Growing desire to reduce the depletion of natural resources, non-renewable energy sources and rainforests is pushing manufacturers toward more environmentally friendly packaging solutions. And, increasing regulations and taxes related to environmental protection encourage investment in packaging materials that minimize environmental impact, according to the 2018 report “Global Trends Impacting Packaging Machinery” by PMMI.

Forces throughout the supply chain, from consumers to retailers, are driving development of new packaging materials that reduce the use of single-use plastic. At the same time, the plastics industry is committed to minimizing its environmental footprint and providing solutions for a more sustainable future. 

Material Developments

2018 saw a sharp rise in anti-plastic sentiment and widespread bans on single-use plastic items. The first plastic-free supermarket aisles opened in Amsterdam and London, while emerging and established players offered alternatives to 
single-use plastics. 

For example, testing is underway on Ooho, a natural alternative to plastic bottles, cups and sachets. Made from seaweed-extract, the sustainable flexible packaging solution for liquids degrades in a natural environment in an average of six weeks. Marketed as a replacement for small bottles of water, fresh juices, sauces and condiments, the edible solution is suitable for almost any liquid. 

Chemical engineers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are developing an edible, biodegradable film made from the milk protein casein. The material behaves like a plastic cling wrap and has the potential to keep food fresher and replace plastic wraps in some applications. Since plastic wrap can stretch as much as 100 percent and the casein film has about 20 percent stretch, it may not be a suitable alternative for all plastic wrap uses. 

Committing to Responsible Plastic

Even with the development of new materials, plastic’s focus on environmentalism may keep it a major contender in packaging. In 2016, Amcor and Bemis, two of the largest players in plastics, merged, citing a commitment to research and development and sustainability. 

The 2018 New Plastics Economy Global Commitment brings together key stakeholders to create a circular economy for plastics, starting with packaging. Part of its vision is to eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging through redesign, innovation and new delivery models. Backed by The Consumer Goods Forum, an organization representing 400 retailers and manufacturers worldwide, the commitment exhibits end users’ pledge to choosing sustainable packaging materials. For example, Unilever promised to increase the recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25 percent by 2025 to help create an end market for this material. 

The less uniform nature of recycled materials means machines running these materials cannot function at the same level of performance as with virgin materials. For example, a cartoning machine may have to operate at a slower speed, or risk breaking the material. Thus, suppliers rely on machinery innovation for sustainable packaging solutions. For example, Viking Masek offers packaging machinery for pouches and films designed with improved seal quality and speed, leading to less waste, more production time and longer-lasting quality products. And Petoskey Plastics helps customers divert landfill-bound plastic into reusable products like resins or bags and film. 

Packaging professionals can find the latest sustainable options at PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2019 (Sept. 23–25, Las Vegas Convention Center). Co-located with Healthcare Packaging EXPO, this event will bring together more than 30,000 attendees, including 5,000 international visitors from more than 125 countries, and 2,000-plus exhibiting companies spanning nearly 900,000 net sq. ft. of exhibit floor. For more information and to register online, visit