From sustainability to behavioural economics: More “Big Ideas” from Interpack 2017

We completed the second half of our ‘Big Ideas’ series this week, with expert guests and members of the Amcor team discussing some of the most important topics facing brand owners and manufacturers. Here are highlights from Interpack week two.

12 May, 2017
Sustainability Strategist Dr Leyla Acaroglu kicked off Monday’s agenda with an inspiring presentation that championed sustainability as an innovation opportunity.

Sustainability myth or fact? Using life cycle thinking to create better packaging systems

“Thinking we have to change human behaviour is a myth; it's about systems change,” said Leyla, who argued that industry needs to move from a linear economy system, which follows a ‘take-make-waste’ route, towards a circular system. 

“Sustainability is not about ‘tree-hugging’. We need an approach to creative production that intentionally reduces the environmental and social impacts through effective decision-making.”  Leyla adds, “It's not just about recycling. The linear approach leaves a lot unaccounted for – like the environmental impact of flow-on effects. We need to understand the potential impact of our decisions before they happen.”

Positioning design as the catalyst in a shift to closed-loop processes, Leyla suggested we reject a one-size-fits-all approach and:
  • Reimagine functionality. By assuming we know what people want without reimaging the delivery of the functionality, we accidentally redesign the same solutions.
  • Don’t get stuck in the current form. To change products and services, we need to look beyond the primary use and change form as well as function.
  • Get over the idea that there are good and bad materials. A material is only good if it achieves a function. We need to value material based on how well it does its job.
  • Conduct a life cycle assessment (LCA) to understand the environmental impact a product has as it moves through the economy.

In the panel discussion following Leyla’s keynote, Gerald Rebitzer, Director of Sustainability at Amcor Flexibles, supported Leyla’s call for a different approach: “We have tools and technology.  We now need more agents for change.”

Colin Yates, Packaging Development Director at Mars Petcare, called for a collaborative – as opposed to a competitive – approach to solving problems, while Rob Opsomer, New Plastics Economy Lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, stressed the importance of nurturing a design system with life cycle benefits in mind – one that is focused on creating positives and not only reducing negatives. 


The Virtuous Circle project: multi-material multi-layer packaging in the circular economy

The emphasis on taking a holistic view of sustainability continued at the Save Food Pavilion, with a panel discussion chaired by Patricia Vangheluwe of Plastics Europe, featuring representatives from Virtuous Circle partnership companies.

Based around three pillars –, feeding, educating and recycling – the Virtuous Circle project is a real-life example of how companies along the supply chain can collaborate. As Gerald Rebitzer of Amcor recognised, “It’s not putting a package on the market and then wondering what will happen to it – we worked together on a full-service solution from the start.”

The project delivered nutrient rich food in dual-compartment pouches made of multilayer material to classrooms in South Africa. The empty pouches were then upcycled into applications valued by society – in this case, school desks and housing. Karlheinz Hausmann of DuPont and Iqbal Hirji of RWPA spoke about how the project is the result of five partner companies taking ownership. “Multilayer packaging is not going away – we need it to extend shelf life – and, with the Virtuous Circle project, we have found an end use for the waste,” Iqbal said.

With a focus on the education pillar, Katy Newham of Wastebusters talked about the need to “promote the carrot as well as the stick of why people should recycle. We taught children that by putting waste into the recycling bin, it would bring desks to their school. They saw with their own eyes the results of their actions.”

Julika Falconer of Futurelife Foundation concluded the discussion: “By combining expert knowledge, the project was able to address a number of issues at once. On our own, we would not have had this impact. The learning from that is immense.”

Why we buy: Applying behavioural economics to how packaging drives purchasing decisions

On Tuesday, the focus shifted to ways in which brands can harness packaging to stand out from the competition. Ben Schubert, Senior Vice President of Innovation Practice at Nielsen, introduced the concept of behavioural economics in his keynote.

Despite the proliferation of products across many retail environments, Ben stated the “real battleground is not choice, it’s awareness. Across categories, the top-performing package is seen by approximately 70% more consumers than the bottom-performing pack.”

He went on to say that packaging is underutilised as a purchasing driver: “Packaging is the dark horse of marketing. It has the opportunity to reach 100% of category users at the first moment of truth where 50 to 80% of purchase decisions are made.”

According to Ben, great packaging design can be achieved by:
  • Carrying out quantitative consumer assessment.
  • Looking for inspiration outside of the category.
  • Collaborating across the business.
  • Seeing your pack as one of thousands of little billboards for your brand.

From Trash to Treasure: Closing the recycling loop on flexible packaging 

Our last ‘Big Ideas’ discussion looked at how we can make widespread recycling of flexible packaging a reality, with four panellists representing sustainability initiatives in Europe, the U.S. and Asia that address challenges such as mixed materials, collection services and recovery facilities. 

Richard McKinlay of Axion Consulting, who worked on the two-year REFLEX project, and Graham Houlder of SLOOP Consulting, who is involved in CEFLEX, both stated a key finding of their respective initiatives was that 80% of flexibles in the waste stream are already suitable for recycling.

“This often meant it only needed to be sent through one more sorting stage to be recycled,” said Graham, who went on to explain that the 34 stakeholders in CEFLEX have pledged to drive collection, recycling and sorting technologies in Europe to a new level by 2025.

Graham added that one of the biggest challenges is getting packaging to a place where it can be sorted – a sentiment shared by Anne Johnson of RRS, who works on MRFF, a single-stream recycling project in the U.S. MRFF’s first year has focused on testing, and in the future Anne hopes to run a successful pilot that can then be rolled out to other communities, something David Clark of Amcor has experience in through the Asia-focused Trash Free Seas Alliance. He outlined the factors needed to create a robust recycling scheme:
  1. Government policy
  2. Outside funding to implement waste management
  3. Effective collection and sorting services
  4. Commodity markets that will buy material
  5. A clear end-use

If you missed our ‘Big Ideas’ series at Interpack 2017, you can still watch videos and download speakers' presentations from our post-event page: Take a virtual seat for presentations covering differentiation and packaging trends; product safety and sustainability.