Unwrapped: Plastic packaging matters | January 2024

The shift from plastic to paper is a key topic in the packaging industry. We cover the latest developments, including success stories, consumer concern around ocean litter and plastic pollution, the use of “forever chemicals” in packaging, and associated plastic and packaging regulations in the US and the EU, plus the UN treaty to address plastic pollution.

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To combat plastic pollution and meet changing consumer preferences, packaging producers are actively adopting eco-friendly materials. This shift is not just a response to ethical concerns, but also a strategic move to align with key demand drivers, particularly the growing consumer preference for environmentally conscious choices.

The widespread influence of sustainability on purchasing decisions is driving companies to pioneer material innovations, creating a unique opportunity for a strategic advantage in a market where sustainability is increasingly associated with quality and responsibility. However, it is important to recognize that the sustainability of paper and pulp as a replacement for plastic may not be as straightforward as consumers perceive.

Environmental concerns

Consumers are increasingly concerned about plastic pollution. There is active work here worth highlighting, especially initiatives that both clean the ocean and repurpose recovered materials to give it a new life. Solutions are complicated but can have a positive impact globally if handled correctly.

There is also growing concern about PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, their persistent presence, and how the US and the EU are handling regulation of these substances. Concern around their use and environmental impact has grown worldwide, resulting in proposals for stricter regulation. These regulations are set to impact industries that use PFAS, including packaging.

Video: PFAS - The forever chemicals


In both the EU and the US, recent legislative initiatives underscore a collective commitment to addressing the packaging sector’s environmental impact.

A wave of federal bills in the US signal heightened focus on sustainable packaging practices. Concurrently, several states are pioneering advanced recycling laws, and defining such processes as integral to manufacturing. The EU has fortified its commitment to combatting plastic and packaging waste through updated regulations like the PPWR and the regulation on waste shipments. Worldwide, the UN is working on drafting an international, legally binding treaty against plastic pollution.

This legislative landscape reflects a shared determination to navigate a sustainable path forward and a circular approach to packaging practices.