A package is worth a thousand words
It is a kind of industry superhero. It must protect products while facilitating their storage and distribution and informing consumers about their composition. It must also be sufficiently attractive in aesthetic terms so as not to go unnoticed by its competitors; we are talking about “Packaging.” Surely when the Egyptians created the first glass containers 3500 years ago to solve the problem of transporting water and food, they did not imagine they were changing history forever. It was not until the 19th century that flexible packaging, such as paper bags and cardboard boxes, would arrive on a massive scale. Then the industrialization of the 20th century would bring us the first metal and plastic containers, which are currently predominant in the market.
Subsequently, the packaging would cease to fulfill only the function of protecting and facilitating product transportation and would also become a powerful marketing tool, using visual communication as its ally. The competition between brands and the display of products on the market shelves created the conditions for packaging, which up to that moment had basic shapes and inconspicuous colours, to become elements of the impact that directly influenced consumer choice. Perhaps this race to generate impact through colours, shapes, and varied materials led us to forget something fundamental: Once a product is purchased, its packaging is essentially garbage, and in this way, we are giving back to the world millions of tons of garbage that only a few decades ago did not even exist.
Growing ecological and environmental concerns have led to the coming together of all the players involved in the packaging manufacturing chain under a common goal: to create raw materials and processes that achieve a more sustainable industry. On the printing and packaging personalization side, we can mention HP (NYSE: HPQ) and Xerox (NYSE: XRX) that are betting on the manufacture of water-based inks, replacing the highly polluting solvents frequently used by the printing industry. There is also the case of BASF SE (BATS EU: BAS), which offers innovative solutions such as “Ecovio,” a compostable biopolymer (it degrades biologically to form compost) that can replace the classic paper used, for example, to wrap food in fast-food chains such as McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD). 3M (NYSE: MMM), for its part, provides solutions such as its Scotch 3520 polymer for use in bagging machines, made of 100% compostable materials.
Another trigger for the acceleration of this industry was the arrival of Covid 19, which exponentially increased online commerce and, therefore, home delivery of packages. At this point is where we can not fail to mention International Paper Co (NYSE: IP), one of the world’s leading manufacturers of packaging materials (mainly paper and cardboard) and the owner of the largest number of hectares for timber harvesting in the US. This company is committed to the reforestation of its forests so that by the year 2030, 100% of the products it generates will be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
On the other hand, Covid 19 also changed the purchasing habits of many consumers, making many of them inclined to buy packaged food for reasons of hygiene and safety. This accelerated the research and development of antibacterial and antimicrobial packaging and opened the door to research into packaging with antiviral properties. Sealed Air (NYSE: SEE), known for being the inventor of those famous plastic sheets covered with air bubbles to protect delicate objects, is active in this area. Faced with the excess plastic used to package and preserve food, the company launched its “Cryovac BDF Film” solution, a transparent film that preserves the quality of food for longer by preventing the generation of bacteria while using 60% less plastic than other similar products.
In reference to the food industry, we cannot overlook beverages. PepsiCo (NASDAQ: PEP), presented its Pep+ program, which aims at strategic transformation by putting sustainability at its core, and plans to reduce the use of plastic in its packaging by 50% by 2030. We should also mention the efforts of Ball Corp (NYSE: BALL), which is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of aluminum cans for food and develops awareness campaigns through social networks to induce people to separate waste (a fundamental step in the recycling chain) since aluminum has the particularity of being recycled infinite times.
As we can see, the future focus of the packaging industry is on sustainability. Currently, more than 400 million tons of plastic are generated worldwide every year, of which one-third is used in the manufacture of packaging, but the current trend is towards greater use of paper, cardboard and biodegradable and compostable polymers. On the other hand, scientific advances are bringing us closer to materials such as bioplastic, a plastic whose origin is not in petroleum but in a crop, such as corn, thus achieving a manufacturing process more friendly to nature. The truth is that the packaging industry is so broad and necessary that there is much work to be done in the coming years, but it is undoubtedly an exemplary case that shows how all the actors involved in an industry can unite with a common goal, and begin to solve problems of concern in very short periods of time.