The Future Of Packaging

The Packaging Innovations 2019 show took place in Birmingham earlier this month and we investigated everything that is new in the world of sustainable packaging. 

Sustainability emerged as a key theme at this year’s Packaging Innovation show in Birmingham. Here are our key takeaways.  


Plastic was the hot topic this year. With numerous talks focusing on the material, including the Big Plastic Debate and suppliers promising plastic-free alternatives.

A stall dedicated to the Plastic FreeTM mark (launched on 16th May 2018) presented an array of examples of how brands and companies are creating solutions for packaging needs with zero plastic. The mark aims to be a clear, identifying trust mark that makes it simple for shoppers to choose plastic-free products.

Suppliers around the show were offering their solutions, from plant-based plastics that biodegrade in industrial sites, to circular solutions to plastic and recycled plastic, and substituting plastic with paper using new technology to create similar properties. 


Another key topic that was being addressed was the end of life of the packaging. From biodegradable and compostable solutions, to designing for recyclability. 

The fact that plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose in landfill has made ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ buzz words in the packaging realm. 

1. Biodegradable & Compostable

Development in technologies has meant that companies are able to produce products that mimic the characteristics of plastic, but with the additional benefit that it will break down faster. These products often are labelled as compostable or biodegradable, however, these terms should be taken with a pinch of salt. The use of the words biodegradable and compostable in this context means that they will break down in certain, specific conditions. This might mean that they might only compost in industrial composting facilities, where the perfect conditions have been created to allow for this decomposing. It does not necessarily mean that it will decompose if you bury it in your garden. 

Companies should clearly label their products and communicate to consumers how they should dispose of their products. There are some useful marks available to help guide consumers on this, like the Seedling Compostable Logo; however, the consumer will still need to check on how their local authority processes this type of waste. 

2. Recyclability

Some suppliers focused on the ability of their product to be easily recycled at the end of its life; whether this was by using all the same type of plastic throughout the product so that it didn’t need to be separated when recycling, or by producing products made solely of glass or aluminium materials that are commonly recycled. 

The term recyclable can also be confusing for consumers. Companies should make sure that they clearly label if their products can be recycled, and the type of plastics or materials they are made of. It is worth recognising that different local recycling agencies will accept different types of plastics and materials, so consumers will need to check with their local service provider. 


FSC was also widely spoken about, with a dedicated FSC stand to educate showgoers on the benefits of using FSC paper or wood. FSC is an international, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world’s forests. 

FSC aims to improve forest management worldwide through promoting better social and environmental practices. The FSC mark is recognised by 55% of people in the UK.

As well as a section dedicated to sustainable packaging (‘Ecopack’), many of the suppliers were talking about how they could address the issues of sustainability in their sectors; whether by eliminating plastic from their products; creating plastic alternatives from sources like corn, using Fairtrade factories, utilising recycled materials or creating circular solutions to packaging. 

The dedicated ‘Ecopack’ section showcased packaging solutions alongside a programme of talks and discussions on the future of sustainable packaging, exploring current trends. The talks ranged from how to address packaging in beauty; to designing packaging for circularity. 

One key idea that stuck with us from this programme was from a talk given by Trewin Restorick, the founder and CEO of Hubbub UK, who explored the idea of how we can get the general public to recycle more and litter less. He said that research has found that humans behave differently when we are being watched. Eyes have been used to tackle anti-social behaviour and crime rates in Rotterdam, where 10,000 cartoon eyes were installed on buildings and bus stops. Similarly, the University of Newcastle found that when there was a pair of fake eyes watching people, that they were more likely to put money in an honesty box in the canteen. 

From this, Hubbub started the ‘Communitrees’ campaign in 2016, a new social experiment in the Forest of Dean, where they installed eyes on trees made from reclaimed waste by the local community. They were placed at litter hotspots, and they found that there was a 30% reduction in local litter levels. Could this be a solution for encouraging people to recycle more?


Want to know more about beauty packaging? Make-up artist Sjaniël Turrell delves into the complex world of cosmetics packaging in a bid to decipher what it all means.

If you’re interested in sustainable fabrics see our learnings from the Future Fabrics Expo 2019