Packaging waste set to outpace population growth in key regions

Packaging for consumer goods is on course to outpace population growth in regions such as the US and Europe as businesses struggle to promote sustainable alternatives while meeting changing consumer demands.

Packaging waste set to outpace population growth in key regions

Businesses are struggling with sustainability trade offs and costs

New research from ING Bank’s economics team has found that total packaging volume for consumer goods products is expected to increase in usage across the globe.

The research found that packaging for consumer goods in the US is expected to grow 1.5% annually until 2025, outpacing expected population growth. A similar trend is found in Europe, where packaging waste per capita is set to rise by 1.5% per year on average until 2025.

Plastics are expected to account for around one-third of overall packaging waste by 2040, an increase of 8% on 2018 levels. Packaging growth is also expected across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

For ING’s senior sector economist Thijs Geijer, the increase in packaging could act as a “significant blocker” to creating a sustainable future that tackles both consumption and emissions.

“Unless words are matched with deeds, packaging consumption, waste, and a lack of recycling capacity will remain a daunting challenge for the consumer goods industry’s sustainability targets,” Geijer said. Right now, we continue to be concerned by the elevated costs of sustainable packaging which is stopping consumer goods companies from using less polluting packaging.

“However, we remain cautiously optimistic about the untapped opportunities for stronger regulation and cross-industry initiatives to reduce the environmental impact of packaging. Reducing packaging waste and plastic pollution is achievable but, failing to act on the scale required doesn’t bring us closer to a circular economy.”

Trade-off challenges

The research notes that corporates are trying to introduce sustainable packaging forms that are not only more circular, but also have reduced emissions when the lifecycle of the product is taken into account. This can be seen in returnable glass bottles, which have a carbon footprint around three times lower than aluminium, ING notes, and five times lower than a one-way glass bottle.

However, changing consumer demands and current cost issues are slowing the transition to sustainable packaging.

ING analysis shows that it would have cost a European beverage manufacturer around 20% more in 2022 to only use recycled plastics for its bottles. Packaging also remains “one of the most carbon-intensive elements in the value chain” for some sectors.

On the consumer front, convenience, on-the-go products and home deliveries are all leading to increased packaging material use. Indeed, the food and beverage industry alone now accounts for 40% of all European packaging.

Smaller households are also likely to cause a spike in packaging as they prefer to purchase smaller pack sizes of items to cut back on things like food waste, but in turn, have to use more packaging.

The research comes just days after EA Environmental Action found that since January 2023, more than 40% of the global population has been living in places unable to manage the amount of plastic waste that is generated and discarded.

By July 2023, this figure will reach 60%, with EA Environmental Action warning that a plastics “overshoot day” will continue to move forward unless nations introduce measures to combat plastics waste.

The research found that almost 69,000,000 tonnes of plastic will be mismanaged in 2024, likely seeping into the natural environment as a result. Currently, 43% of global plastic waste is mismanaged at the end of its life.

Nations are this week negotiating a Paris-style global treaty for plastics.

UN nations are convening in Paris to agree on a new treaty to stem the use of plastics. The UK has this week joined the likes of Norway and Rwanda to form a “High Ambition Coalition”, that calls for a legally binding target to be set to end plastic pollution by 2040.

Comments (4)

  1. Nigel Morris says:

    The article states:
    “This can be seen in returnable glass bottles, which have a carbon footprint around three times lower than aluminium, ING notes, and five times lower than a one-way glass bottle.”

    It would be interesting to see the data behind this statement. Very few glass bottles these days are “returnable” as in reusable without recycling. The issues are sorting and redistribution costs of the vast range of glass containers. Cleaning is a significant energy cost, and glass containers are very easily chipped in a recycling collection process, rendering them unsuitable for reuse, only recycling.

    The energy required to melt raw silica sand is very similar to the energy required to melt cullet. Both require about 1300C. British Glass in its decarbonisation strategy sees only about 3% of potential CO2 savings from increased use of cullet.

    Aluminium is equally recyclable as glass, uses far less mass per container, is far more efficiently recycled compared to raw materials than glass.

    The numbers quoted just don’t seem to stack up.

    1. Roger Munford says:

      “Very few glass bottles these days are “returnable” as in reusable without recycling” you are only thinking of modern day UK. Nobody in their right mind would be looking to the UK for innovative solutions. A government that just doesn’t care and is incompetent anyway and industry that really can’t be bothered to do anything but the occasional pilot project to fill up the press with green news stories. Supermarkets seem to have more pilots that RyanAir.

      You must look at the experience existing successful systems in other countries or look at practices in the UK decades ago which were truly zero waste and economically sound. At one stage there was a war on and things like this mattered. I lived in Germany for several years and they have a very successful system. Here’s how they do it.
      “The issues are sorting and redistribution costs of the vast range of glass containers.”
      The answer is to use standard bottles for beer, water, juice milk yoghurts etc. with paper labels. The glass does not have to be returned to the dairy/brewery of origin just the local fillers who wash off the labels – and the crates don’t need to labelled either.

      “Cleaning is a significant energy cost” .

      Just try stopping the dishwasher when it is at its hottest and remove a glass tumbler with your hand. Now imagine removing 30gm of glass from a glass furnace with your hand. Which process has the most significant energy demand. Talking of energy, all the glass factories are in the North of England, handy for fracked gas, which means a bottle of Southern beer has to be transported north and the new bottle transported south before being used. Why not transport it a few miles, give it a quick wash and reuse.

      The glass industry are obviously horrified at losing all this business. If they were sharp enough they would transform their business by closing some furnaces opening a series of depots around the country to collect from retail, clean, add some new bottles to make up new pallets and then deliver to brewers and dairies. The government could make this happen. God knows there is enough experience overseas to answer any conceivable question many many time over.
      My only chance of a guilt free holiday in the sun is to wait for electric flight which is far more likely than the chance of taking a couple of beer bottles back

  2. Roger Munford says:

    I spent some time last year in a remote part of Ethiopia. Needless to say coca cola was available in bottles which were refilled as general practice presumably because it is the cheapest available way of delivering coca cola. There isn’t much spare cash around in rural Ethiopia and not much waste management either. They do not need a load more plastic waste blowing around

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