Packaging Innovations: Broadening the debate

Nick Mansley
Wednesday, February 12, 2020

You can’t talk about packaging these days without being keenly aware that there is an impassioned and important debate about its impact – particularly plastic packaging – on the environment, and measures to reuse, reduce and remove it from the supply chain.

That said, packaging remains an essential part of our food and wider retail supply networks and the idea that we can do without it – in the short term at least – is a pleasant fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless.


When 26-27 February

Where NEC, Birmingham

Opening times

Wednesday 26 February 10am to 5pm

Thursday 28 February 10am to 4pm

More information

Show make-up

Packaging Innovations is the key element in an event that comprises a number of shows. The headline show represents the future of branded and inspirational packaging; Contract Pack for outsourced manufacturing, packing, fulfilment and logistics; Ecopack for sustainable solutions for packaging; Empack focuses on technology and machinery; Label&Print, for packaging printing, labelling and converting businesses; and, new for this year, Industrial Pack, which focuses on the future of industrial transit and protective packaging

It’s against this backdrop that Packaging Innovations, the UK’s biggest packaging event, returns to the NEC in Birmingham at the end of the month for the 15th iteration of its annual flagship event. And the show organisers are keen to educate the public and the wider industry about how committed to sustainability the packaging sector has become.

Paul MacDonald, global brand director of Easyfairs’ Packaging Portfolio, says the show will provide a “balanced view” of the sustainability debate, highlighting the key role packaging plays alongside new solutions to limit its impact.

“We are dedicated to providing insightful, cutting-edge information to our visitors, so we work with leading experts to ensure our content tackles the industry’s biggest challenges and current trends,” he says.

“As part of this, we host an annual Ecopack Advisory Board which offers us the opportunity to discuss the hottest issues in sustainability with the industry’s brightest minds. Our most recent meeting gathered the likes of WRAP, WWF, OPRL, ThePackHub and the Recycling Association to talk about the wider issues in creating sustainable packaging.”

“This was invaluable in offering a unique insight into the challenges currently facing brands, with waste management, consumer education and readjusting the ‘plastic phobia’ mentality all flagged as key issues that need to be addressed by the wider community.”

It is in this spirit that the Big Plastic Debate of years gone by has been refocused into the Big Carbon Debate for 2020, which is intended to move the conversation forward and address the wider issues surrounding sustainability instead of zeroing in on plastics.

The two-day Debate draws contributors from a wide range of sectors and interests, including from Coca-Cola, Veolia, WWF UK, Hubbub, Wrap, the Green Alliance, The MPMA and BPF.

It has picked some meaty topics for interested visitors to get their teeth into. On day one a panel discussion will talk about the need to square the convenience versus sustainability circle: while shoppers may clamour for greener packaging solutions, the same consumers are often very reluctant to sacrifice convenience, pay more or change their shopping habits when more eco-friendly options are on offer. The panel will explore ways of encouraging customers to prioritise sustainability over convenience. On day two, meanwhile, the headline debate will assess whether net-zero carbon targets can be met without the use of plastic packaging, following a keynote address from Rebecca Pow, minister for the environment at Defra.

But while the sustainability issue continues to hog the headlines, the packaging industry has a lot more to say for itself, and since ‘innovation’ is part of the name this will also be a big draw for visitors, with exhibitors highlighting their latest developments.

New for 2020, the Visit the Future Hub will play host to a series of initiatives that bring together cutting-edge designs and forward-thinking minds, enabling visitors to discover how the packaging industry is evolving. Joining the zone is the new Design Innovation Stage, which will gather experts to bridge the gap between design and technical production.

Meanwhile, the Start-Up Village will showcase six up and coming packaging companies expecting to disrupt the industry with their inventive concepts, with innovative solutions from technology to sustainability.

Last year’s village showcased everything from a complete internet-of-things eco-system, gloves that allowed hands-free barcode scanning and flat wine bottles, among other developments.

The Innovation Showcase will see 12 finalists and their ground-breaking solutions compete for the title of Most Innovative Pack. Last year’s winner was FFP Packaging with its ‘Reseal & Recycle’ pack, developed to offer an immediate solution that utilises current recycling streams. It comprises a tray, lidding film and resealable label and is completely recyclable.

Another perennial favourite, the Packaging Consultancy Clinic gives attendees the opportunity to gain one-to-one and round table personalised advice on any packaging-related topic.

The show will also be operating a series of forums (or fora for pedantic Latin speakers), each focused on a different sector of the packaging industry. These are Food, which accounts for 60% of the packaging market; Drinks; Beauty, where packaging plays a vital role in establishing brand value; Pharmaceutical and healthcare, where legal requirements have a big impact on pack design; E-commerce, a rapidly growing sector that has seen a huge amount of innovation over recent years; and Retail, which has become more challenging with the rise of e-commerce.

“Our Industry Forums have been specially curated to tackle the biggest issues felt by each sector,” says Victoria Blake, event director of Easyfairs’ UK Packaging Portfolio. “Sustainability is a common theme and is an issue felt by the entire packaging industry. However, we understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, which is why sustainability will be explored at a granular level. Alongside the environmental issues, the forums will explore topics including policy changes, branding and innovative design.”

Stand highlights

Post-press kit specialist Duplo International (F15) is exhibiting at the show for the first time and will unveil the PFI Blade B3 digital shape cutter, which it describes as the perfect solution for those looking for a short-run packaging solution, with a small footprint and green button technology. The company says the machine can dramatically lower the cost of creating short-run packaging, custom-shaped cards, labels and samples. Also new will be the DuSense Digifoil system, which enables users to add a foil finish on top of the UV varnish from the company’s DuSense device (also on show), “at the fraction of the cost of the conventional methods”. Duplo says the new device can “add the wow factor to any design”.

British packaging developer and manufacturer Colpac (D10) will launch Stagione, a new range of packaging products for the hot-food-to-go (HFTG) delivered meals markets in response to consumer demand for improved presentation and protection for restaurant-produced meals. The range is available in three sizes – 500ml, 750ml and 1,000ml – in a rectangular rimmed tray construction with rounded corners, that features the same base footprint, for merchandising and stacking ease. A simple plug fit ‘same size fits all’ lid, in three material options; Kraft PP lined paperboard, rPET anti-mist and PP completes the range. The range is fully recyclable and provides a carton board option for retailers and food service customers looking for a securely lidded pack with the added option of being able to print on pack.

Yorkshire Packaging Systems (E6) will showcase a new UK-manufactured anti-fogging pizza-capping film that ensures a high standard of presentation. The company says the product is the first of its kind to be approved by the On-pack Recycling Label (OPRL) scheme being fully recyclable to LDPE level 4.

UK food packaging specialist Coveris (D22) will be launching an innovative lightweight sandwich skillet under the brand RecyclaLite. The company describes RecyclaLite as the most easily recycled skillet available in the food-to-go sector, meeting evolving Confederation of Paper Industries and OPRL recycling requirements. RecyclaLite features the thinnest film gauge for laminated board sandwich packaging. A peel function is incorporated in the pack design encouraging the separation of film from board by consumers for better recycling. Coveris will also unveil its new Duralite R range, a “next generation shrink film solution” for multi-pack products for the beverage and grocery sectors. Duralite R is both 100% recyclable and contains up to 50% post-consumer recyclate, plus an optional pre-consumer top-up recycled material.

French sleeves and labels specialist Décomatic (A14) will present a new stretch sleeve product made from vegetable waste that requires no glue and can be printed on with compostable acrylic-base inks to create a completely biodegradable sleeve.

London-headquartered Delipac (J21) will showcase a sandwich and coffee combo pack product that is both recyclable and compostable. The product was listed among the final 12 in the Innovation Showcase at 2019’s Packaging Innovations show.

UK inspection system manufacturer Bytronic Automation (H11) will show off its HotSpot hot glue inspection system, which uses one or more thermal cameras to inspect pack seals and ensure flaps are properly sealed. The imaging camera provides a measurement of the glue temperature and location through the carton material and marks packs where if a poor seal is detected.

Herma (E5) will introduce the new Herma 500 labelling machine, which employs Industry 4.0 technology to match modern production lines and environments. The company says the device is “ready for the industrial internet of things and offers speed, connectivity and safety – while providing maximum quality and flexibility”.


Day 1

When did we stop thinking?

10:30, Ecopack Stage

In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world how can we best navigate our way through the issues that confront the packaging industry? Have we simply forgotten how to slow down and think things through carefully or are we reacting to every wind of opinion and building up unintended consequences for future generations? The key-note challenges us to think differently and embrace a longer term, circular approach.

Speaker Kevin Vyse, head of technical at Rapid Action Packaging UK and formerly circular economy expert at M&S

Trust but verify

11:15, Ecopack Stage

With increasing demands for sustainable card and paper packaging, how can you be sure that you are sourcing responsibly and how can you communicate this to your customers? The consumer has high expectations of brands and retailers when it comes to environmental issues, but they don’t always trust the claims that are made. Independent certification has a role to play in helping companies do the right thing and communicating this. Join the session to find out more about FSC.

Speaker Rosie Teasdale, executive director, FSC UK

Industrial Strategy: Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging

11:30, Design Innovation Stage

Hear about the latest government funding through the Industrial Strategy Challenge fund in the area of smart sustainable plastic packaging. This £60m challenge fund is designed to find ways of cutting waste in the supply chain, to develop new business models, and to create new sustainable recyclable materials.

Speaker Paul Davidson, challenge director – Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging, UKRI

Extended producer responsibility and the changing policy landscape – what does it mean for you?

13:30, Industry Forum Stage

With key policy changes in relation to packaging due to be introduced in 2022 and 2023, what should you be thinking and about, planning for and discussing with your customers? Sarah will be sharing insight from SUEZ’s involvement in helping to shape these changes and their engagement with the packaging supply chain, to help you plan for the future.

Speaker Sarah Ottaway, sustainability and social value lead, Suez

Day 2

How do we suss out sustainability - The reality of a small brand’s packaging decision-making process

10:55, Industry Forum Stage

This presentation will look at the practicalities of packaging personal care products from manufacture and fill all the way through to end of use. It will explore the issues surrounding sustainability and how these are being communicated (or more often than not, miscommunicated) to the consumer. Is sustainability in danger of becoming just another cynical sales tactic.

Speaker Sam Farmer, Founder, Samfarmer

Behind the scenes of the process design of plastic-free e-commerce packaging

12:40, Industry Forum Stage

The session will explore why less than 1% of ecommerce plastics are recycled and seek to Identify e-commerce warehouse issues in order to design an efficient solution, including a case study from retailer Boots, explaining the background to Boot’s strong CSR programme

Speaker Fred Lill, owner/director, Lil Packaging


The Ecopack Stage will offer visitors advice on the latest environmental developments, policies, and sustainable solutions, with experts from leading brands such as Britvic, Aveda, and FSC taking to the stage. Sessions will explore a range of challenges, including navigating the conflicting data on sustainable packaging alternatives, considering all elements of an item’s lifecycle to prevent unintentional consequences in the future, and responsibly sourcing paper and card.

Ecopack Exhibitors Sustainability will also be in the spotlight on the show floor as the event welcomes 20 specialist exhibitors to its dedicated Ecopack show, which offers visitors a glimpse into the future of green packaging solutions. Exhibitors include Charpak, Sirane, Delipac, Krehalon, Preston Plastics, and Footprint LLC.

As businesses are increasingly switching to paper packaging to avoid single-use plastics, the FSC will demonstrate how businesses can ensure that wood-based materials support people, the planet and profit.

The Ecopack Challenge In association with Marks & Spencer, this Dragon’s Den style competition invites sustainable packaging creators the chance to pitch their idea to a panel of experienced judges. Flexi-Hex won last year’s competition with a 100%-biodegradable and recyclable packaging product that removes the need for single-use plastics such as bubble wrap and tape.

Innovate UK A new feature, Innovate UK will provide visitors with advice about funding their sustainable solutions from experts from UK Research and Innovation. One-to-one advice sessions with Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network will offer visitors the opportunity to learn about the latest government funding available, including applying for the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging funding competition.

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