Don’t you just love conference season? It’s a time to get us out of the office, visit with colleagues, have a few beverages, and see what is coming down the pipe.

thin-filmAnd there is no shortage of new packaging coming down the pipe! It was flowing just about as much as the falls outside the “PAC to the Future” Niagara Falls conference two weeks ago. This was an excellent conference providing insights into consumer packaging and industry trends from primarily packagers, branders and marketers.

A few key things we heard:

  • While the packaging sector is strong (as people keep eating, drinking and buying and the reusable packages have just not made a significant impact), the sector itself is very decentralized.  The largest packaging companies in the world command no more than a single digit share of the market which is low in contrast to most other major sectors.  The business analyst who provided this comment also suggested that the world packaging industry is likely to go through tremendous consolidation over the next few years, with packaging companies growing in size and geography. As well, they will cover all packaging platforms and materials.
  • A theme of the conference was the growth of smart/intelligent packaging – packaging that provides information to consumers in an interactive way. Some of the examples provided includes: packaging for fresh fruit that measures (with electronic or chemical sensors) the ethylene produced by the fruit as it ripens; packaging that lets consumers know when it will spoil; or the detergent bottle that electronically lets the consumer know when it’s nearly empty.
  • Numerous speakers talked about the changing face of the consumer. In fact, I was told the ‘consumer’ does not exist. It is now about individual buyers looking for an experience and ‘self’. This ultimately means a constant and more frequent change in packaging composition making it difficult for recyclers to plan for the future. This clearly would not work in the current recycling and reuse systems.
  • Advancements in packaging are continuous and will continue to highlight consumer health benefits and information.  It is not always clear where environmental and/or end-of-life packaging solutions stand within some of these advancements.
  • Packaging changes happen quickly and without notice, so it is difficult for recycling program managers to identify and deal with these advancements.  Sorting systems, either manual or automated, have historically struggled in trying to identify and manage the advancements in the packaging world.
  • Unfortunately these trends will not change any time soon. This reinforces the need for greater collaboration and understanding between product and packaging developers, and the systems that are in place to handle them.

smart-capWe came away seeing a definite contrast between the new smart, multi-material, individualized packaging thinking, and the circular economy/zero waste thinking which is struggling to keep up. The new smart packaging is here now and we need to develop and implement new strategies to manage these materials and products effectively to achieve the most sustainable solutions.