From earthquakes and tsunamis in Indonesia to a devastating fire at the factory of German recycling equipment maker Herbold Meckesheim, and to a major hurricane in Florida that caused flooding and the shut-down of several of Sonoco’s recycling and paper mill operations in the region, it has been a tumultuous few weeks around the world, which naturally has an impact on industry (the role of packaging in a disaster is reviewed in this month’s Asiaphile, p14).

While companies like Herbold Meckesheim and Sonoco clear up and rebuild after events beyond their control, others have been investing in new capacity and technology. Klöckner Pentaplast’s Pharma & Medical Device Division (kp PMD) is investing $25 million to expand its capacity in North America, while Borealis has committed to constructing a 750,000-tonne propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plant in Belgium, and PolyOne opened what it claims is the ‘first of its kind’ thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) production line in India.

Recent investments in printing technology seem to be focused on flexographic and digital, with US-based Kala Packaging expanding heavily with the purchase of a second HP Indigo 20000 Digital Press. Indian firm Vishal Containers invested in flexo with the purchase of a F2 MP hybrid machine from Spain’s Comexi having previously only used gravure technology for its flexible packaging.

The shift from gravure to flexographic is one reason that Comexi has made the decision to divest its rotogravure business and devote its efforts to offset and digital. It had been dedicated to gravure machinery for a decade.

In the buoyant recycling sector, rPlanet Earth opened its doors on a $100m vertically-integrated recycling plant in Vernon, California. The US company’s 302,000sqft facility takes bottles, clamshells and other packaging waste from kerbside collection and turns it into food-grade sheet, thermoformed containers and preforms.

In another busy month for recycling, PepsiCo signed a supply agreement with Loop Industries in which the snacks and drinks giant will incorporate LoopT PET plastics – which is 100 per cent recycled material – into its product packaging by early 2020; UK-based Parkside launched a fully recyclable single polymer laminate with barrier properties; and crisps (potato chips) brand Walkers outlined plans for the UK’s first nationwide recycling scheme for crisp packets, in conjunction with TerraCycle.

Supermarket giant Tesco, meanwhile, started to trial bottle-return machines in its stores, a move that competitors Iceland and Morrisons have already made with reverse-vending machines from Tomra Sorting.

The power of many was illustrated by three companies in North America that have partnered to launch a closed-loop polystyrene recycling consortium. ReVital Polymers, Pyrowave and Ineos Styrolution aim to recycle PS packaging collected in consumer kerbside and deposit recycling systems.

Meanwhile, a year after its launch, the APR Recycling Demand Champions Campaign, which consists of a number of major brands and converters, has generated more than 3,000 tonnes of new demand for recycled plastics.

In the world of bioplastics, BASF and Avantium are at loggerheads over the timing of the investment in a commercial-scale plant for furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA), which could lead to the collapse of their joint venture Synvina. FDCA and PEF are produced using plant-based materials and are seen as a potential replacement for the terephthalic acid used to produce PET. BASF has set a deadline of early December to decide if it will leave the JV.

In other bioplastics news, Borealis has formed a strategic alliance with Bockatech, a UK early stage Greentech and provider of EcoCore technology for sustainable packaging, for the development of foam injection moulding systems, and Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn has launched a bio-based milk container that is recyclable with conventional polyethylene.  


And finally…

As nearly 2.5 billion people today own a smartphone, flexible packaging converter Constantia Flexibles has invested in an Augmented Reality (AR) technology future for consumer packaging by signing a partnership with Wikitude.

The Austrian company is keen to take AR, which is accessible via a smartphone, from niche to mass market and enable the use of the technology in products such as chocolate bars, pet food and yoghurts.

Cadbury became one of the first major confectionery brands to experiment with AR on its chocolate packaging in 2011, where consumers could hold their smartphone over the pack and ducks would emerge from the packaging to be shot at.

If we are interacting with consumers on this level, perhaps brands could enable messages to come out of the packaging when a smartphone is held over it, such as ‘please do not throw this wrapper on the floor’ or ‘do not contribute to the world’s marine litter problem’.

AR could very soon be the norm in consumer packaging.