The Future of Industrial Packaging to 2024
Reducing environmental impact is a pressing concern across the packaging industry. For industrial packaging the pressure is less pronounced than in primary packs that consumers actually handle and dispose of. Furthermore economic pressures mean much industrial packaging is already re-used either directly or via reconditioning. Smithers data shows that in 2019 31.2% of steel drums, and 20% of plastic drums, are reconditioned for re-use.
There are further steps industrial packagers can make towards contributing to a green world. These focus principally on:
Pack downgauging also has the advantage of saving on raw material costs for the packaging producer. Improvements in polymers’ properties have allowed substantial reduction in the amount of resin required to make a standard 225-litre plastic drum and in plastic and multiwall paper sacks, for example.
Re-use of industrial packaging directly favours certain formats – specifically IBCs, metal and plastic drums, and crates/bins. The price of a new drum or IBC, coupled with its durability and ruggedness, and the relative ease with which it may be cleaned, facilitates recovery and reuse.
Global industrial packaging leaders, like Greif, Mauser and Schütz, provide collection, reconditioning, and recycling services; as do numerous local and regional players. Though there is scope to expand these.
Further impetus for more sustainable industrial packaging is being supplied by legislative initiatives around packaging waste – especially in the EU. Current EU regulations establish timetables and goals for the reduction or elimination of various categories of packaging wastes. The time horizon for these goals is generally 2030, although many details of execution and timing have not yet been established.
Regulations that impact producers and users of industrial packaging address two areas of primary concern: regulations aimed at promoting sustainable packaging solutions (see above), and regulations aimed at providing safer transport of dangerous goods.
The latter will evolve across the next five years within the scope of existing frameworks, such as the UN’s Orange Book of Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods. These will coordinate with local and sector-specific legislation to promote more seamless international trade.
More sophisticated and affordable electronic sensor and communications technologies, combined with management information software and integration services is allowing for more sophisticated management of shipments in real time.
Simultaneously authorities and brand owners in pharmaceutical and food industries are demanding greater transparency to guarantee the safety of bulk shipped goods – for example, monitoring of temperature versus time exposure of sensitive, high-value shipments – fresh fish and seafood, certain dairy products.
These smart packaging systems are expected to spread rapidly across the forecast period, to monitor and protect high-value and sensitive shipments in specific industries. Smart logistics concepts are unlikely to change fundamentally the design or function of existing industrial packaging formats however; though there will be greater demand for machine readable labelling, integrated RF antennas, and monitoring circuitry. This roll-out will significantly increase the overall value added by logistics functions.
Polymer suppliers continue to innovate to deliver incremental improvements to materials sold for use in existing industrial packaging formats.
Current improvements are manifest in the development of blow-moulding grades of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic resins to provide greater strength, rigidity, and greater resistance to impacts or abrasion. Fabricators may use such improvements to provide safer plastic drums and IBC bottles for transporting hazardous goods, or to offer lightweighting gains.
Similarly grades of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and linear-LDPE are being engineered to provide greater puncture resistance and tensile modulus to enable downgauging in shipping sacks.
And both LDPE and HDPE grades are being produced that have superior resistance to degradation and stress cracking from exposure to materials inside industrial packaging.
Another area of research is multilayer structures to build plastic drums and rigid IBCs bottles in particular. The goal is to provide a barrier to the diffusion of product molecules or gases through the walls of the container. Similarly constructed barrier films may be formed into removable, disposable liners for drums and IBCs.
The impact of these changes and other key factors is analysed and quantified in over 300 data tables and figures segmented across all key metrics in the new Smithers report – The Future of Industrial Packaging to 2024. This report is available for purchase now.