Sustainability in the packaging industry - an opportunity and a must -- drupa - May 28 to June 7, 2024 - Messe Düsseldorf

Sustainability in the packaging industry - an opportunity and a must

What impact does the topic of sustainability have on processes and business models in the packaging industry? In an interview at Interpack 2023, we spoke with Adrian Ritzhaupt of Mosca. The topic of sustainability has long had an impact on the business models and business processes of the packaging industry. Already 10 years ago, Mosca started to use 100% recycled material for its packaging products.


Sustainability has increasingly come into focus in recent years.

Not only due to legal restrictions, such as the EU Regulation 2022/1616 on recycled plastics for food. Food packaging forms a large market share of the industry. Politicians are working more and more to protect our environment and consumers through regulations. Our industry is also influenced by the EU's Circular Economy Action Plan. This focuses on packaging and already specifies a digital product passport. Since April, a law has been in force that is supposed to prohibit statements on climate neutrality without proof.


In an interview on the topic of "Sustainable Packaging" in the podcast 20bluehours, expert Dr. Kerstin Hermuth-Kleinschmidt (NIUB) and expert Peter Désilets (pacoon sustainability concepts GmbH) talk about sustainability in the packaging industry and give an outlook on the right way to deal with the topic as well as a guide to a sustainable approach.

Brandowners and designers: Sustainable design begins in the conception stage

When it comes to packaging, it is not only the individual materials used that should be taken into account. In the recycling stations, packaging that is not materially pure or has different codes for the sorting machine is sorted out and ends up in the residual waste. In other words, they are not returned to the cycle.

A new technology can already transport information invisibly today. In a code that is invisible to us, the percentage composition of the packaging is stored and not just the raw material itself. The mixture of materials in percentages must be taken into account in order to decide whether a product is recyclable or not.

The recycling stations read these codes and return the packaging to the cycle. Peter Désilets therefore believes that this is already the task of design and conception. For him, sustainability begins with packaging development.

Globalisation complicates sustainability

A big issue in the production of sustainable packaging is globalisation. Globally active companies should make sure to produce sustainably for the majority of the countries they supply, advises Désilets. Due to the different specifications of the individual countries, it is difficult to create "the one recyclable packaging". Every recycling system works differently. Packaging that is 90% recyclable in Germany may be 0% in another country, for example. So it is important to find the lowest common denominator of recycling and then make the packaging recyclable for the largest possible market. This is the only way to be truly sustainable.

Sustainability stimulates the inventive spirit

Based on the EU regulation for the reusability of food packaging, there are now ideas based on deposit systems. This would also be conceivable as an international solution.

We already know the deposit system for food and beverages from Recup, PET and other brands.

This system could be extended to companies of all kinds, right down to the shampoo bottle. Many companies in the pharmaceutical and automotive industries already use a deposit system for shipping packaging. At the moment, however, only domestically. There are already pilot projects for an international process.

Various forums and associations for the circular economy want to advance the topic of reusable packaging through digitalisation. The entire topic of recycling has now become a data-driven topic. As described above, data such as the contents of the packaging are transmitted by means of invisible codes. Data on the recyclability of a packaging product is compiled from many data sheets.

Is digitalisation a prerequisite for a sustainable packaging industry?

Markus Hoffmann, from our partner KURZ, answers the question with a yes and a no.

No, because sustainability also means using sustainable materials. It means reducing waste. That also works without digitalisation.

But also yes, because digitalisation allows the industry to produce smaller quantities and also individual quantities that avoid waste.

Like other experts, he believes that sustainability is not necessarily achieved only through digitalisation. You can start without digitalisation, but the eco-balance is improved through data and its proper use.

Mechanical engineering - are new machines always the right way to sustainable production?

As a manufacturing industry, you usually assume that you only invest in new machinery every 40 years. However, the issue of sustainability has eroded this rule. Many companies are thinking about a new acquisition. Machines with lower CO2 emissions, less resource consumption and also digitalisation-capable machines should be purchased.

But a new acquisition is always a question of accounting. The ROI is often difficult to calculate, as the frequent unknown would be an important component to this: "How high is the machine's share of the costs of a package?"

Only when the share can also be calculated in the production facility is it possible to make a clear decision.

The new machines often have a lower share of the costs. So not only do we reduce energy costs with a new machine, we also increase our margins through faster production, reduce employee costs and much more. There are a few points that should go into the decision.

In addition to the purchase of new machines, many machine manufacturers today also offer leasing models or sharing constructions. This should also be worth considering. The share of hybrid machines is growing steadily because they often avoid downtime.

According to Peter Désilets, sustainability depends on agility and openness in the manufacturing process.

Moving from having to to wanting to – the disruptive moment in the packaging industry

As in this article, we often only talk about a "must" when it comes to sustainability. However, the expert opinion is that we should create a disruptive moment.

Mr Schneider, owner of the company Werner & Merz, which already had 100% of its packaging materials made from recycled material in 2015, also talked about this disruptive moment in an interview with WIrtschaftswoche.

He makes it clear that acting sustainably as a company is not a trendy topic, but rather entering a new economic era. Within the company, which starts first and foremost with the employees. The company's leadership style is described in an academic paper as transformative. In contrast to transactional leadership styles, conviction leaders are created here. The company relies on employees who are burning along and intrinsically convinced in order to live up to the principles of the Frosch brand.

He proves that the topic of sustainability is not a marketing gimmick for him and the company, but that marketing came after the setting. Even for the competition, Frosch offers Open Innovation Days, to which competitor companies are also invited. These innovation days are about knowledge transfer on the topic of sustainability and packaging or sustainable company processes. A technological exchange takes place in order to operate an environmentally friendly circular economy.

His biggest pain when it comes to competition is false statements about the eco-balance or sustainability of products. He often defends himself legally against them. For him, however, it is not a matter of harming the competition.

He fears a great loss of consumer confidence in all participants in the industry. His criticism is therefore aimed at stopping the general loss of confidence in the industry, which he says is higher than ever today.

Round table for greater sustainability

Experts agree on one thing: it takes collaboration - within and across industries - to achieve sustainability in the packaging industry.

With the Sustainable Media Guides, Umdex and the Forever Green Alliance, a good start has been made to reach the disruptive moment of the industry. Packaging needs to be impacted by the entire value chain. The Round Table should involve everyone: Brandowners, designers, machinery, manufacturers, converters and adhesive producers to the consumer product.

Sustainability has a major impact on our processes, our business models and also our products. Together, the industry can achieve better recyclability on an international level. Through collaboration, new materials will enter the loop and digitalisation will improve our recycling.

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