Folding Carton packaging – threats and opportunities. -- drupa - May 28 to June 7, 2024 - Messe Düsseldorf

Folding Carton packaging – threats and opportunities.

By Daniel Brunton. Publisher, ‘Folding Carton Industry’ magazine.

The versatility of carton board is ideal for promoting packaged products. The properties of the raw material ensure that creative, innovative designs can be achieved through print, surface texture and structural shape. 

Never has there been more opportunity for the folding carton sector than today! The legacy of e-commerce growth since the pandemic gives converters plenty of opportunities for growth, but one could argue that European directives on single-use packaging – particularly plastic – is a once in a lifetime chance for plastic replacement with folding cartons.

The argument for folding carton packaging over plastic packaging for single-use purposes is quite wide-reaching. For example:

  • Environmental impact: folding cartons are generally considered more environmentally friendly than plastic packaging.
  • Recyclability: folding cartons are widely recyclable in many municipal recycling programs. Paperboard can be recycled into new paper products, while plastic packaging poses significant challenges for recycling due to the multitude of different plastic types and limited recycling infrastructure.
  • Consumer perception: many consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of plastic waste and actively seek out products with more sustainable packaging options. Using folding cartons can help companies align with consumer preferences and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, potentially enhancing their brand image and attracting environmentally conscious consumers.
  • Biodegradability: folding cartons are biodegradable and compostable, under suitable conditions. Biodegradability is particularly advantageous for single-use applications, as it reduces the long-term environmental impact associated with packaging waste.

The pitch is easy – sustainable, recyclable and easy to use; but carton offers so much more than this. For example:

  • Brand Protection and Counterfeiting: counterfeiting and brand infringement pose significant risks for both converters and brand owners. Implementing anti-counterfeiting measures and ensuring product authenticity through secure packaging solutions is a great opportunity for folding carton converters to help secure their customers’ products. Think about holograms and other security applications.
  • Customization and personalization: consumer preferences in some areas are shifting towards customized and personalized packaging. Converters can now adapt to shorter production runs, quicker turnaround times, and the ability to incorporate variable data printing to cater to individualized packaging needs.
  • Design and innovation: keeping packaging designs fresh and appealing is crucial to attract consumers. Converters continue to invest in design capabilities, collaborate closely with brand owners, and stay abreast of market trends to create innovative and eye-catching packaging solutions, including foiling and embellishment.

Digitalization and Embellishment

You would have to have been living under a stone to not be aware of the impact digitalization is having on the folding carton industry! And I don’t just mean digital printing; I mean workflow optimization, digital printing, digital cutting and so much more! Add to this the rapid acceleration of digital embellishment and converters will have access to all the main protagonists at drupa in 2024.

Automation and labour

All industries are facing labour shortages. Automation can improve efficiency and reduce costs. Although many company owners will see the benefits of automation, the reality is that today, converters need to invest in training programs to upskill their operators and ensure a smooth transition to automated processes. This is not an overnight fix.

Developments from the leading OEMs for faster plate changes, quicker ink changes, materials handling and faster converting will invariably lead to greater output from each factory, but the reality is that we still need people in the factory and so engaging with the next generation of operator is now essential for the sector to foster and develop knowledge and skillsets.

Material Choice

Pro Carton says on its website that carton board and carton manufacturers are continuously researching new technologies to improve the sustainability of carton board packaging and respond to the demands of the market. These new technologies and material attributes will help brand owners navigate the complexities of the single-use packaging debate and converters need to understand how to run these materials through their presses and downstream converting departments.

Examples of innovative developments have been:

  • Non-Petroleum Based Coatings and Barriers: moisture and grease resistant properties are vital for many types of carton packs, especially for food. A cardboard and plastic composite offers protection but is often difficult to separate in the recycling process.  The carton industry is continuously innovating in the development of water-based coatings and other non-petroleum based coatings that act as a barrier, such as BioBoard, Foodboard™ and initiatives such as PlantPack.
  • Fibre Technology: microfibrillated cellulose is a renewable material which can be used in fibre-based paper and board products and barrier materials. This technology may potentially replace fossil-based materials such as plastics, some speciality chemicals and aluminium.  A major improvement of recyclability.

drupa is back!

For the majority of folding carton converters, drupa is the ‘go to’, the well-established platform for meeting and sharing of knowledge. This next event is no different; re-connect, energize and share.

OEMs, raw materials, consumables, software, hardware – the list is endless. For the next generation of folding carton converter, the understanding of the technology on offer to allow for automation and control of your entire process will be critical for the long-term success of your business. drupa is a must.

About the Author

Daniel Brunton is the publisher of two fibre-based packaging magazines, aimed at converters of corrugated and folding carton board. The titles include ‘International Paper Board Industry’ and ‘Folding Carton Industry’. Active in the sector since 1994, the drupa event takes place in Daniel’s 30th anniversary of starting at Brunton Business Publications Ltd, a fifth-generation family-owned media business! He is well known within the converting and OEM market place for fibre-based packaging, and speaks regularly at industry and trade association events around the world. He can be reached on

Dan can as well be reached under LinkedIn

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