The recent pandemic has changed the megatrends in packaging design, with significant implications for the short and long term
The global pandemic has had a dramatic impact on people’s lives, and this has had repercussions on consumers’ perceptions of packaging. Until a few months ago, newspaper and internet headlines were dominated by worries about the invasion of plastic on our seas, by environmental compromises and the difficulties of managing recycling. All of this created consumer awareness about more sustainable lifestyle choices and habits. Then the pandemic took over and packaging, particularly single-use plastic packaging, has become the key element in ensuring health and safety.
So, it’s clear that today the value of good packaging is well understood, yet our concerns related to environmental sustainability have all but disappeared.
This is why now more than ever the whole packaging industry should evolve and move in the direction that can offer the best protection for the environment and the society we live in, by taking on a key role in this change.
There are a few considerations that ensue from this, such as how we can change the world of packaging after Covid-19 and how we can prepare ourselves to contribute to the creation of a more solid future that’s eco-friendly.
Greater interest in sustainable packaging
At the height of the pandemic, the media’s attention focussed on the value of packaging in supplying and delivering products to homes to ensure the health and safety of consumers. The consequence has been an increase in the use of single-use plastic, due to the general need to reduce the risk of transmission of a virus that is little understood.
Packaging is now recognised as one of the key tools in safeguarding products and consumers yet, at the same time, the increased use of plastics is raising awareness further about current consumer behaviour patterns and waste management.
As time passes, this will demonstrate a raised awareness of the true environmental impact of single-use plastics and it is likely that there will be a tendency towards the choice of products wrapped in packaging that can be partially or entirely recycled. According to some research, even now consumers are already more likely to purchase products wrapped in eco-friendly packaging and, within the year, it’s expected that this will become an increasingly common requirement around the world.
A new vision of recycling
The current definition of recycling should be broadened and standardised. During lockdown, that has touched the whole world at various points in time, even consumers who don’t normally purchase online have used e-commerce services or apps for meal deliveries to their home. These numbers have reached unprecedented levels.
In the post-Covid-19 world, where it’s expected that home deliveries and online buying will remain high, emerging recovery technologies will be invaluable. It’s often difficult to recycle packaging. For this reason, it’s going to be all the more necessary to continue to protect products with functional and aesthetically pleasing packaging, as currently happens but with the added courage to create new components that can be completely recycled.
Discover Duo, the closure from the Collection range that can be separated and recycled
In the short term, the whole packaging industry will need to deal with a growth curve, characterised by research and development into more efficient ways of collecting, sorting and reusing materials and existing technology to tackle future consumer trends.
As forecasts predict that e-commerce and takeaway food services will continue to grow, ways of sorting multi-material packaging or identifying new ways of collecting pre-existing packaging need to be established.
We’ll need to set objectives and take effective action, but also introduce legislation and standards to widen the concept of recycling. Alongside this, we need an alignment between States and international organisations to include more collection types, promote innovation and help to support investment.
Reusable packaging will continue its growth, but in a different way
To reduce the risk of spreading the virus, a growing number of restaurants have suspended the use of reusable containers and in some countries, they have temporarily revoked the ban on using plastic bags. These changes have led many experts to ask themselves what the future of reusable packaging will be.
Realistically, aside from the initial unease, we can say that there’s nothing to fear and that reusable materials will be a growth opportunity. It will be sufficient to change approach and offer cleanliness and sanitation guarantees before being made available for reuse, with the potential for the creation of new business within this field.
This type of approach would reduce the risk of relying on consumer cleaning practices, by reducing the potential transmission through handling and by introducing a new development to the world of packaging.
Reinvention and action
While we look to the future of a post-pandemic world, we have the opportunity to assess and reinvent the environment we live in, by identifying structural weaknesses and committing ourselves to researching new solutions. To get started, we need to begin to look at packaging as a system and explore the impact of change to the supply chain. By doing this, we can bring together interested parties within the value chain to continue to create a shared vision of the near future.
Creating a joined-up strategy that recognises the value of packaging, but also emphasises how to deal with its weaknesses, could lead to economic growth for the whole industry. It won’t be easy but if we can align everyone around a strategy that’s based on principles that protect the environment and people’s health, it will be possible to increase efficiencies for the reciprocal advantage of society, the environment and the economy.
The concept of sustainable packaging goes far beyond just design. It demands innovative thinking, inquisitiveness, and the desire to move the circular economy forwards so that it can meet the changing demands of consumers and protect the world we live in.
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