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Pro Carton Study : The Importance of Sustainability in Packaging

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A new independent study from Smithers Pira, commissioned by Pro Carton, amongst major brand owners and retailers in 5 key European markets has shown resounding evidence of the importance of sustainability in packaging. Folding cartons were perceived as the most sustainable packaging but there is still some confusion about the whole issue of the circular economy and what makes packaging sustainable.

“It is interesting to see how the environmental benefits of cartonboard packaging have been perceived by our target audiences and I am delighted to note that our strengths of renewability and recyclability are now well appreciated”, says Tony Hitchin, General Manager of Pro Carton.

The study was conducted across five European markets : Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain. Research was aimed at investigating views and attitudes amongst major European brand owners and retailers on sustainability in packaging and its importance to the retail business. The main fieldwork for this project consisted of a series of 100 in-depth telephone interviews with leading decision makers.

96% of respondents said that the use of sustainable packaging was important to their business with just over half (52%) saying this was either ‘very important’ or ‘critical’.

“The top criteria for packaging to be considered ‘sustainable’ were (i) that it is a recyclable material (29.2%), (ii) that it uses renewable & abundant materials (19.6%), (iii) that it uses minimal lightweight materials (15.5%), (iv) that is has a low environmental footprint (8.2%) and (v) that it is biodegradable or compostable (5.1%)”, adds Adam Page, Global Director Reports and Consultancy, Smithers Pira.

The key messages from the brand owners and retailers were :

 96% of all respondents felt sustainable packaging important to their business. Recyclability is the most important factor : 81% find it important, 48% even say it is critical.
 Recyclable, renewable, lightweight are what counts most concerning sustainable packaging.
 One third of the respondents feel sustainability is already well embedded in their policies, the others say its importance is steadily growing.
 Emphasis is on reducing packaging weight and waste as top sustainability goals (and for reducing costs).
 62% of the brand owners and retailers expect a growing need for sustainability in packaging.
 Rising consumer awareness as well as governmental policies and local authorities are key drivers of growth.
 Folding Cartons are perceived as the most sustainable primary packaging.
 Plastics were criticised as being difficult to recycle, they use non-sustainable resources and may contain dangerous chemicals.

Whilst the report puts folding cartons in a very favourable light it is clear that not everyone has the same level of understanding as to what makes packaging sustainable. Recycling is rated to be more important than using renewable material but you can’t have truly sustainable packaging unless it comes from a renewable source. Clearly paper based packaging meets both criteria (renewable and recyclable) and is the best example of a packaging material that fulfils the requirements of a circular economy.

Knowledge of the key issues appeared to be highest in Germany. More respondents in Germany recognised the importance of using renewable materials than in the other markets and 90% ranked cartonboard as being more sustainable than rigid or flexible plastics.

“Cartons really are an example of ’cradle to cradle’ packaging. You can never say that about crude oil based packaging” continued Mr Hitchin. “If packaging specifiers are serious about wanting to have more sustainable packaging then they need to start by using a sustainable material whenever possible. It would be good to think that cartonboard will, therefore, always be brand owners’ first choice as a packaging medium.”

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