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Navigating the evolving sustainable packaging landscape

Circular economy priorities in 2024

As the UK boasts an impressive 70% collection and recycling rate for paper and cartonboard materials (Confederation of Paper Industries), a nuanced debate surfaced in 2023 regarding the prioritisation of reusing versus recycling packaging. This discussion gained significance as the potential Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulations (PPWR) are set to take effect across the EU in 2024.

As UK regulators seek to phase out plastic packaging entirely, an encompassing approach emphasising reduction, proper collection, and recycling is becoming increasingly crucial. Notably, the UK consumer landscape is impacted by 75% of UK citizens reporting the cost-of-living crisis as the largest issue facing them (European Packaging Perceptions Survey, Pro Carton, 2024). Though it is interesting to note, we are now seeing consumers willing to pay 5-6% extra for an environmentally friendly packaged product.

PPWR will continue to occupy the packaging industry in the coming months and the memberstates begin the legislative process. The UK is casting a keen eye on PPWR, any legislative delays will impact the entire packaging supply chain – and an extension of the uncertainties would result in the interruption of investment projects.

Standardised diversity and choice

The discussions so far are increasingly moving in the right direction across the UK and mainland Europe. To solve the challenges ahead, we need a collaborative combination of environmentally friendly single-use and reusable systems. Reusable systems can offer environmental and cost benefits when supported by a dense network of collection and returnpoint infrastructure. Consumer acceptance is key, only then the system will reach required return rates of minimum 96%. It must be clear: very few returnable systems get anywhere close to such figure today. LCAs will then need to demonstrate a better environmental performance than alternative recyclable systems.

In all other cases, environmentally friendly disposable packaging made from renewable rawmaterials has advantages that must be recognised. With recycling rates of 82%, thepackaging is not "waste" after use, but should be viewed as raw material for new packaging. Enforcing reusable packaging against consumer habits will not work. We must give business owners the choice to select the best packaging options for their requirements and consumer preferences. Legislation must define the framework conditions in a binding but flexible manner, trusting that business owners will fulfil their responsibility in a verifiable manner.

The European Carton Excellence Award (ECEA) 2024 is in its starting position

With our member companies and beyond entering the 2023 competition, Pro Carton and the European Carton Makers Association (ECMA) saw 14 entrants from the UK. Entering companies included: Graphic Packaging International, MM Packaging, Coveris, Huhtamaki,and WestRock. It was also a case for celebration in the UK, as cartonboard converter Huhtamaki and cartonboard manufacturer MM Board Paper, took home the Food andDrink Packaging – Recycled Fibre Award with its design ‘McDonald’s Delivery Cuff’.

In 2023, we received over 100 entries from 15 countries, making the ECEA the most important competition for cartonboard packaging in Europe. Plus, more than 5,100 voteswere cast in the public vote for the first time.

Submit your creative cartonboard solutions and compete with the best in Europe. Find more details on the European Carton Excellence Award 2024 here!