Circular Economy & the future of Packaging Design

In 2018 the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy Package was established, to make the transition to a more sustainable economy by closing material and product cycles for packaging. It includes provisions for enhancing circular approaches to raw materials at a European level and aims to substantially increase recycling rates of all packaging materials.

circular packaging economy design

Circular Packaging Design

The University of Applied Sciences Vienna (FH Campus Wein), together with Packforce Austria, (the Austrian member of World Packaging Organisation WPO) and Circular Analytics, have developed and issued the Circular Packaging Design Guideline, which is essentially design recommendations for sustainable, recyclable packaging. It covers the entire supply chain of the packaging industry and focuses on sustainable packaging design, as well as the recyclable design of packaging systems for all contributors along the chain. Its a document that will evolve and update in accordance with future sorting and recycling technologies and packaging material developments.

Future challenges for product & packaging design

Because of the circular economy and this holistic approach to the packaging process, new challenges are presented for product design and packaging conception. Considerations not only for the main materials used but also the use of printing inks, adhesives, labels, films and additional small parts such as openers or closures are all covered in the Circular Packaging Design Guideline. Packaging will need to meet multifarious requirements including the balance of maximum functionality and protection of goods with minimal ecological impacts.

Below are extracts from the guidelines as to how these fundamentals are to be achieved:

Effective– Packaging needs to be fit for purpose and add as much value as possible with regards to both the consumer and the product (e.g. retain shelf life). In order to asses effectiveness, detailed knowledge about the properties of the packaged goods is required. The packaging must provide adequate protection against adverse environmental influences such as mechanical stress, oxygen, humidity or light. In addition, the packaging must ensure easy handling by the final consumer to the greatest possible extent. Finally, it can be empirically established that the packaging has an influence on product loss.

Efficient– The use of raw materials, emissions, energy, and the generation of waste need to be minimised throughout the entire life cycle. Life-cycle assessment (LCA) is the standard instrument for assessing the efficiency and thus the ecological sustainability of packaging. It takes into account the environmental impact of the packaging over its entire life cycle. The life cycles start with raw material extraction and end with the full disposal of the packaging. The amount of CO2 equivalents that are emitted throughout the entire life cycle is a well-known parameter for assessing the ecological impact of the packaging.

Safe– Safe packaging is designed to minimize health and safety risks to human beings and ecosystems throughout its life cycle. Regarding admissibility for food contact, the applicable legal requirements need to be met, and additional aspects such as consumer safety, environmental protection and tamper evidence need to be considered.

Cyclic– Cyclic packaging is designed to maximise the recovery of materials used. This is aimed at longevity of the life cycle, full substitution for virgin materials of the same type (closed-loop recycling) or use of renewable materials. Circular packaging design refers to the principle of cyclic approaches. Products should be designed and produced in a way which, after the period of use, permits the recovery, to a high degree, of the raw materials to be employed as secondary raw materials, the reuse of the packaging, or the manufacture of the packaging from renewable raw materials.

International Development of Packaging

Packforce will target the European market first, with special issues of the guidelines developed for Northern Europe, Central Eastern Europe and Western Europe. The recyclability of a packaging system will depend greatly on the technical capabilities of a given country, therefore Packforce are looking for cooperation partners in the respective countries, that will be able to contribute to a first step information regarding the collections systems and recycling infrastructures available.

For International consumer goods companies and retailers, additional information will be required on the recycling infrastructure on a Global level.