Improving the trajectory towards achieving circular economy targets requires a step-change in approach to sustainable packaging adoption across fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs).

To track this progress, we analysed patent data to see the innovation landscape across a subset of plastic packaging alternatives.

Consumers' purchasing power can force change. One of the findings from Mintel research is this simple concept: doing things that are beneficial to the environment makes people feel happy. This is a fundamental driver of change.

Mintel are the experts in understanding what consumers want and why. Their 2022 Sustainability Barometer – which Cipher contributed data to – provides direct insight into sustainability topics including packaging.

Top of the list for consumer sustainability behaviours was recyclable packaging, ahead of:

  • planning meals at home
  • buying fewer new clothes
  • reducing the consumption of meat and poultry.

Consumer insight

Expanding on consumer understanding on the topic of plastic packaging, the report provided the following insight based on consumer responses.

The percentage of responses for each statement which were "yes I knew that" are shown.

  • In some cases, plastic packaging is better for the environment than paper: 39%
  • Degradable and biodegradable packaging are not the same thing: 60%
  • The inclusion of recycled content (even 100%) in a package does not always mean it can be recycled: 55%

Mintel also looked at topics through the lens of a "value action gap" between consumers' declared intent and actual behaviour. "I try not to be harmful to the environment" is an example of intent.

The gap between people agreeing with this and performing the simplest, most commonplace, and costless of sustainable tasks, for example recycling packaging, had a gap of 23 percentage points.

This links closely to the finding that 46% of consumers believe that companies, as opposed to governments or consumers, are most responsible for increasing the amount of packaging that is recycled.

Sustainable packaging has become an increasingly important factor in consumer decision making on product purchases.

Arguably the burden of responsibility really sits with FMCG companies to meet this need.

Innovation by businesses

So which organisations are leading the innovation into sustainable packaging?

We take advantage of structured, cleansed and classified patent data as an independent indicator to evaluate the pace of innovation and top owners of invention across sustainable packaging specific technology areas.

These include:

  • Post-consumer Resin
  • Bioplastics – Biodegradable Compositions
  • Bioplastics – Renewable Raw Materials.

Key messages

  • Innovation in sustainable plastic alternatives has been weighted to production processes associated with deriving plastics from renewable materials. There has also been an uptick in innovation activity associated with bioplastics designed to decompose and in recyclable plastics.
  • Primary and speciality chemicals companies are leading the pursuit of new and more sustainable plastic-based packaging alternatives. More broadly the top innovators in packaging are focused specifically on paper-based products such as cartons and boxes.

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