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Without any doubts the biggest driver with packaging innovation and legislation has been sustainability.

In April 2022, UK Plastic packaging tax came into force. Businesses manufacturing or importing more than 10 tonnes of any finished plastic packaging within a 12 month period have to pay a tax of £200 / tonne. If the plastic contains 30% recycled content or more, the tax does not apply.

The unfortunate aspect about the plastic tax is that it is just an add on cost. It does not necessarily help the recycling industry. It may create some incentives to use recycled plastics where possible, but its impact is low. The money generated form this tax goes to the treasury and  not the recycling industry to help develop infrastructure.

The government is still deliberating over an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system where packaging users pay a fee, but this fee goes towards developing the recycling infrastructure, and standardise kerbside recycling throughout the UK. This tax will be significantly  higher than the current PRN (Packaging Recovery Notes). This tax will effect consumers with current financial hardships in the country it is not been rushed. It was planned for 2024 but do not be surprised if this under fire flagship EPR environment policy is further delayed.

An example of this is whereby the Plastic Pact have a goal of removing multi-pack shrink film with carton board which has a significantly higher CO2e impact than shrink film. Last year, Coca Cola did this. I personally noted in my Morrisons supermarket Walkers crisps have  removed film and replaced with paper board for multi-packs. Although the plastic film is recyclable, commercially it is not viable, as it costs more to collect and sort the materials than the raw materials are worth. To facilitate sustainability and the impact of a circular economy,  we must keep waste out of the environment while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The 2 must go hand in hand, and in that order.


Numerous surveys have been carried out such as:

Chartered list of Marketing showing consumers want more sustainable packaging. From a survey of 2000 adults, 82% believed companies used too much packaging. (Up 16% from last year)

SIG liquid paper cartons researched and found that 61% of millennials are likely to pay more for eco friendly or sustainable products. This InSite was developed further by Aquapack research who found that 52% are prepared to pay 5% more for environmentally friendly  packaging. This premium gives scope for brands to optimise their circularity whilst retaining their margins.

A reverse vending principle whereby liquid containers (except glass) will be deposited in a vending machine for 20p per item. This will initially go live in Scotland on 16th August 2023 and for rest of UK by 2025. Omitting glass is welcomed by British Glass Association state that  this would increase carbon emissions in our atmosphere by 2 million tonnes. However, the Aluminium and Metal industry representatives oppose this arguing that the DRS was to deal with drinks packaging – ground littering omitting glass litter making many other groups  extremely concerned about this potentially hazardous broken glass in the environment. There will be further debates then DEFRA will have to decide.

M&S, Morrisons, Ocado and Waitrose collaborated to form the refill Coalition. Objective is to create a standardised system for the industry while also gaining critical lifecycle analysis and understanding consumer behaviour. A standardised fillable model would benefit retailers  and consumers. Previously the coloured caps would degrade transparency of recycled milk bottles, calculated to give an extra 1560 tonnes of resin for food use. I expect other supermarkets will follow this lead. Polymer technology has improved, whereas previously laminates of  different plastics were required to give necessary barrier properties against CO2, O2 and moisture, this is now achieved with mono materials with built in barrier properties (usually same polymer laminated with diff densities of the same polymer).

Throughout the year we have seen a trend of moving from smaller glass beverage bottles to cans. Sustainability benefits being cans are significantly lighter, they hold more volume (no large neck on a can), and they stack neatly in slabs for efficient transport thus allows 40%  more beverage by weight to fit on a pallet reducing carbon footprint with each delivery. To answer this increase in Aluminium can demand Crown are building a new Aluminium beverage can factory in Peterborough with an annual capacity of just over 3 billion cans. Innovations bringing sustainability benefits include (this is not comprehensive merely some examples throughout the year.) 2022 saw the introduction of the Worlds first refillable toothpaste dispenser by Happier Beauty. Marketed as a circular solution to assist the climate  crisis. Environmental improvements by lightweighting of aluminium beverage cans which are now 22% lighter than 2 years ago. Tablet blister packs traditionally made out of PVC and Aluminium foil have been innovated by Huhtamaki with Push Tab – now made out of  recyclable PET with improved shelf life, printable providing new opportunities for design and product visibility.

There has been a switch particularly on dairy products, yogurts and milk where most supermarkets have switched from on pack Use by dates to best before dates. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) cited that 50% of filled yogurt containers were thrown away when they were still safe. This will have a significant CO2e reduction. Applying a best before date helps give people the confidence to use their judgement to eat beyond a best before date, protecting the planet and their pockets. To facilitate recycling, Waitrose have advised all  311 stores to remove coloured caps on plastic milk bottles so bottle and cap can now be recycled together in a closed loop system.