Plastic Ingenuity, a custom thermoformer in North America, reveals in its new report key sustainability drivers propelling the packaging industry to support a more circular economy.
Plastic has an indispensable role in the marketplace but that is often overlooked due to prevailing misconceptions about its use and benefits.
“Most people don’t consider how the convenience, safety and affordability of the products they use daily are made possible by plastic,” said Dan Kuehn, president and CEO of Plastic Ingenuity. “Plastic should absolutely be part of the circular economy. That’s something that we, and the wider packaging industry, are trying to address.”
Plastic Ingenuity has published its second annual Circularity Report to highlight challenges, opportunities and successes from the past year, including valued insights gleaned from sustainability and packaging professionals. Based on these conversations, Plastic Ingenuity has identified five sustainability initiatives that reflect evolving priorities in the healthcare industry, and that will drive innovation and market growth in the years ahead.
1. New influences advancing sustainability initiatives
Organisations across industries are facing heightened priority on sustainability efforts, fueled by a confluence of forces. Specifically, the number of sustainability-minded consumers is increasing, causing a shift in expectations, especially among younger demographics. The scale and buying power of large retailers and group purchasing organisations are a major influence on healthcare organisations. Additionally, the leadership of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and legislative policy are driving progress. Another catalyst, newly cited in 2022, is investor influence. As one stakeholder noted, “Sustainability goals are now factored into executive compensation. This provides accountability and influences action from the top down.”
2. Expanded understanding of circularity in packaging
Many organisations recognise that transitioning to a circular economy is necessary to achieve responsible consumption goals. According to Plastic Ingenuity’s 2022 stakeholder study, 64% of respondents said their organisations are focused on maximising post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in their packaging to enhance circularity. Not only does using PCR help minimise material waste, it also significantly lowers the carbon footprint of a package. Moreover, the demand for PCR stimulates the economic incentives that support recycling industry operations. This is critical, as collection and recovery need to expand to meet accelerating demand for recycled materials.
3. Increasing need to recover all packaging types
Improving recovery rates of all packaging types is essential to unlock true circularity in packaging. In fact, the goal to increase recovery was cited by 92% of surveyed stakeholders, and 67% indicated it’s a top priority. Four tactics can help improve recovery rates, including making packages from recyclable materials, designing packages for recovery, increasing package recovery in practice, and exploring closed-loop recycling. Notably, closed-loop recycling is an option when traditional recycling systems are unavailable, such as within the highly regulated healthcare industry.
4. Innovative technologies improving recycling capabilities
Advanced recycling techniques and mass balance systems have the potential to unlock new opportunities for using PCR materials in more types of packaging, including healthcare applications. Advanced recycling, also called chemical recycling, is a suite of novel recycling techniques that focuses on hard-to-recycle materials, while a mass balance system is a chain-of-custody protocol that tracks recycled content.
5. Design enhancements supporting waste reduction
Design optimisation is enabling greater packaging circularity. The Association of Plastics Recyclers Design Guides, HPRC’s Design Guidance for Healthcare Plastics Recycling and other resources help create packages designed for recovery. Additionally, packaging systems are being evaluated holistically to determine where reductions can be made. A minimalist approach can help reduce weight and material usage, increasing shipping and other downstream efficiencies. As one stakeholder noted, “A little bit of packaging reduction goes a long way.”
Each of these initiatives are explored in detail in Plastic Ingenuity’s 2023 Circularity Report
. Furthermore, for every download before 31st December 2023, Plastic Ingenuity will donate $5 to Project Drawdown. Project Drawdown’s mission is for the world to reach “drawdown” – the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change – as quickly, safely and equitably as possible.
“By sharing this report, we hope to inspire brands in the healthcare industry to adopt packaging that is as sustainable as possible without impeding its function, which is to preserve and protect its contents,” said Zach Muscato, corporate sustainability manager at Plastic Ingenuity. “We’re also using these insights to inform our circularity and sustainability capabilities at Plastic Ingenuity, ensuring our progress adds value for our customers.”
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