Before COVID-19, the packaging world was already undergoing a process of transformation. Consumer and regulatory pressure had forced manufacturers and retailers to reduce their carbon footprints and adopt more sustainable packaging.
However, with the move to prioritise safety and hygiene during the coronavirus pandemic, a shift towards plastics for their cleaning properties has sidelined more sustainable packaging solutions.
We interview our Joint Managing Director, Jacky Sidebottom-Every, to find out more about the changing attitudes towards the use of plastics and paper-based materials in packaging.
Q: Prior to Covid-19, what was the packaging industry’s main priority?
JS-E: Improving sustainability has been high on our agenda for a number of years and is a hugely important issue across the entire industry. We are also led by consumer opinion, and paper-based packaging is generally viewed as being better for the environment. Consequently, most major UK supermarkets have committed to reducing plastic packaging, including Sainsbury’s, for example, who last year unveiled plans to halve the supermarket’s usage by 2025.
Q: When did you first notice that Covid-19 was impacting the packaging industry?
JS-E: Almost as soon as the pandemic took hold in the UK, Glossop Cartons saw an unprecedented increase in demand for our cartons, especially from the pharmaceutical and food sectors, as a direct result of changes in consumer behaviour. This included the stockpiling of basic household items including toilet rolls, pasta and sanitiser.
Q: How did this impact the selection of materials used in packaging?
JS-E: We’ve seen signs that sustainability is being side-lined in the name of product safety, making plastic more desirable to consumers. However, this is an area where the science is often inconclusive. Yes, plastic is wipeable, but the World Health Organisation advises that coronavirus lasts three times as long on plastic as it does on cardboard.
Q: So are the materials used in packaging directly linked to the spread of coronavirus?
JS-E: Neither the European nor US food agencies have confirmed any link between food packaging and the transmission of coronavirus. It’s a confusing and frequently changing landscape.
Q: How does this affect packaging manufacturers?
JS-E: COVID-19 has made us think hard about the kind of world we want to live in and how we should be using its finite resources in the long term. The way businesses treat their customers and how responsibly they utilise the natural environment will last long in the collective memory. So, whether that’s staying true to commitments to use recycled plastic or transitioning from plastic to cardboard, the long term impact of decisions made now could be significant.
Q: What about the UK government’s plan to introduce a plastic tax in April 2022?
JS-E: The plastic tax is expected to increase the use of recycled plastic in packaging by 40%, which we welcome. At Glossop Cartons, our primary raw material, carton board, is sourced from accredited, managed, sustainable forests with a 3 to 1 re-planting programme. As a result, much of it is FSC certified. The cartons we manufacture are recyclable and compostable and we’re always looking for ways to behave more environmentally friendly as a business.
Q: What other qualities make cardboard your material of choice?
JS-E: Cardboard has many advantages for product manufacturers and retailers which makes it an ideal packaging material. It’s very durable, it can be adapted to products of all shapes and sizes, it has high recycling rates, above 80% in the UK, it’s fully biodegradable, lightweight to transport, and requires comparatively less energy to manufacture than most other packaging alternatives.
Q: What are the next steps for Glossop Cartons?
JS-E: The only thing that seems certain at the moment is that the business environment is changing on an almost daily basis. As we move through to the next phase of the global pandemic, Glossop Cartons is ready to help our customers deal with whatever challenges and opportunities it brings.
To find out more about Glossop Cartons product range click here