By Neil Farmer
I have recently returned from trips to Spain and Austria. My focus, as always, was on markets, materials, innovations and technologies. Inevitably the future of plastics packaging was on the agenda.
The packaging market growth in Western Europe will be influenced by the anti-plastic packaging outcry, which has grown to a crescendo in recent months. The moves by retailers such as Ekoplaza, an organic chain in Holland, to have the world’s first plastics-free supermarket aisle and the decision by Iceland Stores in the UK to abolish use of plastics in own-label packaging by 2023, are just two high profile examples of substitution from plastics to other materials. While this is not good news for some in the plastics packaging industry, my trips highlighted the potential in the European market for materials such as corrugated and carton-board, which is more encouraging.
Materials such as corrugated packaging have a great opportunity to expand and grow market share. A recent Smithers Pira research report said that the corrugated packaging market is set to grow to almost $383 billion by 2023. The corrugated packaging market overall totalled an estimated 145 million tonnes in 2017 and is forecast to grow to almost 181 million tonnes in 2023, a growth rate of almost 3.5% per annum. My forecasts for overall packaging market growth in Europe over that period is 3% per annum. I estimatetotal European plastics packaging growth will be a maximum of 2.5% per annum over the next five years, below the overall total market figures. Corrugated will thus have a faster rate of growth rate than the market overall, with e-commerce identified as key to further market development.
There have been significant positive announcements in the corrugated sector in recent months to confirm my feelings about the sector and to support the above figures.
Cosmetics company L’Oreal USA launched a recyclable, compostable, paper-based bottle for its new brand Seed Phytonutrients, which sells skin and hair-care products. The bottle’s shell is 100% paper-based and recyclable and is made using corrugated board recycled from a L’Oreal USA distribution centre in California. The pack is designed for use in the shower, with the packaging being water-resistant. Inside is a lightweight blow-moulded liner made from 80% post-consumer recycled HDPE, also recyclable. Each Seed Phytonutrients pack contains a packet of seeds between the liner and the shell. This is great innovation. The timing of the launch could not be more appropriate in view of the current global anti-plastics packaging sentiment.
Another significant development has been Stora Enso’s launch of a wood-based biocomposite, called DuraSense. The material is available to companies seeking high performance and a sustainable, bio-based alternative to plastics. DuraSense enables the use of renewable fibres, such as wood, to substitute for a large portion of fossil-based plastic. Production of the biocomposite started at Stora Enso’s Hylte Mill in Sweden in 2018. At full production, the mill’s annual capacity will be 15,000 tonnes. This is the largest capacity in Europe dedicated to wood fibre composites. Stora Enso has said that reducing the amount of plastic and replacing it with renewable and traceable materials is a gradual process. Depending on the product, reductions of up to 80% on the carbon footprint can be achieved. Applications include a wide range of products.
The plastics debate and its implications are set to continue through the remainder of 2018 and beyond. The landscape of the packaging industry is being transformed. Positive material developments and innovations are emanating from this. Change is never easy to come to terms with but change is inevitable in the fast-moving packaging industry of today.