Insights from Pack Expo 2023, Las Vegas
This year’s Pack Expo 2023 drew over 30,000 packaging professionals to roam the massive 1,000,000-square-foot exhibit hall floor space in Las Vegas, NV.
The show floor mood was upbeat as packaging companies reported a pickup in demand after a very challenging first half of the year due to inventory draw and a soft economy.
In addition, packaging equipment suppliers were optimistic about the outlook, both in terms of general investment activity and the changes impacting the packaging space and opportunities this change creates for those who innovate to adapt.
Sustainability is the key driver for change and on top of the agenda for packaging companies and other parts of the packaging value chain. The expo floor hosted a dedicated stage for upbeat sustainability presentations and discussions, while the exhibitors were proud to showcase sustainability-driven innovations and solutions in their booths and exhibits.
3. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
4. Waste reduction
Finding ways to reduce plastic packaging and the use of virgin and hard-to-recycle plastics was a key theme at Pack Expo 2023.
Fibre-based packaging companies featured their innovations to substitute sealife-killing beverage carrier rings and littering shrink wraps with recyclable, compostable and renewable fibre-based carrier solutions.
New pressed paperboard containers, often coated with novel bio-barrier coatings, were introduced as solutions to reduce hard-to-recycle plastics and EPS foams in fresh food packaging.
Moulded fibre product producers were well represented on the exhibit floor. Their small booths buzzed with food service operators and companies interested in biobased and biodegradable protective packaging solutions.
At the same time, plastic-based packaging companies are working towards the same goals by investing in biobased feedstocks and developing plastic recycling and recycled plastics integration in their technologies. One of the expo speakers, Dow Chemicals, aims for 100% of their products sold to packaging applications to be recyclable or reusable by 2035.
Recycled content inclusion is on the agendas of a growing number of CPGs and brands and is emerging as a part of sustainable packaging regulations.
Packaging being recyclable has been found to be a key argument for consumers, and this creates comfort in people’s minds that the packaging is sustainable.
Additionally, fibre-based packaging, especially the corrugated container industry, had a strong and positive story to tell about high recycling rates.
However, in discussions, many packaging community participants voiced concerns over consumers’ perceptions of the reliability of recycling programs and the widespread single-stream recycling in the U.S.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
Following in the footsteps of other countries, U.S. States have started introducing EPR legislation to fund packaging afterlife and recycling.
Currently, four U.S. States (Maine, Oregon, Colorado, and California) have EPR legislation in place, with producer compliance expected by the 2025-2027 timeframe.
Yet the mechanisms and impacts of these and the dozens of other proposed EPR schemes across various States are still unclear, causing uncertainty for brands and packaging producers.
Although the days of Chapstick being delivered in oversized Amazon boxes are mostly over, rights sizing of packaging continues to be a focus area. Accordingly, multiple on-demand packaging lines were running and creating the right-sized packages on the show floor.
Reusable packaging solutions were also featured in Las Vegas as another option to reduce waste, including for eCommerce. Reusable eCommerce boxes and bags are gaining traction, especially for celebrity-driven brands and subscriptions, which seem to be best positioned to create the engagement needed from consumers to return the packaging to circulation.
Sustainability is a team sport
Pack Expo brought together the entire packaging space, from material suppliers to brand owners, from processors and packagers to equipment suppliers, and many in between and beyond to showcase their latest innovations and development areas.
Clearly, the packaging community is coming together and committed to solving the sustainability challenge.