Plastic’s biggest asset; its durability, is also its biggest downfall.

A material often used only once and for a short period, but which lasts hundreds of years has created a fearsome legacy. Visceral images – notably of the effects of ocean plastics pollution, have stirred up public sentiment around the world

Mobilised to act, consumers, regulators and activists are demanding sustainable packaging alternatives with which to create a truly circular economy in which plastics never become waste.

Responding to plastic’s status as public enemy number one, a growing number of retailers are investing in unpackaged in-store solutions, allowing their customers to actively reduce plastic waste and keep a lid on food wastage by not buying more than they need.

With the next iteration of the circular economy so clearly focused on reusability alongside recyclability, and with single-use now a toxic phrase for many consumers, refillable packaging is becoming more and more commonly known and used. While consumers want packaging reduction that comes from reuse, they expect this to be a simple and mess-free transaction.

Though slow, progress is being made. Sales of refillables at Waitrose’s Unpacked shops for example, are outselling their packaged equivalent by 68%. And at Asda a trial range of products in refillable containers has a major role to play in a wider move to avoid the use of approximately 19,500 tonnes of ‘virgin’ plastic by the end of 2020.

But the battle can only be won on several united fronts, and retailers are calling on their packaging partners for new ways of thinking; ‘intuition resets’ that offer sustainability while also meeting the growing need for on-the-go convenience.

For the fourth time, we stand on the brink of an industrial revolution with the potential to impact global economies and lifestyles.

Whereas its predecessors empowered us with steam and water, electricity and then with computers, it’s now the turn of Industry 4.0 to fundamentally change the way we live, work, and relate to each other. The difference this time will be the scale and scope of the fusion of physical and digital technologies.  And nowhere will the transformation create more potential for growth than in the packaging and manufacturing sectors.

Like smart homes and smart cities, hyper-connected smart factories and packaging facilities will harness the might of IoT, big data analytics, intelligent robotics, AI, AR and 3D printing to unite machines, devices, sensors, and people in a way that will create tailwinds for industry, shift consumer preferences and support our insatiable demand for more sustainable materials.

As ever, the changes hurtling our way have the might and momentum to inspire and overwhelm in equal measure. Nine out of 10 UK manufacturers see a road to digitisation strewn with obstacles and uncertainty. Nearly seven out of 10 can only see the rise of connectedness as a major threat.

But wherever manufacturing business currently sits on the curve of evolution, the one certainty is that failing to unlock and unleash the hidden gold mine buried within its operational data means passing up a chance to turn the business they have today into the business they aspire to have tomorrow.

Packaging & Manufacturing Partner