Sustainability, e-commerce, food waste, packaging waste, smart packaging, and the future factory were among the top talking points at the stand-out Global Packaging Forum co-organised by the Australian Institute of Packaging and UBM at ProPak Asia.

Over 400 delegates registered to attend the forum, which was ably chaired by the AIP's Ralph Moyle.

The forum was opened by WPO president Pierre Pienaar, who in his keynote address highlighted the current trends, challenges and issues impacting the world of packaging. At the outset, he asked the audience to consider whether they really know their customer's needs, and pointed out that they should view the full supply chain under the broad umbrella of 'customer'.

Picking up on a theme that was to feature in most presentations of the day, that of sustainability, he asked, "Are you packing for your customer in such a way that they will be inclined to re-use, recycle and repurpose their packaging? Have you reduced the packaging in the first instance?"

Throughout his talk, whether touching on the digitalisation of retail, the issue of food waste or the importance of designing for sustainability, Pienaar emphasised that packaging is not the problem, it is part of the solution.

And this set the stage for the presentations and discussions that ensued, wherein the challenges of packaging waste, food waste, the unjustified demonisation of plastic, and exciting developments that are shaping the future of packaging both in the factory and on the shelf were unpacked in informative and enlightening detail.

There were six regional state of the industry reports, from Phillipines, Thailand, Italy, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India, which highlighted packaging challenges and innovation specific to these markets. Plastic waste was obviously a key talking point, but it soon became clear that plastic is still a vital packaging material, and that while alternative materials are being developed and explored, finding 'reuse, recycle and reduce' solutions are imperative.

Joe Foster of OF Packaging gave an excellent presentation on the future for flexible packaging.
Joe Foster of OF Packaging gave an excellent presentation on the future of flexible packaging.

On the advanced technology front, we heard from ABB's Alan Spreckley how robotics and automation are reshaping the food and beverage industry factory, and from HP's Yoav Lotan how digital printing is unlocking the consumer engagement capability of packaging. Joe Foster of OF Packaging presented on the future of flexible packaging with passion and flair, stating that "the barrier to innovation is a lack of imagination" and showing examples of exciting new developments in pouch technology that made it clear the flexible pouch is in no danger of extinction.

Sustainability, and the journey towards the much-vaunted 2025 targets, was covered in an excellent presentation by MC for the day, Ralph Moyle, as a prelude to a series of talks on the topic by the PMMI's Tom Egan from the US, Tetra Pak Thailand's Supanat Ratanadib, and Steve McCormick from Parkside Flex in Malaysia. All drummed home the point that 'reduce' should be the first focus, that there is no one size fits all solution, and that recycling should be considered the last line of defence. Also, data should be used to inform decisions on material choices.

From left: Tim Grant, Nerida Kelton, Surendra Soni, Warwick Armstrong and Ralph Moyle.
From left: Tim Grant, Nerida Kelton, Surendra Soni, Warwick Armstrong and Ralph Moyle.

These points were reiterated to some extent in the final session of the day. Andrew Manly of AIPIA kicked the session off with a whistlestop journey through some of the latest developments in active and intelligent packaging that are helping drive sustainability and save food waste. Warwick Armstrong of Plantic Technologies spoke about his company's award-winning plant-based compostable and renewable materials; Tim Grant of Lifecycles explained the value of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and how it's increasingly being adopted by brands to inform packaging choices. Surendra Soni of Sealed Air took delegates through some of the award-winning packaging innovation that is saving food waste, and Nerida Kelton of the AIP shared news on a new Save Food Consortium.

The day was closed by Pierre Pienaar, who stressed the importance of events like this for sharing information and providing inspiration to move the industry forward in its efforts to make positive change and deliver packaging that will continue to improve the lives of all people.

PKN will publish a full report on the forum in the July-August issue.

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