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Top Packaging Trends 2023: “Plastics circularization” leads sustainability charge amid greenwashing backlash

Innova Market Insights’ consumer survey was conducted in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Spain, Mexico, the UK and the US.

Innova Market Insights has revealed its top packaging trends for 2023, with “Plastics circularization” taking the lead spot. Plastic packaging consumption will continue to grow despite anti-plastic sentiment and increasingly stringent waste management regulations. Forward-thinking brands see a future for plastic packaging that can support the circular economy. 

“Green but clean,” “Renewable rebellion,” “Meaningful connections” and “Reusable revival” complete the global market researcher’s top packaging trends. Greenwashing fears will abound amid a surge in on-pack environmental claims, creating opportunities for brands that can defend sustainability messaging with validated science.

Meanwhile, paper-based and bioplastic packaging, connective technologies and reusable packaging systems will continue to gain traction on the journey toward greater environmental sustainability.

Trend one: Plastics circularizationPlastic isn’t going anywhere. Although plastic reduction initiatives are gathering pace and renewable alternatives are on the rise, plastic’s inherent qualities as a lightweight, versatile and hygienic material means that production and consumption continue to increase.

Now, the main focus for governments and the industry should be on delivering recycle-by-design packaging and recycling systems that can help reestablish plastic within a circular economy.

Innova Market Insights found that 61% of global consumers believe the increased use of plastic packaging is necessary – although perhaps undesirable – since the COVID-19 pandemic for safety reasons.

Despite the plastic pollution crisis and poor recycling rates, 72% of global consumers still believe plastic has average or above recyclability relative to other materials. Moreover, half (52%) say they would pay more for a product if it came in recyclable packaging.

“In an effort to improve plastic circularity, we’re noticing an increasing shift toward monomaterial films using LDPE and PP, for which recycling infrastructure already exists,” says Akhil Eashwar Aiyar, projects leader at Innova Market Insights.

The use of flexible LDPE packaging for F&B products has grown 8.6% on average between 2018-2022, driven by demand from the ready meals and meat, fish and poultry categories.

Leading the charge, ProAmpac has launched high-performance retort pouches containing post-consumer recycled material for human and pet food applications and a monomaterial film for microwave vegetable steaming.

For more complex, multilayered packaging, investment in chemical waste recycling is rising. Rabobank predicted that advanced recycling plants will double to around 140 plants globally by 2025.

On the regulatory front, more stringent legislation like plastic packaging taxes, mandatory recycling goals and EPR and DRS schemes are incentivizing the circular economy transition, although recycled plastic remains expensive worldwide.

Trend two: Green but cleanConsumers want sustainability, but they don’t want to be misled. Innova Market Insights flagged that environmental claims like “carbon impact,” “reduced packaging” and “plastic-free” on F&B packaging have almost doubled (92%) since 2018. However, the proliferation of sustainability messaging has created fears of unsubstantiated claims.

“In order to appease the eco-conscious consumer, we have observed a surge in product offerings over the past few years that capitalize on the consumer sentiment with ‘green’ claims that may not necessarily be substantiated,” says Aiyar.

“For products that do feature verifiable claims regarding end-of-life cycle, we continue to grapple with consumer uncertainty regarding the proper disposal of such packages to facilitate effective waste management.”

Environmentalists said they expected a “lawsuit tidal wave” after the UN announced plans to establish a global plastic pollution treaty, while regulators are clamping down on false advertising as demands on big businesses to clean up their plastic waste grows.

Recently, McDonald’s, Nestlé and Danone were put on notice for failing to abide by France’s “Duty of Vigilance” laws on plastic reduction targets.

Meanwhile, the European Commission found that more than half (53%) of the product claims it assessed in 2020 gave “vague, misleading or unfounded information about products’ environmental characteristics.”

In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority is investigating how products claiming to be “eco-friendly” are being marketed and whether consumers are being misled.

But the greenwashing wave also empowers honest brands capable of delivering scientifically-validated claims supported by transparent and regulated mechanisms like plastic credits, with some suggesting we have entered a “post-LCA world.”

Global consumers increasingly demand product transparency around sustainability claims, with 47% wanting to see the level of a pack’s environmental impact illustrated as a score or grade, and 34% saying that a reduced carbon footprint score positively influences their purchasing decision.

Trend three: Renewable rebellionNot everyone is keen on petrochemical plastics. Pollution and climate change fears and geopolitical uncertainties around the availability of oil and gas – exacerbated by the war in Ukraine – are driving the movement to…

Read the full “Top Packaging Trends 2023: “Plastics circularization” leads sustainability charge amid greenwashing backlash” on PackagingInsights.