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The Circular Economy: Sustainable Packaging – Environmental Law

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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

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

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:

  • 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
” 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

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

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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