Equipment at Pack Expo 2023 in Las Vegas hasn’t changed a great deal. The advancements in sensors, robotics, analytics and vision systems that drives product through packaging and conveyor systems now are the backbone of a modern food and beverage process system. What have changed dramatically are the materials passing through those systems.
The tin can is being replaced by the pouch for literally everything from soup to nuts. The filling system for the pouches looks similar to other fillings systems, except that all the materials have been designed to be lightweight and strong, and can be fully recycled. The packaging, shrink-wrapping and palletizing all use sustainable materials on a system with sensors to evaluate system health and energy consumption.
But those displays, impressive as they have been at Pack Expo, are only the first steps in a journey that industry officials expect might fully change the packaging industry to not just sustainable manufacturing, but a circular use and reuse of materials.
PMMI, the presenting association at the show, and the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment (AMERIPEN), jointly published a report called Packaging Compass. “By releasing this deep dive into the trends driving the circular packaging industry, we hope of facilitate an industry dialogue that will help close the gap between design needs and recovery needs, “said Jorge Izquierdo, vice president of market development at PMMI, in a release at the show.
But that gap between current usage and future expectations is huge. A survey of consumer package goods brands and retailers found widespread use of what is called “flexible film” in the packaging industry. The report stated 79% use plastic in packaging and 61% using paper, while just 14% are using glass and 13% use metal in packaging. Despite the value to both consumers and the environment in the use of plastics and paper, the report cited a key barrier in the effective use of sustainable materials.
The PMMI report summarized a study by The Recycling Partnership: “Establishing a circular economy for flexible films will necessitate a substantial expansion in recycling infrastructure that involves better collection, sortation and end-of-life reprocessing potentially including widespread use of chemical recycling,” a process that reverses the creation of plastics and polymers.
The PMMI/AMERIPEN report concluded, “A circular economy can be achieved by focusing on how best to invest in recycling and composting infrastructures across the U.S. and tying that dialog to what is happening with packaging design and the multiple variables packaging designers must juggle.”
For more show coverage, be sure to check out our Pack Expo 2023 content hub.