Plastics are the future, right? We all know that’s the advice Dustin Hoffman got in “The Graduate.” But when it comes to packaging, the time’s they are a-changing. In particular, paper-based materials are warranting a second look today.
Here are some reasons offered by Frank Perkowski, president of Marietta, GA-based Business Development Advisory, during his keynote at last week’s AIMCAL-sponsored ICE USA 2011 Technical Conference. 1) The current focus on sustainability has changed the game. 2) Historic market-share losses to plastic-film packaging have stabilized paper demand to a base level. 3) The dynamics of the paper and paperboard supply chain have improved. 4) Paper processing and product advances have opened the door to new markets. And 5) Raw-material costs reflect a better value proposition vs. film and other material types.
With these factors in mind, today’s top five opportunities in paper-based packaging:
1. Labelstocks and release-liner base papers are seeing demand up 2.1 and 2.2 percent a year, respectively, through 2014. Such high-performance aspects as active and smart papers (with embedded chemicals and sensors), holographic laminations, taggants and other anti-counterfeiting traits, and new apps in medical/pharma/healthcare fields are all helping paper-based labels and liners get above-average notice by your customers.
2. Flexible-packaging papers as wraps, bags and pouches are poised to replace films in some apps through the following: Better barrier protection (functional coatings added on- or off-line), clear substrates for product visibility (cellophane or next-generation papermaking), more durable substrates with higher tear and burst strength (through new fibers and nano-coatings), and excellent print surfaces (via coatings and laminations).
3. Foodservice and industrial paper wraps should see little substitution threats in the next few years, with sales rising nearly 2% a year. These materials will reach into new end markets based on anti-corrosion, freezer-tolerant, chemical absorption/release, wax-replacement, oxygen-scavenging and other functional capabilities.
4. New packaging shapes and structures with paper as the primary substrate are hitting the market. Molded-fiber paper bottles, paper alternatives to plastic clamshells and 100%-paper canisters are starting to find more and more end uses. Even simply thinner, paper standup pouches are taking share away from traditional paperboard folding cartons.
5. The clear, environmental advantages of paper packaging—recyclable, biodegradable, compostable, low energy/water consumption, a cradle-to-cradle life cycle—have increased the overall desirability of these materials by consumers, retailers and your customers. Procter & Gamble, for one, will “replace 25% of all petroleum-based packaging materials with sustainably sourced renewables by 2020.” Further evidence, US state and local (not to mention national—Italy) bans on plastic retail-shopping sacks appear weekly. And as crude-oil prices keep rising, the movement away from plastics in many apps is likely to gain speed.
So, who knows? If they ever remake “The Graduate” (and they better NOT!), our young entrepreneur just might hear, “I’ve got one word for you. Just one word: Paper.”