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What to expect at interpack 2023

How do you assess the current state of affairs in the packaging industry? 

More than two years of the pandemic and one year of war in Ukraine have led to a reluctance to invest, at least in parts of the global packaging industry. There is some catching up to do on projects that have been put on hold. However, it is difficult to generalise about the entire packaging industry. Even during the pandemic and throughout the past year, a few niches in the packaging industry enjoyed very positive, stable development. These included the hygiene, medical and pharmaceutical sectors, which had more work than they could handle throughout the entire period. Other sectors – and I include us, the confectionery industry, among them – were somewhat more restrained.

What are your expectations for 2023?

When it comes to raw material availability, energy prices and rising gas prices, I have the impression that the situation is easing a bit, but interrupted or disrupted supply chains for special chips are still a huge problem. If you look behind the scenes in assembly halls, you’ll see that they’re full of machines that are 98% complete. All that’s missing is a cable, a few safety switches, a few controls, a touchscreen or a servo motor, which are simply not available on the world market. The consequences are disastrous – the machines are virtually completed, but they can’t be delivered and converted into turnover.

Are you expecting things to get back to normal in the short term?

No, I don’t see that happening anytime soon because all mechanical engineering sectors worldwide are experiencing more or less the same problems. 

What trends and topics can we expect to see at interpack and beyond?  

The two megatrends at interpack and in the future are sustainability and digitalisation – more sustainable packaging materials and increased efficiency through digitalisation, to be precise. Other key topics are the circular economy, reducing material use and increasing recyclability through the use of mono-materials, which can be recycled better than common composites. 

Another exciting topic is the use of recyclates. If all manufacturers worldwide were to jump on this issue now, would we still have enough recyclate available? As good as these efforts may be, in the western world it could work because we have relatively well-functioning recycling systems to recycle packaging material. But what about the really big markets like Asia, Africa or South America? Clearly, they’re a long way from a functioning circular economy, but we still have to start. And the sooner, the better.

In view of the “no-waste” movement and the “last generation” protests, do you believe the packaging industry is still following the right business model when it comes to sustainability? 

Packaging protects products from damage, contamination and even ensures lower food loss and reduced waste of resources. Various studies estimate that 33 to 40% of the food produced worldwide ends up directly in the rubbish. The truth probably lies somewhere in-between. This waste is partly because the food doesn’t even reach the consumer due to inadequate cold chains, inadequate packaging and, as a result, inadequate protection. To put it bluntly, we would have a much smaller hunger problem worldwide if we could reduce and avoid waste.

I believe that there will always be more packaging rather than less. The decisive factor – and this is where the responsibility of consumers, especially in the western world, is called for – is that we ultimately handle it with more care and that the packaging used is recycled in line with a circular economy. Moreover, the question of what actually constitutes sustainable packaging has not yet been clarified. Assessing the sustainability of packaging is very complex and needs to be considered over the entire life cycle. There is no such thing as one sustainable type of packaging.

This is true for primary packaging, but what about secondary packaging? Is there still a need for an outer carton or wouldn’t return systems with boxes in, say, three sizes be a better solution? 

Technically, I can imagine that. And there are start-ups that deal with precisely these kinds of issues – finding models for a closed-loop system like Recup, where you can return the packaging elsewhere. But is a box system for secondary packaging more sustainable because these boxes have to be made of robust materials such as hard plastic boxes or crates be used several times?

The other question is how and where can I, as a consumer, return the box so that it remains in circulation? Is there a deposit on it? And what would that mean for parcel delivery services? After all, the heavier weight of the boxes would also have a considerable influence on an order’s CO2 footprint. 

All in all, this is a very complex challenge.   

What solutions can we expect to see at interpack?

At interpack, the approach will be more in the direction of new materials. For example, there is already packaging based on algae or organic cushions for transport made from fungal tissue as an alternative to petroleum-based products. I still see a lot of potential for development and investment here.    

What are your expectations for the trade fair?

The last interpack was held almost six years ago, which is an eternity in our industry. I assume that we will be seeing huge leaps in innovation, partly due to the lack of presentation opportunities in the meantime.