Study claims move to sustainable packaging in FMCG sector is ‘too slow’

A new study by Aquapak has revealed 92% of UK packaging experts responsible for packaging R&D, technology, design and sustainability for FMCG brands plan to stop using plastic in their consumer packaging altogether.

‘FMCG flexible packaging: accelerating the move from plastic to paper’, is based on research with 100 UK packaging experts. The report, launched at the Rethinking Materials Innovation and Investment Summit in London, shows paper and paperboard are the replacement materials of choice, followed by new polymers, bioplastics, and multi-materials.

However, the timeframe for transition is ‘still considerable’, with 27% of packaging experts expecting this to happen by 2027, 35% by 2028, and 28% by 2029.  30% of respondents described the move to new packaging materials in their business as too slow, while 58% described it as ‘moderate’ and only 11% said it was fast. 87% said they want the switch to alternative materials to replace conventional plastics to take place more quickly.

Currently, the main barriers to using more environmentally friendly options are said to be the higher cost of alternative packaging, the availability of alternative materials, and ensuring the functionality and product protection remains the same.

When asked about the key drivers that would help the FMCG sector speed up new material development and implementation, the research showed 70% of respondents believed more ambitious recycling targets were key, 62% wanted to see increased investment in new materials, and 54% said greater collaboration to accelerate R&D was needed. Half said an industry-wide commitment to move away from conventional plastic was necessary, whilst a further 47% cited tighter environmental regulation through taxation of materials with poor environmental performance was important.

Dr John Williams, chief technical officer at Aquapak, said, “Our study shows that the FMCG sector is highly cognisant of the need to move away from conventional plastics to more environmentally friendly materials which offer better end-of-life outcomes, be it improved recyclability or biodegradation to make life easier for their customers and other stakeholders.

“There is undoubtedly some confusion in the market by the number of ‘new’ materials which all offer some potential, but all too often exaggerate the properties and availability of the material, causing delays in the use of genuine solutions by using valuable time in the packaging development process. It is important that there is an acceleration in the use of materials which are available at scale, offer the required functionality, run down existing conversion lines, and have a viable end-of-life solution to the consumer. These solutions are available now and, in the market, but only in low numbers.

“Our research also suggests that the sector needs to be bolder in its commitment to new packaging materials. While 37% say they are more focused on switching to innovative, environmentally friendly materials, a quarter are developing existing materials and 38% are placing equal importance on both.

“Is this really embracing innovation and change or sitting on the fence until regulation forces the industry’s hand? New materials already exist and can facilitate the move from plastic to solutions which are functional, provide the product protection needed but do not harm the environment when they come to the end of their useful life.”

Aquapak Polymers specialises in designing and manufacturing new polymer-based material technologies described as delivering both performance and environmental responsibility at scale. Hydropol is a polymer developed by Aquapak’s own research chemists that is said to enable product and packaging design to meet all necessary functional and performance requirements, whilst increasing recycling, reducing harmful plastic pollution, and supporting the circular economy.  When extrusion coated or laminated onto paper, Hydropol is designed to add strength and barriers to oxygen, oil and grease, and its solubility allows 100% paper fibre recovery through paper recycling mills.

Hydropol is used in the first domestically recyclable paper crisp packet unveiled in March, which has been developed in partnership with The British Crisp Co. and Evopak.