch from one supply chain or one project to another, and this is a huge driver of innovation.” Arco suggests a brand should be asking itself strategic questions about how to achieve flexibility with the greatest efficiency and speed of implementation. For instance, when is the optimal point to insert customisation? – The later you go from generic to customised, the more flexibility you have to serve different supply chains. (As such, Smurfit Kappa is exploring customisation within its own production and will be investing more heavily

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“E-commerce challenges have been more mundane than you’d expect… 70% of e-commerce packaging is still done in a box that was designed in 1917.” in digital print.) To take another example, would it enable greater flexibility to have four lines packing 5000 cases per hour instead of one line with a throughput of 20,000?

Post-Covid landscapes If the pandemic has accelerated change, what can we expect from the new normal as society opens up again? While e-commerce will continue to grow and (in the corrugated context) we might have already seen the apex of the shelf-ready packaging and of the rise of the white box, Arco doesn’t envisage the ongoing growth of e-commerce as an absolute shift away from retailers to brands. “Most big brands expect a retailer to still be in between them and the consumer,” he says. “With their infrastructure and their network of stores – which are essentially big warehouses – the big retailers are well placed to adapt to a hybrid world of physical and digital shopping. The balance will change, and physical retail needs to reinvent itself: consumers probably don’t want to walk around a large store for their regular stock-up. I think we’re also seeing a more permanent shift to e-commerce for non-food retailers. This raises questions

Smurfit Kappa’s recent e-commerce solution for bottles

about whether hypermarkets will survive: do we really need a store where you can buy everything? That concept was already losing market share before the pandemic, and seems particularly unsuitable to the hybrid world.” The coming years will be fascinating as the most viable channels for particular types of consumption begin to emerge, and e-commerce maximalism isn’t the inevitable destination. Arco speculates that for certain markets the amount of buffering and overpacking currently required suggests there is scope for more cost-effective delivery models: perhaps not drones and AI robots, but a preference for models such as self-collection. Similarly, we are seeing capability for ever faster delivery times in certain supply chains – but how quickly do we really need basic everyday products? Ultimately, according to Arco, the omnichannel challenge is about making it easy to do business. “Providing convenience will be the big driver: how easy is it to order online, how easy to return?” he concludes. “The key to the postCovid world will be managing the complexity this convenience creates for the supply chain. In packaging the ones who can manage complexity in a cost-effective way will prosper. Because the complexity is here to stay.” n

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Are concerns about the transmission of Covid via reusable packaging justified – or have the risks been overstated? Fin Slater spoke with John Hocevar, Oceans Campaign Director at Greenpeace USA, about why his organization and many others believe the latter is closer to the truth.


it has with countless other aspects of modern society, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic seemed to put the brakes on the rise of one of the industry’s most promising emerging channels: reusable packaging models. At the start of the pandemic, amidst a flurry of panic-driven and difficultto-verify stories, news items began to emerge about the potential of the virus to be transmitted via surfaces – raising obvious questions about the safety of reuse models. Since then, public health bodies such as the FDA and WHO have determined that the chances of transmission via surfaces are low – especially considering the rigorous sterilization processes that reuse systems undergo. In light of this, Greenpeace, along with over 125 health experts from 19 countries, signed a statement assuring retailers and consumers that reusa| 16 | Packaging Europe

bles are safe during Covid-19, pushing back on claims made by some parts of the plastics industry. Here’s what John Hocevar had to tell Fin Slater about this statement and its arguments on the effects that the virus has (or hasn’t) had on reuse:

FS: To give us some context, could you talk a bit about the state of the reuse market pre-Covid?

JH: Before Covid, we were seeing corporations form partnerships with reuse experts, and introduce pilots to start gauging customer interest. There was a proliferation of entrepreneurial start-ups, employing a range of approaches to meet most needs. Demand for reuse was growing, particularly among young people.

FS: Broadly speaking, what effect has Covid had on reuse models? JH: Covid caused temporary delays in the expansion of reuse models. The biggest challenge was simply that retailers and other public-facing businesses had to prioritize keeping their employees and customers safe, and that took up a lot of time. Additionally, some companies that had planned to introduce reuse programmes in 2020 put them on hold until there was more widespread understanding that single-use was not inherently safer than reuse. We are already seeing a resurgence in companies shifting toward reuse and refill to pick up where they left off before the pandemic.

FS: What steps are companies involved in reuse models taking to ensure that they are safe for consumers? JH: Reuse models always had to be designed with safety in mind, so Covid hasn’t changed things too much in terms of what is required to keep people safe. That said, it has become more important to demonstrate to customers that these approaches are safe. This has favoured contact-free models, and led to the use of more visible explanations of the processes involved.

FS: For obvious reasons, e-commerce has become more prevalent while footfall in physical stores has been declining. How has this affected the reuse market? JH: The growth in e-commerce has caused an accompanying surge in shipping waste, from boxes to plastic pouches and packing material. At the same time, it has created new opportunities for reuse. As more and more people grow uncomfortable with the amount of throwaway packaging piling up in their homes, they are looking to e-commerce for solutions. There are now popular reuse options available for a wide range of products, and e-commerce makes it easy for people to find them even if they are not yet stocked in their local supermarket or drugstore.

FS: Looking forward, how do you think Covid-19 will change reuse in the long-term? JH: In the long-term, I think we will view the Covid pandemic as a significant but temporary delay in the inevitable shift away from throwaway packaging. It has also been an awakening for many people to the growing threat of singleuse plastic packaging as more people were forced to use throwaway bags or carry out items that they otherwise have avoided for years.

FS: There have been calls from some sectors to halt legislation regarding single-use packaging in light of Covid – what are your thoughts on this?

FS: How can we scale up reuse models and make them more widespread?

JH: Plastic industry associations worked hard to exploit people’s fears

JH: It is already happening, but we need to pick up the pace and think a

about Covid, and tried to convince policy makers and the general public that reusables were dirty and dangerous, and that single-use plastic was needed to keep us safe. This was not in line with the best available science, and distracted attention from where health experts said we needed to focus. As understanding of how the virus spreads grew, things started to get back on track. Most pauses or delays of single-use plastic restrictions have since been reversed, and many new policies are now being introduced. As health experts all over the world have stated, it is clear that reusable systems can be used safely.

bit bigger. So far, the leadership on reuse is coming from entrepreneurs. There are hundreds of companies featuring reuse models, and retailers and consumer goods and food service companies are starting to seek them out. As corporations begin to realize it will not be possible to satisfy customers by focusing on recycling, we expect investment in reuse systems to continue to grow. In addition, policy can be a very powerful tool to help scale up reuse models, in part by developing infrastructure in support of reuse. Policy – including Extended Producer Responsibility approaches – can also play an n important role in incentivizing reuse. Packaging Europe | 17 |


Inspection systems play a crucial role in keeping consumers safe, as product contamination can cause harm and has the potential to result in high costs and damage to brands. Elisabeth Skoda looks at recent developments and explores the role AI can play to make inspection systems more efficient.

A proactive approach Different types of inspection systems, whether it’s vision inspection, metal detecting or X-ray systems, face a range of challenges and have to find a balance between precision and false rejects. Smart technologies have increasingly been used in inspection technology not just to identify contaminants, but also to improve efficiency, compliance and profitability. In the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), everything that can be connected will be connected, points out Phil Brown, Managing Director of Fortress Technology Europe and Sparc Systems. Knitting together the extraction of data and bridging the gap between machines and humans to help predict rather than react to all types of production scenarios. Advanced new systems with data collection and paperless test routines are becoming more prevalent. “Manufacturers might opt for a combination metal detector and checkweigher capable of pre-configuring every test by retailer code of practice and product being inspected. As demonstrated by the Raptor series recently launched by Fortress and Sparc, integrated sensors can confirm when a check has been conducted, generating a dated digital due diligence report that is signed by the operative on the screen for full transparency,” Mr Brown adds. | 18 | Packaging Europe

In food inspection, the quantity of data tags is fairly small. Yet, this makes it easier to automate the identification of meaningful patterns. When timeseries granular data is monitored side by side across a fleet of machines 24/7, it provides production managers with the level of production oversight previously unattainable. “Robust communication must be the starting point of any good digital transformation program. We recently launched a new suite of connectivity software. Comprising turnkey packages like Contact Reporter and Contact Manager, the Industry 4:0-ready package also gives factories a choice in networked data retrieval technologies – including OPC/UA Adapter and Ethernet/IP Adapter – to facilitate real-time end-to-end production visibility and enhanced Quality Assurance and due diligence,” says Mr Brown.

A software-driven approach This year, Fortress Technology Europe and Sparc Systems are set to launch a system that combines two technologies – X-ray and metal detection – to provide a more failsafe inspection solution in line with digital transformation. “Sparc engineers have conceived a software-driven solution for inspecting dual density products with an X-ray. The software uses two algorithms

working side by side to inspect denser areas of a product, such as bread crust, and the less dense centre. This same technology is now being applied to a compact integrated metal detector-X-ray system. Operating side by side, two inspection heads are mounted on one conveyor and operated by a single touchscreen, sharing electronics, controls, and a reject mechanism.”

“When we started development in 2017, AI was already used in many domains, so why not apply it to pharmaceutical inspection? One of the main challenges consisted of transferring this type of application to very complex pharmaceutical processes and developing suitable implementation and validation concepts for this strictly regulated industry. Together with Amgen,

Boosting accessibility

“Knitting together the extraction of data and bridging the gap between machines and humans to help predict rather than react to all types of production scenarios.”

Neil Sandhu, SICK’s UK Product Manager for Imaging, Measurement and Ranging, has observed developments towards greater accessibility in inspection technology. “We have seen an explosion in ease of use that has hugely broadened the accessibility of machine vision systems to packaging operators, opening up so much more scope for them to automate quality inspection and process control tasks. Advancements in processing technology have enabled massive amounts of power to be packed into ever-more compact and affordable, programmable vision sensors. Only a few years ago, 3D was still feared as a ‘black art’ only to be attempted by seasoned experts, while 2D systems still needed a lot of time and cost to configure and commission. Now many 2D solutions are ‘plug and play’ and even creating something bespoke is straightforward using just a webbrowser dashboard, and without the need for programming skills.” Machine vision hardware has become smaller, more powerful and more robust, but the real advances have come from the software, he adds. “Development platforms like SICK’s AppSpace aimed at making it as quick and simple as possible to configure a machine vision solution – no matter whether you are an experienced machine-builder or a novice end-user.”

Using AI in pharmaceutical inspection Syntegon recently installed the first fully validated visual inspection system utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI) in an automated inspection machine in collaboration with biotechnology company Amgen. The AI utilizes deep learning algorithms which are capable of accurately identifying recurring patterns and deviations.

we were able to install the first fully validated visual inspection system utilizing AI in an automated inspection machine in 2020,” says Dr José Zanardi, responsible for vision inspection development and applications at Syntegon. The AI-based system resulted in both an increase of particle detection rates and a reduction in false detection rates, he explains. “Amgen uses the system to reliably distinguish pesky air bubbles at the syringe’s rubber stopper from foreign particles, where conventional vision technology may misidentify. Syntegon’s AI-based vision system was able to increase the particle detection rate by 70%, while reducing the false detection rate by 60% (average values in a particular inspection station).” Dr Zanardi points out that there are a few points to bear in mind when it comes to using AI within inspection systems. “A decisive factor is courage. The pharmaceutical industry is known for its conservative approach to innovation, due to the very strict regulatory guidelines for process validation – overall a highly positive attribute since the manufactured products have a direct impact on the health and safety of patients. Inspection technology experts can easily perform the required upgrades for visual inspection usage. However, there is one crucial point that must be considered to enable validation: in contrast to Packaging Europe | 19 |

“Where it has previously been very challenging to achieve consistently robust and repeatable quality inspections, for example when packaging naturally-grown produce, they can now be mastered with high levels of reliability and availability.”

many other industries, the neural network must be ‘frozen’ for application in pharmaceutical use once its training phase is finalized. It must be fixed and internal parameters are no longer able to change to make it versioncontrolled for validation.”

Deep learning in vision inspection Mr Sandhu points out the potential of deep learning when it comes to new developments in inspection technology. The SICK Intelligent Inspection Deep Learning App runs on SICK’s newly launched InspectorP621 2D programmable vision camera. By embedding the Intelligent Inspection App onto SICK’s InspectorP621 deep learning camera, SICK can offer a ready-made package that uses artificial intelligence to run complex vision inspections. “Where it has previously been very challenging to achieve consistently robust and repeatable quality inspections, for example when packaging naturally-grown produce, they can now be mastered with high levels of reliability and availability. Automation is therefore now practical and affordable for complex imaging tasks such as sorting fruit and vegetables or checking that flow wrapping is correctly sealed,” he adds. “The image inference is carried out directly on the device, so there is no need for an additional PC. As the system training is done in the Cloud, there is also no need for separate training hardware or software, saving on implementation time and cost.” | 20 | Packaging Europe

The app is set to be expanded to anomaly, detection and segmentation functions. “This will enable a product with a complex shape to be identified in a scene, or to be picked out from a random selection on a conveyor, for example to pick apples randomly placed on a conveyor but leave the pears,” says Mr Sandhu.

The future of AI Dr Zanardi sees great potential for AI and deep learning in inspection technology, and foresees it will be used more and more in facilities globally, and different inspection processes. “AI is especially advantageous in ‘Difficult to Inspect Products’ (DIP), i.e. products that pose a challenge to obtain satisfactory inspection results when inspected with traditional image processing techniques. Advantages include an increase in detection rates (i.e. defective products successfully assessed as defective) and a decrease in false reject rates (i.e. good products wrongfully assessed as defective). Achieving these two points simultaneously is a remarkable feature, which is made possible by utilizing AI. Syntegon are developing the AI solution further to implement it in other machine families in our portfolio in the near future. Fewer false rejects will make inspection more efficient. Hence, I am convinced that our project with Amgen is just the beginn ning of a very exciting journey,” he concludes.

ANNOUNCING THE SUSTAINABILITY AWARDS 2021 FINALISTS! Our jury of 46 global experts from across the value chain has concluded its first round of judging – which means it’s time to reveal the finalists in this year’s edition of the world’s most prestigious sustainable packaging innovation competition.


he 2021 Sustainability Awards have attracted more submissions (309) and greater diversity of innovation than ever before. The hive mind of the jury faced a challenging task narrowing down the entries to just four finalists for each category, with many very impressive pieces of R&D narrowly missing out. As in previous years, there was an overwhelming number of solutions dedicated to circularity and design for recyclability, and once again the Pre-Commercialized category gave a thrilling glimpse of the breadth of innovation looming on the horizon. Meanwhile, the newly introduced category focusing on sustainable packaging innovation for the rapidly growing e-commerce sector met with an encouragingly strong response. Packaging Europe will be sharing individual features on each of the finalists over the coming months, culminating in the Sustainability Awards ceremony when the winners are revealed at FachPack, Nuremberg, Germany on 29th September. In the meantime, without further ado, here is a snapshot of the finalists:

Driving the Circular Economy category •

• •

Eco-blister packaging for Universal Electronics - STI Group & Vlastuin CDI (Germany). Monomaterial paper-cardboard blister, replacing plastic while reducing overall packaging volume. Creating a Circular Economy for FGrPP - NEXTLOOPP (UK). Project producing food-grade recycled polypropylene to replace virgin PP. RecycleMe initiative - Reclay Group & Coca-Cola (Austria). Crossindustry app that incentivizes Austrian consumers to support closed-loop recovery. The Recyclable Enviroliner - Labelcraft Products (Canada). The world’s first label release liner made with 100% recycled paper.

Resource Efficiency category •

• •

BOPE solution for frozen food - Syntegon Packaging Solutions B.V. & SABIC (Netherlands). A packaging concept for the frozen food industry with a substantial material reduction potential. Dry Molded Fiber - PulPac AB (Sweden). Fibre-moulding technology that can replace single-use plastics. Dynamic Packaging Configuration X Big Data - HelloFresh (Germany). Predicting packaging consumption autonomously and dynamically to cut over-packaging. NIVEA NATURALLY GOOD Body Lotion - Beiersdorf and ALPLA (Germany). Thin, rollable bottle to minimise product waste and packaging footprint.

Machinery category • • • •

Digital sealing systems - watttron GmbH (Germany). Precise temperature control in sealing, enabling 30% energy reduction. Ecoshell - ACMA S.p.A. (Italy). Novel paper-based box format forming technology. Inspecta Be - Piovan Group (Italy). Bringing gas chromatography mass spectrometry inspection to the production line. Frugal Bottle Assembly Machine - Frugalpac (UK). The world’s first paper bottle machine.

Best Practice category • •

PageWide Technology Sustainability Impact - HP Inc. (Israel). Comprehensive print technology solution for circular economy in packaging lifecycle. MOSSUP - Searious Business (Netherlands / Morocco). Project to combat single-use plastic waste through Moroccan retailers. Packaging Europe | 21 |

PIP360 packaging innovation pathway to circularity - PAC Packaging Consortium (Canada). Online tool measuring packaging circularity, based on key physical and performance metrics. Use of 100% recycled glass - Gorilla Spirits (UK). Lightweighted and fully PCR-derived glass bottles.

Pre-Commercialized Innovation category • • • • •

CITRUSPACK - Aitiip Technology Centre (Spain). Jar & bottle made with citrus powder obtained after the citrus juice processing. CO2 Recycling. Mibelle Group - mifa ag (Switzerland). PET bottles using recycled carbon ethanol produced by bio-fermentation. COLUMBUS’ EGG - IUV L.l.c. (Italy). Biodegradable and edible coatings and films using food by-products. Eco-Tite R - Amcor (Switzerland). The first designed-for-recycling, PVdC-free shrink bag for meat and cheeses. Plastic Scanner - Jerry de Vos (Netherlands). An open-source NIR device that can identify 75% of all plastics used by consumers.

Recyclable Packaging category • • • •

All Smarties in paper packaging - Nestlé (Switzerland). Eliminating 250 million non-recyclable plastic packs. ElifProLite - Elif Plastik Ambalaj San. ve Tic. A.S (Turkey). Recyclable high barrier laminate solution. NEW PEEL - KOROZO FLEXIBLES (Turkey). Recyclable lidding film for PP meat trays. Roll ‘n’ Recycle Pouch - OF Packaging & Roll ‘n’ Recycle (Australia). High-barrier mono-PE pouch.


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E-Commerce category • • • •

Agro Ecomm Packaging - envoPAP (UK). Kraft E-Comm low-impact e-commerce packaging. - Avery Dennison (Netherlands). A platform that assigns unique digital IDs to items, providing end-to-end transparency. CMC Genesys - CMC SpA (Italy). Auto-packer directly connected to warehouse storage to automate perfect box sizing. RENEW - GCR GROUP and PREGIS (Netherlands). Air cushions with 50% PCR content for e-commerce packaging.

Bio-Based Packaging category • •

• • •

Discover Fibers365 - Fibers365 GmbH (Germany). Recovering functional, carbon negative, virgin fibres. Sundae cup and cold cup lid - Huhtamaki and McDonald’s (France). Fibre-based beverage and sundae cups to replace existing PS and PET packaging. Film made from agri-waste - Mi Terro (USA). Ocean degradable and home compostable flexible packaging created from agricultural waste. Field & Trial Earthpouch - Skinner’s (United Kingdom). Dog food packaged in a bio-based, compostable pouch. Water-soluble resin - Timeplast (USA). Programmable, water-soluble, bio-based resin substitute for polyolefins in single-use applications.

N.B. the four highest-scoring submissions in each category after the first round of judging are selected as finalists. In two categories this year n we have five finalists, because there was a tie in fourth place.



PACKAGING TREND FOCUS: A LOOK AT THE 2021 REFILL LANDSCAPE In the second of a series of articles looking at ThePackHub’s Global Packaging Trends Compendium, Paul Jenkins, Managing Director, ThePackHub, takes a look at the subject of refills.


he Global Packaging Trends Compendium 2021 details more than 550 packaging innovations and is grouped into nine trends. ‘Refill Revolution’ is one of the trend areas that is exhibiting strong growth. Despite potential disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, reusable and refillable packaging examples have increased in occurrence, notably over the last 18 months as brands, retailers and suppliers look at ways of reducing single-use and difficult to recycle packaging. Sectors such as dry food, household products and personal care are leading the way by making the most initial ground to transition to refillable and reusable packaging models. The majority of the in-store examples coming to market are at the small trial and pilot stage, with refillable packaging systems set up in a handful of test stores. Major retail chains are testing the water with a small number of initiatives in outlets. However, cosmetics, skincare and perfume retailer The Body Shop is bucking this trend and scaling up their trial operations.

Refillable scheme starts global roll out Following successful trials in two of its concept stores, The Body Shop is rolling out its refill and recycle scheme across the globe. The initial trial, started in 2019, was launched in Bond Street, London, and Vancouver’s Pacific Centre store. The extended launch will start in France, across 47 stores, and will extend to 400 stores worldwide by the end of 2021. The Body Shop plans to

Starbucks ‘Borrow a Cup’ scheme

Paul Jenkins

have refill stations in all of its stores by 2026. The scheme works by shoppers being given a 250ml aluminium bottle, then choosing from a selection of products, including shower gels, shampoos, conditioners and soaps. Once the product has been used, the customer cleans the bottle themselves and returns it to the store for a refill. The number of refill stations will vary depending on the size of the store but is expected to be between six and 12 per outlet.

Gable-top carton refill pack for soap launched Norwegian home and personal care manufacturer Orkla has collaborated with Elopak to produce a sustainable refill pack for its Klar laundry detergent and liquid soap products. The new board-based carton, called D-PAK, is a move by Orkla to help consumers reduce the amount of plastic generated in the waste stream. The gable-top carton is made from renewable materials and is said to be suitable for recycling with other board products such as milk cartons and newspapers. A trial has been conducted with selected retailers and online purchasers. Consumer feedback has been positive, with reports that refilling is easy and convenient. Consumers need to pour from the carton into the original plastic container. It is said that the new pack is more efficient through the supply chain, as it saves weight and is also more cost-effective by volume. A label over the cap is added to alert the consumer that the pack’s contents are not for consumption.

Upcircle sustainable skincare

Packaging Europe | 23 |

Return and refill scheme aims to reduce carbon footprint Upcircle, a ‘by-product’ sustainable skincare brand based in London, is launching a new return and refill scheme to help reduce its carbon footprint. The company repurposes waste materials, such as coffee grounds from London coffee shops along with other waste products such as fruit stones, argan, olives, juice and tea. Ninety-nine per cent of the company’s current packaging is already plastic-free, being made from easily recycled board, glass and aluminium and now the remaining 1% can now also be recycled. Customers will be able to return their cleaned, empty packaging free of charge, which will

then be sterilized, refilled and returned to customers. As part of the scheme, the shopper will receive a 20% discount on the original price. Upcircle also has an in-store set up where customers can bring in their packs to be refilled from bulk containers.

Reusable cup trial starts coffee chain trial Coffee shop heavyweights Starbucks are trialling a new reusable cup programme called ‘Borrow a Cup’ in five Seattle stores for two months. The aim is to reduce single-use cup waste. The customer requests a reusable cup and pays a $1 deposit. When the drink is finished, it can then be scanned at a participating store’s collection point, and once the cup’s return has been confirmed the $1 is refunded along with 10 bonus points that are added to the customer’s account. The cups are then taken away and commercially cleaned and sanitized. The cups are ready for reuse within 48 hours. The expected number of reuses for each cup is 30 times before they are recycled. The initiative is part of Starbucks’ aim to reduce waste by 50% by 2030. The Refill Revolution trend is anticipated to maintain its growth trajectory. Brands and retailers will continue to develop refillable and reusable solutions to meet their sustainability objectives as the sector becomes more normalized. The 2021 Global Packaging Trends Compendium comprises nine new packaging trends. It features a comprehensive assessment of more than 550 packaging innovations. It also includes the interviews of 16 industry experts from around the world, featuring packaging experts from the likes of Mars Wrigley, Mondelez, Ocado, as well as Tim Sykes, Brand Director at n Packaging Europe. More information here:

Klar sustainable refill packs

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IK INTERVIEW: THE INSIDER PERSPECTIVE ON PLASTIC PACKAGING In the context of the ongoing debate about plastics packaging and sustainability, Elisabeth Skoda discusses recycling and recyclate goals and challenges, bioplastics, consumer behaviour and much more with Dr Isabell Schmidt, the managing director at IK, the German plastic packaging industry association. Dr Isabell Schmidt

ES: The European strategy for plastics has set a target to use 10 million tonnes of recycled plastics in the EU by 2025. This includes all plastic, not just packaging. In this context, IK has set the target to use 1 million tonnes of recyclate in plastic packaging by 2025. How far along is IK in this goal?

IS: Yes, 1 million tonnes of recyclates by 2025 is an ambitious target, starting from 400,000 tonnes in 2017. This is pretty much in line with the European Commission’s goal to use 10 million tonnes of recyclates in plastic products so it comes to approximately 22 per cent of the production volume. This year we have monitored our progress and the amount of recycled materials used has increased by 75,000 tonnes. At the same time, the use of virgin plastic material has decreased by about 2% so that’s a remarkable reversal of trends. ES: What are the particular challenges when it comes to meeting IK’s 2025 targets, e.g. for the food industry and also non-food industries. What innovations have you observed to tackle these?

IS: Clearly, we still have to triple the amount of post-consumer recyclates. Large parts of the plastic packaging market are for sensitive goods: around 44% is food packaging but also cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, dangerous goods etc. For those goods we can only use raw materials of very high purity grades which makes it very challenging to use recyclates. One solution is to use barriers: silicon oxide can be used as a barrier so the food is not in direct contact with the recyclate. Otherwise, recyclate coming from PET beverage bottles can be used in direct contact with food.

As for the other markets where it’s easier to use recyclates, the main obstacles are still the supply of large enough quantities and also of consistent quality for processing. Very high quality recyclates are still scarce and converters have to deal with machines running slower as well as impaired aesthetics like lack of transparency. But we are seeing a lot of innovation in packaging design with regard to better recyclability and increased recycled content. For example, we have multilayer packaging that is designed in a way that allows for recycling of all layers all together. We see juice bottles using silicon oxide instead of polyamide as a barrier against oxygen. We see paint buckets and bottles for household cleaners with high content of recycled materials that remain attractive for end users. However, these innovations are not always successful on the market because they often cost more. Another barrier is on the customer side: there is still a certain lack of acceptance, for example because of the greyish colour of most recyclates compared to virgin. Last but not least, recyclates have to be come more competitive in relation to virgin plastics.

ES: So you haven’t observed a bigger uptake from consumers in view of the recent plastic debate? Do you think consumers often say they want one thing but actually what they buy is different?

IS: At the moment what sells best is the claim of less plastics and this is hampering recyclability because we are seeing an increase of paper based laminate. This is not recyclable but it is advertised with the claim that it uses up to 80% less plastics so that makes it more difficult to advertise packaging that uses recyclates. This is something that brand owners need Packaging Europe | 25 |

to work on. After all, our members are the producers of packaging and they sell to brand owners whose job it then is to advertise this packaging on the market in the correct way.

ES: On that note, what are your thoughts on the EU Plastic Pact and its goals?

to boost the collection of high value recyclate as well as increase the recyclate share in plastics?

IS: This is an initiative in which governments and private companies work together to achieve certain targets around recyclability, use of recycled content and also plastic packaging reduction. In principle we welcome it when organizations set ambitious voluntary targets but I must say that plastic reduction targets are moving things in the wrong direction. Materials savings are happening naturally on the market driven by technological progress and by cost savings. Raw material prices are the greatest cost driver in the production of packaging and since the 1990s we have observed an average weight decrease of 25%. Now, if we have reduction targets that go beyond this we risk running counter to recyclability and could encourage the increase of non-recyclable laminated paper packaging. Furthermore, the Plastic Pact targets might be feasible for some companies but not for the plastics packaging market as a whole. I’m talking here about the target of 30% recycled content by 2025. That is not realistic for the whole market and it is raising false expectation. This is why we made the decision not to sign the Plastics Pact.

IS: We follow a twofold strategy: better design of recycled plastic packaging

ES: On a slightly different note, what is your stance on bioplastics in the

and also better cooperation with the supply chain. The core competence of the packaging manufacturers is really the development of new packaging design with the aim of a) of better recyclability and b) higher uptake of recycled materials. IK has joined the Circular Plastics Alliance in order to work with the whole supply chain. We are also engaged in responsible lobbying with the aim of increasing separate collection. We strive for harmonization and also support EPR schemes. What we are clearly against is national plastic taxes that are currently being introduced by some member states like Italy, Spain and the UK. This is hindering investment in the circular economy because it’s disrupting the single market in the EU. Most of all, reliable framework conditions are needed to stimulate investment.

wider sense of the word?

ES: You mentioned that virgin plastics are also very cheap and that is a problem for the recyclates market. What steps would you say can be taken to counterbalance this?

IS: We need to increase economies of scale and profitability in the recycling market. So for example we need harmonization and design for recycling. In many EU member states we also still need separate collection for recycling and to phase out landfill much quicker than the Commission is aiming for. Finally, we need financial incentives for the use of recyclates. All this can really help to foster investment in the whole supply chain. ES: What measures does the German plastic packaging industry take

| 26 | Packaging Europe

IS: First, we have to distinguish between biobased plastics and biodegradable plastics as they are not the same. We have standard polymers like polyethylene that is made from plants instead of crude oil but still not biodegradable in nature – so-called ‘drop-in’ solutions. They can make sense because they can be recycled together with packaging waste but clearly we have to watch carefully how these plant-based feedstocks are grown because then there can be conflicts around land-use and so on. When it comes to biodegradable plastics, they do not make sense in terms of recycling because they actively hinder it. They might, however,

make sense in very specific applications such as agricultural films where it is actually of real benefit to incorporate biodegradation.

ES: How has the Covid-19 pandemic influenced attitudes towards plastic

helps to reduce the carbon footprint of the packaged products by avoiding spoilage. If CO2 reduction was used as a market-based legal instrument it would create fair competition on the market for low carbon solutions.

packaging and what role have plastics played to help fight the pandemic?

ES: Finally, playing Devil’s Advocate for a moment, what would you say

IS: The functions of the packaging are coming back into consciousness:

of the criticism that plastic packaging can be an enabler of unsustainable consumption for the sake of convenience?

first and foremost the role of packaging as a hygienic protector of food but also, for example, for pharmaceutical supply chain security. In modern supply chains plastic packaging is essential for the protection of food, medicines and other sensitive goods. This does not mean that criticism of packaging – particularly plastics – has completely disappeared but the benefits of packaging are definitely being seen again. During the pandemic there has of course been enormous demand for plastics for products such as handsanitisers, to give just one example.

ES: What has the general impact of the Covid-19 pandemic been on your members?

IS: Some struggled, some benefited. Some manufacturers of system relevant packaging for food and pharma etc. actually reached capacity limits while others, such as suppliers to the automotive industry and restaurants were confronted with a significant slump in demand. But our members in the industrial sector are now reporting a recovery.

IS: It’s true there are still many applications where the use of plastics is unnecessary, but first and foremost when used correctly plastic packaging is an enabler of sustainable consumption because it protects products from spoilage. As to whether an individual product is needed, there is no general answer to that question. Do we need pre-cut salad, for instance? Ask that question to someone who lacks time because he or she has to juggle work and childcare and many other things besides. For many, convenience means saving time and it’s difficult to judge people who are using products for this reason. We have to be realistic and accept that lifestyles will not change and environmental impacts will not become any lower if, for example, we substitute plastics with aluminium or coated paper. Instead, we need better collection and recycling of packaging, especially in public spaces, and plastic can be a great solution because it can also facilitate reuse models such as on-the-go n consumption and home delivery.

ES: Has there been a greater focus on CO2 emissions when it comes to the plastic packaging debate as the climate crisis comes increasingly to the forefront?

IS: I would certainly appreciate if it was given greater attention than plastics. Of course, no packaging materials is CO2-neutral but packaging Packaging Europe | 27 |

PRINTING TECH: THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION CONTINUES How far along the road of digital transformation has the printing industry come? Victoria Hattersley takes a look at the current digital printing landscape and gets some insights from Rob Day, CEO of Tonejet – a company with a strong focus on digital printing solutions for the craft beverage industry.


e’ve heard it said many times by industry experts that, in order for digital to truly take over from conventional printing, there needs to be a ‘tipping point’ in terms of their relative cost-effectiveness. Are we at that stage? In some respects, it depends upon which segment you are looking at. Let’s take the view from just one growing niche segment as an example – craft beverages. “We have reached that point in the craft beer industry, undoubtedly,” says Rob Day. “The mass market brands will continue to use high speed offset printing for the foreseeable future, but they will be pulled into greater use of digital printing as mass customization (special packs for sports events, festivals and other targeted marketing) becomes normal.”

‘So much more agile’ The increased uptake of digital print in recent years has, as we’re all aware, given converters and brand owners far more versatility when it comes to design and meeting short-run demands. According to a Smithers Pira report, ‘The Future of Digital vs Offset Printing to 2024’, the total market output of digital print has risen to 17.4% in 2019 compared to 13.5% in 2014. It further predicts that technical innovations and shifts in market demands will push its share to 21.% by 2024. “Digital offers brand owners the ability to print beverage cans on demand, with lead times measured in days or weeks,” says Rob Day. “Before digital, brands would need to forecast consumption, procure and store their cans several months ahead. Digital is so much more agile – brand owners save inventory, storage space and eliminate scrap (we hear many stories of brands over-ordering and having to scrap unused cans) and are able to keep up when demand exceeds expectations.” However, there are still practical challenges to be faced, not least of which is throughput. For example, “Offset decorators are integrated into beverage can manufacturing lines running at over 2000 cans per minute. Digital systems currently run at around 100 cpm.” That being said, we should no longer think of digital printing as being only suited for short-run projects – something which may have been the case in the past. UV inkjet technology can make it suitable for longer run jobs that before would only have been completed using conventional methods. Indeed, for many of its proponents, today’s inkjet solutions present the ideal technology, offering greater flexibility, faster printing speeds, enhanced image quality and, not least, the capability to print on a much wider variety of substrates. Going back to the craft beverage sector, for example, “inkjet is the only technology that is capable of printing directly onto the can surface, avoiding plastic labels,” says Rob Day. “The technology is new – it has been in commercial use for around a year – and will replace the use of plastic labels and sleeves which degrade the otherwise 100% recyclable aluminium can.”

Hybrid – ‘The best of both worlds’? Evolving consumer preferences are of course shaping the ways in which digital print services are developing, and will continue to develop in the future. And what we have been witnessing in recent years has been an increased demand for customization and a growing interest in niche segments. This trend will not | 28 | Packaging Europe

go away, as the growth of e-commerce has widened the field and given consumers a taste for greater choice and flexibility. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this as global lockdown situation have obliged even those consumers who wouldn’t generally shop online to think differently about their purchasing habits.

“Consumers will abandon traditional mass market brands unless those brands stay relevant.” “Consumers will abandon traditional mass market brands unless those brands stay relevant,” says Rob Day. “They’re no longer selling to huge demographic market segments – today their markets are built from thousands of niches. The product in the pack can be made much more appealing if it comes in a targeted pack design which feels more personal to the consumer. This is why Coca Cola and others run campaigns like ‘Open To Better’. Whether the can bears the consumer’s name, or is a special run for a football match, these packs can only be delivered if the can is decorated digitally.” Furthermore – and continuing the subject of customization and targeted design – it’s not always even a simple case of choosing between conventional and digital printing. In fact, many companies no longer see digital inkjet print-

ing, despite its many benefits, as the game-changer it once was; and furthermore, that there are still advantages to more traditional methods. Increasingly, therefore, we are hearing about the growing interest in hybrid presses which can combine elements of each approach to bring the ‘best of both worlds’: the scientific precision of digital with the creative capabilities of conventional. Today’s hybrid presses – which marry flexographic analogue printing with inkjet printing on a single production line – are becoming ever-smaller compared to larger industrial and conventional solutions, and therefore more accessible. As market demands change, companies that might previously for example have used only analogue techniques are now being obliged to adopt digital solutions. The option to use hybrid allows workflows to be managed differently which can help to make production more cost-effective – particularly important for smaller players.

Where next for digital? Where will the digital transformation of the printing industry take us next? Well, for one thing, the growing number of digital presses on the market has gone hand-in-hand with innovation at the substrate level. This necessitates that substrate suppliers work very closely with machinery manufacturers to ensure materials are optimized for the unique variables of each system, which is by no means a simple process and can take time to perfect. That being said, in future we can expect to see a wider range of possibilities for more complex substrates. Quite apart from the enthusiastic uptake of digital beverage can decoration which, as Rob Day says, “has moved from technology conference topic to commercial reality in just the last 18 months’, there Packaging Europe | 29 |

are also high-profile examples in recent years like the much-cited OwensIllinois solution for digital printing on glass. Furthermore, up to now we have focused mainly on the aesthetic and efficiency aspects of digital printing, but there is another important consideration: there are many ways in which digital printing can be employed for brand protection in the years to come. This will come to be ever-more important as the growth of e-commerce creates ever-more complex supply chains. “For example, pack ID encoded in the graphics (rather than as a barcode) is a promising technology that we can expect to become ubiq-

“The growing number of digital presses on the market has also gone hand-in-hand with innovation at the substrate level.”

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uitous,” says Rob Day. “It goes without saying that digital printing will be required to deliver this.” So while it is not quite correct to say that digital is the ‘holy grail’ for all use cases, the speed and efficiency of this technology is developing all the time and the latest machines are far more capable of dealing with a wider range of substrates. We’re not convinced that digital will come to replace conventional methods entirely – or at least not in the near-term – but along with hybrid machines, the range of options open to brand owners is greater n than ever before. It’s an exciting time for the industry.


Welcome to the first in an ongoing series in which Vincent Mooij, Director of SUEZ.circpack®, gives his take on some of the biggest challenges faced by the industry today on its journey towards circularity. Question: What would you say is the overall public perception of plastic packaging from an environmental perspective, and how should this be addressed?


have all been confronted with the upsetting videos of filled trucks illegally dumping waste in rivers. Social media shows very disturbing pictures of polluted beaches, images of a sea turtle with a plastic straw up its nose and birds caught in plastic trash. It does not make you proud to be working with plastic packaging. All this footage is continuously influencing the public perception. It has changed the general view on plastics and packaging. I would even dare to say it is changing perception on globalization and consumerism. All in all, not a good time for plastic packaging. The downsides are very real and happening and something needs to change. In a rearguard attempt to counter the negative perceptions of plastic packaging, the industry is always promoting the great benefits of plastics. And there indeed are plenty. Plastic is a great material. It’s cheap, it’s light, it provides different properties, reduces food waste and it’s durable. It’s an almost perfect material for packaging as it protects, promotes and preserves different products on their journey to the consumer. If plastics are such a great material, than why does this belief not resonate with the average consumer? The answer is simple: both sides are true. It just depends from which angle you look. With the rise of conspiracy theorists, rabbit-holes in social media and political differences, research shows

that a couple of things are essential for change: an intrinsic willingness to listen to arguments and acknowledgement of the views of the other person. Only if these basic pre-conditions are met can people find common ground to move from their position and work together to solve the issues. Now, how does this work with plastics? The packaging industry should first of all stop repeating their ‘mantra of plastic-goodness’ as a counter to the bad reputation. It does not stick and you are actually side-lining yourself. Instead, the industry should more than ever acknowledge the environmental issues plastics are causing. The second step would be to join forces on solving these issues. We know that in those countries where waste causes most of the environmental issues, the financing of the waste infrastructure is the biggest hurdle. It all starts with collection. Supporting and financing infrastructure for collection and proper treatment of waste would be a good start to really make a difference. We must actively support local governments to implement Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), or set it up together with the industry to ensure a level playing field in that country. Make sure that leakage into the environment stops. If the industry fails in stopping the pollution, local governments will start banning more and more products. In the end, the price brand owners will have n to pay will be the license to operate in these countries. It’s up to you! Packaging Europe | 31 |


In his second of his two On Second Thoughts… columns, Dominic Hogg, Director of Equanimator and former Chairman of Eunomia, moves on from his previous broad focus on global plastic pollution to look through a more EU-centric lens, asking: are current European EPR guidelines really enough to motivate brand owners to switch to more sustainable packaging formats?


ver time, a lot of consumer goods packaging has been designed to use less material, to become cheaper, and so deliver each unit of product at lower cost to consumers. As long as it was (relatively) cheap to throw things away, and as long as not all packages had to be recycled, end-of-life aspects didn’t radically alter the decisions regarding what type of packaging to use. For example, under current conditions, the costs of managing a crisp packet as part of residual waste in the EU are in the order of a few hundredths of a euro cent. The costs of picking that item up as litter are rather higher – perhaps by a factor of ten. But for the most part, these costs have been met by municipalities, and not producers. In Europe, the landscape is changing: producers are more concerned about the effect on brand reputation of litter ending up on beaches (a global problem for global brands), consumers are more engaged than they have been regarding plastics in particular (this varies by country), and legislation is moving to make producers financially responsible for what happens at end of life. That last point could still go further: the law doesn’t mandate that producers should cover the costs of managing any packaging in residual waste, and the so-called Single-Use Plastics Directive limits the scope to which extended producer responsibility should be applied to public collection and clean-up of litter to a limited range of items. Because of this, it matters quite a lot that the recycling targets for packaging are being made more challenging to achieve. For plastics in particular, the amount of packaging that is still being used which is barely recycled at all makes meeting those targets more difficult. Through reference to the Waste Framework Directive, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive pushes the need for modulation of fees under extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes. One of the bases which is suggested is the recyclability of these items. ‘Recyclability’ proves to be a term which is not so easy to pin down, but it seems reasonable to argue that it should correspond, as closely as possible, to the likelihood of something being recycled where it is being used. So, an interesting question becomes how that modulation of fees should work. Those countries that already use modulation have done so in somewhat different ways. What has always interested me is whether modulation

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of fees would be sufficient to cause a producer to change their choice of packaging. In the Italian scheme, for example, although the gap between the most recyclable (B1) consumer packaging and the unrecyclable packaging has been widening over time, the latest differentials between these classifications is €452 per tonne. This sounds like a big differential. But does it really motivate switching between packaging formats? Suppose that I’m a producer of packaging and the format I use weighs 5g. Suppose that this is a package that is not widely recycled. And just suppose that the least expensive recyclable alternative package weighs 8g, but costs an additional 2 euro cents. The additional cost of 2 euro cents is spread across an additional weight of 3 grams. Expressed in per tonne of material terms, this is a shift that costs €6,667 per tonne of material. So, the question, I suppose, I’m raising is whether, if modulation is intended to lead to switching between formats, the current differentials are anything like sufficient to motivate switching between packaging formats. I don’t think they are. This is understandable: this is a relatively new tool and it’s one that is to be deployed by schemes which have, as their members, the very producers who would be subject to these fees. The Italian system also shows, in my own view, ‘the right evolution’, but the move to widening differentials may be more awkward in countries where there are competing EPR schemes, unless regulators impose a structure of differentials on all competing schemes. Producers might argue that imposing such fees today would be punitive and unfair. I agree. Given that most are committed to ensuring all packaging is (at least) ‘recyclable’ in future, then I would suggest that ideally, EPR schemes would – at an early stage – establish the likely evolution of modulated fees. Wherever those fees stand today, or next year, by the late 2020s, producers should have advanced warning of the differentials that will be imposed between ‘easily recycled’ and ‘difficult to recycle’ packages as a means to incentivize early action. The backstop incentive implied by this form of modulation would help ensure that early action was taken, if only to avoid paying fees that make it a non brainer to avoid using unrecyclable packaging.

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