Packaging professionals not keeping pace with industry – report

More than three-quarters of packaging professionals (79%) admit they know only a little and/or need help with current and future regulations affecting the sector because of the sheer volume of requirements, according to a survey of senior industry leaders carried out at the SPC Impact 2024 conference in New Orleans.

The poll, now in its second year, was conducted by packaging sustainability consultancy Auraamong experts from a range of global brands. It found that more than a quarter (27%) are currently unsure if their company is on track to meet its announced sustainability targets – whereas 22% said as much at the 2023 conference.

Many brands are also falling behind on data, with three-quarters of industry leaders (76%) admitting their organisation’s data journey has yet to reach the point where they are actively collecting the right data and using it effectively.

Meanwhile, almost half (41%) admit that they are still collecting data manually, such as using simple spreadsheets rather than dedicated platforms.

Gillian Garside-Wight, consulting director at Aura, said: “Data drives proactive decision-making when it comes to making packaging sustainable. Without the right data, companies are blundering in the dark and may have to optimise after the fact, costing them time and money and negatively affecting how their brand is perceived by consumers.

“Creating sustainable and recyclable packaging is an incredibly complex process. There are billions of combinations of formats and substrates, many of which could be permanently adhered to each other, affecting recyclability.

“And as if that was not complex enough, the rules across countries and markets are very different. That makes it even more incredible that so many brands and retailers are still reliant on manual data collection and analysis tools. There are better ways.”

The poll did find some encouraging signs of improvement, including a drop in the number of packaging professionals who think their business’s supply chain is either not as sustainable as it could be or not sustainable at all, from 83% last year to 61% this year.

In addition, more industry leaders are using channels other than the packaging itself – such as marketing campaigns – to inform the public on sustainability. The number using only their packaging for consumer education has fallen from 61% in 2023 to 41% this year.

Gillian Garside-Wight added: “New legislation on packaging is either in place or on the horizon in most territories, particularly Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) in the US, Europe, and UK. It is unsurprising that a lot of packaging professionals are unsure what regulations now apply and what that means for their organisation’s sustainability targets.

“Although there are signs of improvement over the past year, the industry still has a long way to go to make supply chains more sustainable and educate the public in areas like recyclability and composting.”

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