Packaging Innovations returned to the Birmingham NEC with a focus on the future of the sector, both in terms of the environmental challenges and the technological advances ahead.
Taking place on 27-28 February, the show once again ran a series of seminars and debates surrounding the use of plastics in packaging, and whether the materials should be developed and reused, or whether they should be replaced entirely.
Jane Bevis, director of the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL), chaired a number of discussions around this debate, which saw representatives from brands, manufacturers and government weigh in from varying positions.
She said: “We are at a moment of tremendous change in packaging and even by the time we meet next year we will be a lot further down the route to sustainability and also significant penalties for those who do not comply to the new rules.
“It is up to us to stay engaged and active in the debate to make sure it goes in the right direction.”
Most of the eco-minded debates took place on the show’s EcoPack stage, which was sponsored by Huntingdon-based plastic fabricator Charpak, whose new Twist-Loc product is the UK’s first 100% recyclable plastic container, with all disposed materials collected locally and returned to the firm’s manufacturing process for reuse.
Marketing manager Marisa Brennan said: “We were first inspired to do this about two years ago by campaigns run by Sky Ocean Rescue and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and we have seen a lot of talk around the circular economy but no one taking any action with it.
“We thought we may as well be the first to apply this to our manufacturing process and hopefully other packaging companies will follow suit so we can see a difference by this time next year.”
Alongside the environmental discussions, a burgeoning focus on the technological and business-related progress afoot began to gain traction on the exhibition floor.
Self-adhesive labels manufacturer Skanem UK unveiled its new line in Magic Code labels, which allow scannable codes to be embedded directly into printed label designs. The process can be applied using any printing technology.
According to NPD design manager Carl Morgan, the next step is incorporating luminescent and metallic inks into the practice, as well as spreading the tech further so it can become more accessible at all levels of the market.
“Magic Code is high-end at the moment and we have been working with luxury wine brands, as well as having discussions with cosmetics,” he said. “We hope the process will become more readily available and move its way down the market in the future – the technology continues to evolve as we speak.”
Advances in tech were a highlight for Easyfairs packaging division director James Drake-Brockman, who marks his third year overseeing the Birmingham show in 2019. He expressed hopes that industrial packaging and technological demonstrations would increase in presence when the show returns.
He also highlighted the Start-Up Village – a space in which Easyfairs granted eight small start-ups a free exhibition space to network with potential new customers and investors, including paper-based flexible packaging manufacturer Flexi-Hex, which won the show’s EcoPack Challenge award.
“Sustainability is really important and I am very happy that, with our partners at OPRL and the Foodservice Packaging Association, we have been able to put on a very balanced and fair debate,” Drake-Brockman said.
“One thing I have noticed is that big companies like Unilever and Marks & Spencer have started sending teams of 20 rather than one or two, and also that marketing people are coming with a new lens alongside their packaging colleagues, which means people are really watching our industry.
“It makes me really happy to give a leg-up to businesses like Flexi-Hex and hopefully they will be booking stands in the future. There are interesting developments in the sector as a whole and I am really pleased to be providing a platform for that.”
He concluded: “Our numbers this year are looking to be miles ahead of any previous year – this is the biggest show we have had by a considerable margin and will only be bigger and better next year.”
Packaging Innovations will runs its luxury-focused London show once again on 11-12 September this year.