Industry Market Trends

Packaging Study: Sustainability Will Trump Cost as Top Focus in 10 Years

Nov 05, 2012

Credit: DuPont

A survey of marketing and packaging professionals finds that the chief focus of the packaging world will shift over the next decade from cost to sustainability. In 10 years, life-cycle analysis and recyclability of packaging will be the most important criteria for evaluating sustainable packaging.

Researchers working for DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers and the trade journal Packaging World captured responses in an August online survey from about 500 subscribers and presented them in an October report, "2012 Survey of Future Packaging Trends." Commenting on the study's results, Shanna Moore, global sustainability director for the DuPont division, said:

One common theme throughout the survey is the need to maximize value with minimal impact. Interestingly, we see cost sacrificed for sustainability. While affordability underscores everything we do, the message is clear: Sustainability must be considered at the onset, especially in light of expectations that the consumer will have even more value in it.

The study was designed to identify the trends that will shape the packaging industry over the next 10 years. Respondents said that cost is the top concern in the industry today, followed by food safety and security. Sustainability, though, is predicted to become the top industry driver over the next decade. Convenience will remain an important factor over the long term.

Another key finding, according to the report, is that "today's emphasis on 'right-sizing' gives way to strategies to use renewable materials, recyclable materials and smart packaging in 10 years -- a clear call for innovation and collaboration throughout the value chain."



The professionals surveyed believe the sustainability trend will require an increasing focus on life-cycle analysis (LCA) data and proof of companies' sustainability claims, driven by consumers' "increased value for recyclability and perceived 'greenness' of packaging." Manufacturers will need to make improvements in right-sizing packaging while minimizing packaging failures. In 10 years, LCA and recyclability of packaging will be the most important criteria for evaluating sustainable packaging, again overtaking cost.

Green Packaging: A $178 Billion Market by 2018

Various recycled packaging. Credit: Tetra Pak, CC BY-SA 2.0

The sustainable packaging progress spotlighted by the DuPont survey is corroborated by new research from the UK firm Transparency Market Research.

In its study, "Green Packaging Market (Recycled, Reusable & Degradable) - Global Scenario, Trends, Industry Analysis, Size, Share and Forecast, 2011-2018," the consultancy predicts that the global green packaging market will rise from $108.8 billion in 2011 to $177.7 billion in 2018 -- a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.6 percent. In 2011, the firm says, Europe had the highest share of the green packaging market at $41.3 billion, followed by North America at $32.6 billion. The study predicts that the highest growth will come in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in China and India.

Transparency Market Research's study finds that the chief drivers behind its forecast are carbon emissions, energy consumption and waste reduction targets implemented by different nations; rapidly growing economies; a dearth of natural resources; and consumers' preference for eco-friendly products. The firm predicts that Europe will remain the biggest green packaging market because of regulatory requirements and the scarcity of landfill space. Other developed markets such as North America and Japan will exhibit slower growth.

The study identifies some of the key players in the sustainable packaging market as Amcor, Tetra Laval, Ball Corp., Constar International Inc., Crown Holdings, E. I. Du Pont de Nemours, EnviroPAK, NatureWorks, Plantic Technologies, Innoware Plastic, Rexam and Saint-Gobain.

A somewhat contrarian study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in June seemed to downplay the value of sustainable packaging (see my Green & Clean article, "Reports of the Death of 'Sustainable Packaging' Were Greatly Exaggerated.") The PwC report asserted that "'sustainable packaging,' as a term, is no longer relevant today" and is "too broad a term to be useful at a practical level."

In reality, PwC's main point seems to be that sustainability in packaging needs to take into account the overall product supply chain and packaging's role in it. It is not enough for manufacturers to concern themselves with basic elements like the weight or volume of packaging, or with its toxicity or recyclability -- those are legitimate factors to take into account -- but, instead, they have to look at packaging as part of the whole process of product manufacturing and marketing. Sustainability has to be evaluated holistically, according to PwC.

So rather than just obsessing over the the oversimplified idea of good-versus-bad packaging, PwC argues that a balanced approach is required, considering "efficiencies that can be made during the entire life cycle of the product, including a packaging solution that uses the minimum amount of resources and produces the minimum amount of waste while also protecting the product." Such a holistic strategy takes into account "transport and display efficiency, and what happens after the product is used."

Consumer Awareness Is a Key Driver of Sustainable Packaging

Dell's bamboo-based packaging. Credit: Dell Inc., CC BY 2.0

Besides quantitative data, the DuPont survey's researchers also solicited open-ended responses and found that many packaging professionals are focused on external concerns. One respondent said, "We are facing new threats to food safety due to climate change, the failure to address the problems in agriculture, lack of food in the world and finally finding solutions for sustainable approaches." Another wrote, "In the future, I expect food packaging to have a whole new set of environmental and performance requirements. Public awareness will increase, and continual improvement of performance will be required." And yet another said, "I foresee sustainability in a new context, where food waste, shelf life, etc, all goes more together."

Highlighting concerns about food safety and security, one respondent pointed out that consumers are increasingly concerned about the contact between food and packaging materials and its possible health implications. "The possible chemical migration from the improper packages during different storage can lead to chronic cases" of illness, wrote a packaging professional. "The microbial element is also a point of concern, especially from ... unhygienic packaging materials."

Another professional said that "food safety and security will be driven by the increasingly global nature of the food supply chain and threats against it."

The professionals whom DuPont surveyed pointed to several other key trends in the future of packaging, aside from sustainability:

  • Regulations will have a greater influence on packaging design 10 years from now, according to 82 percent of respondents.
  • Packaging will play a more important role in the success of a product, according to 81 percent.
  • Plastics will continue to replace metal and glass, and flexible packaging structures will replace rigid structures, according to 65 percent.

Survey respondents represented a broad range of industries, but the highest number came from food, beverage and health care markets. About two-thirds were based in Europe and the rest in North America. DuPont's report says "there was significant alignment in the views of respondents in Europe and North America and throughout the results."