plastic packaging fruit veg aisle

Industry representatives have expressed scepticism at a new poll that suggests a majority of fmcg companies will ditch plastic packaging within the next three to five years.

Nine out of 10 (92%) of fmcg brands plan to scrap the use of plastic in their packaging, an industry report found. Launched in conjunction with the Rethinking Materials Summit on 14 May, the study by polymer materials company Aquapak suggests a majority of brands are seriously considering moving away from the hydrocarbon. Some 27% of them expect the phase-out to happen by 2027, 35% by 2028 and 28% by 2029.

But industry speakers at the conference were less optimistic about that a phase-out of plastics packaging is imminent.

“On the one hand, it’s really encouraging that we’re seeing a lot of pilots and lots of trials, lots of challenger and startup brands,” said Paul Jenkins, founder and managing director of packaging innovation consultancy ThePackHub. “But we’re not seeing the scale and volume to make it work from a financial point of view.”

Unlike most industries, in packaging, companies appear unmotivated by “first mover advantage”, he noted. “You don’t seem to have that in packaging. We’ve worked on projects where people are quite keen to be a fast follower, to let someone else take the risk and develop a market.”

Brands speaking to The Grocer on the sidelines of the event also expressed doubts. “It’s a question of trade-offs,” said Kim Fenn, sustainability project lead at skincare company Elemis.

“We could move all to glass tomorrow if we wanted, we could move all to paper, but really is that answering all of the issues in terms of how we tackle waste, emissions, climate, greenhouse gas emissions. It can be done, but how do you get the balance?”


Edoardo Markov, senior packaging development manager at Carlsberg Breweries, noted that while plastic was considered an “evil” by consumers, for brands, it solved lots of complicated logistical questions, with its protective “barrier properties” and long shelf life. It’s also a widely recyclable material, unlike paper, the recyclability of which can vary greatly between countries. Even this was no silver bullet, he pointed out. “If we move everything from plastic to paper there will be no forests. We’re only shifting the problem.”

Others expressed frustration at the rate of change. Tom Lock, founder of challenger brand The British Snack Company, which recently launched what it claims is the world’s first recyclable paper crisp pack, said the greatest obstacle to plastic-free packaging is brands’ attitudes.

“I think it’s realistic in a sense that there are materials and technologies out there to enable companies to do it. Perhaps what’s lacking with some of the companies making these claims is a can-do attitude to actually get it done,” he said.

“We’ve seen that the companies, big companies recently have started pushing back those claims that they made three to four years ago, and I think that’s disappointing. The reality is, had they had more of a can-do attitude, they would have been able to achieve them sooner.”