The worldwide focus on environmental wellbeing means the role packaging plays has never been more important. The UK plastic packaging tax and pressure from consumers, as well as environmental agencies are triggering packaging design teams into innovating new sustainable ideas for the industry.

New Vision Packaging’s managing director, Stephen Shortland has 20 years of experience within packaging design.

The world has a plastic problem. This is highlighted in grim detail in the pages of every packaging magazine and on the bulletins of every news show, but the numbers behind the story are truly shocking. Only 9% of plastic has ever been recycled. The rest? Incinerated, creating harmful emissions in the process, or simply sitting in a landfill as we speak.

Now, plastics aren’t quite the bogeyman they’re sometimes made out to be – there are times when there really isn’t any alternative – but there is still work to be done in those situations where using plastic isn’t necessary. And, for all the media attention the plastic problem gets, plastic solutions get precious little attention. So what can be done?

Led by the consumer

As it happens, the answer isn’t really up to us. It’s all down to the consumer. The consumer makes it clear what they want from brands, the brands ask for packaging that works from converters and the converters get the materials they need from the manufacturers. If the consumer wants something different, that affects the whole chain and all the evidence shows that they do.

Findings by intelligence firm McKinsey showed 70% of consumers would be willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. You won’t find a clearer example of ‘voting with your wallet’ than that. 

Now, one of the reasons the packaging industry has used so much plastic for so long is that it’s very cheap considering how versatile it is. With consumers making it clear that they are willing to play their part in ensuring a more sustainable future, the cost implications of alternative packaging materials don’t seem so severe. 

Plastic taxes are here

That isn’t the only cost implication affecting plastic packaging. Since 1 April, the Plastic Packaging Tax has been in force. This means importers and manufacturers of plastic packaging containing less than 30% recycled plastic are subject to a charge of £200 per tonne. Other countries are in the process of implementing similar taxes of their own. 

The future of plastic packaging is significantly less secure than it was a few years ago and its value proposition has never been lower. That’s not a bad thing for the packaging industry, though – it presents an opportunity for innovative alternatives to take centre stage.

A plastic-free future

At New Vision, we believe the long-term future of packaging will be more secure if it’s as plastic-free as possible. We’ve overhauled our approach to be more cartonboard-focused, and found it unlocked a whole host of creative possibilities that our clients might not have known about otherwise. When it comes to special packaging for limited-edition fast moving consumer good (FMCG) products, this creative freedom is absolutely essential to the design process.

Alternative substrates like cartonboard are absolutely capable of producing packaging that delights and intrigues consumers in ways they wouldn’t expect. It can be folded, creased, and cut into impossibly intricate designs, embossed, foil-stamped, and generally made to look and feel precisely how you want. And, with sustainability now firmly embedded in the public consciousness, going plastic-free can be a powerful marketing tool that helps one brand stand out from the others surrounding it on the shelf.

Plastic is only set to become a more complex topic as increased numbers of countries pass legislation to curb its use in packaging. For converters and retailers, cartonboard is a high-performance, high-barrier alternative that can help them meet the demands of compliance and consumers. As the global conversation continues to shift, a premium cartonboard solution is the best way to future-proof your product lines.

While plastic will always have its uses, governments and more importantly, consumers have largely made their minds up. By acting now, you can minimise legal, financial, and PR headaches in future.