E-Pack Europe: Our key take-aways

Aura’s Gillian Garside-Wight, Consulting Director, shares with us take-ways from E-Pack including insights from Aura’s E-Pack survey.

It’s that time of year again. The summer is behind us and the kids are back to school – signalling the beginning of the last conference/event season of the year. So, where better to go than beautiful Vienna for E-Pack Europe, 2023. 

A focus on fibre-based packaging

It was a privilege to be invited by Smithers to speak but before I reached the stage on Day 2, there were so many informative sessions I was able to enjoy. There was a strong emphasis on right-sizing and efficiency throughout the supply chain, which I fully expected, however it was also great to hear what organizations are doing in this space.

I noticed the emphasis on fibre-based packaging solutions, but I was particularly interested in the panel discussion on E-commerce packaging waste: Just Recycle it!?! This included panelists from Billerud, Austrian Packaging Coordination Office, Altstoff Recycling Austria AG and Canopy and moderated by Annica Eldh from H&M. There was much debate around recycling and whether this is the only solution to impact change. Lee-Ann Unger from Canopy was very compelling and her message was clear, there’s a need to transition from single-use plastics but we can’t simply just shift the problem by moving everything to fibre-based solutions, we have to consider our biodiverse, high-carbon storing forests. Although there were practical challenges from other panelists, one innovative solution Lee-Ann tabled was the use of Next Gen agricultural waste as a replacement to virgin board fibres in the recycling process. I believe this could be a game-changer to increase the cycles of recycling possible for carton-board. 

Presenting on ‘Data – The Future of Packaging’

Presenting to a packed room is always energizing and following an active panel discussion can be hard but I was very happy to see engaged faces when I presented Data – The Future of Packaging. The need for live and accurate packaging data to drive business decisions has never been as prevalent as it is today. From consumer perception to global legislation, European EPR and DRS schemes, data is needed to enable responsible choices and communication. 

At Aura we have been working hard for many years developing a programme to support this need for packaging data – e-halo. Our e-halo programme has been adopted by several global brands and retailers and is used to capture granular packaging data, evaluate recyclability and mitigate risks associated with higher eco-modulated fees. The ultimate purpose is to help organization’s proactively manage sustainability everyday. I was also able to share some testimonials from key clients to demonstrate the benefits they are receiving from having packaging data at their fingertips. 

Where are organizations on their sustainability journey?

As part of my presentation, I conducted a short survey to determine where organizations were on their sustainability journey and the role sustainability plays within businesses today. The results are shown below: 

The vast majority – 85% of participants said their sustainability targets are taking longer than expected to reach, including 15% who are unsure if they will even reach their targets. 

Profitability of sustainability is always an interesting debate and these results were split, 46% believe profitability will be boosted due to sustainability through increased sales, with the remaining 54% believing profitability will not be boosted either due to increased fees or the fact that  sustainability has bigger benefits than just financial reward. 

Live and accurate packaging data is so important to enable businesses to make informed decisions, especially if they are to be compliant and achieve their sustainability goals. Only 15% of participants believed they had sufficiently quality data, with the remaining split equally between mostly sufficient and 50/50 or less. You wouldn’t run a business on financial records that had an accuracy of 50/50 or less, yet without accurate packaging data, organizations could be paying more in fees than they need to. 

“…without accurate packaging data, organizations could be paying more in fees than they need to…”

Gillian Garside-Wight, Consulting Director, Aura

Packaging data drives many factors, including consumer education. Interestingly, 38% of participants believed they were doing their bit to educate the public but a much lower percentage said they need to do more to help educate on packaging sustainability. I agree with the 23% who said it’s not just down to brands/retailers to educate. Whilst we all have to educate responsibly, it is a challenge when there is so much diversity. This is magnified for global brands and retailers who have to navigate, in some instances, opposing legislative requirements. 

The final question in our survey was ‘Do you foresee any major leaps forward in packaging sustainability in the coming years?‘.

The most prevalent theme was regulations, specifically the upcoming PPWR (Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation) in Europe. I agree that regulation will drive change but this should not be the only driver – but time will tell.

I agree that regulation will drive change but this should not be the only driver – but time will tell.”

Gillian Garside-Wight, Consulting Director, Aura

All-in-all it was a great event, in an amazing city, attended by a diverse cross-section of the packaging industry from retailers, brand owners, product manufacturers, packaging converters, MRFs, raw material providers and NGOs. It was so nice to catch up with some familiar faces and to meet many new like-minded packaging enthusiasts. Although it was a flying visit, I did manage to see some of the sights and sample some delicious local cuisine.  

The packaging industry is tough sometimes, but I know I’m very privileged to work in an industry that is constantly evolving and not afraid to embrace innovation – it also helps when events are held in some of the most beautiful cities in the world.

If you are interested in learning more about our insights and/or e-halo please do get in touch using the contact form below, alternatively call 01274 202 400 – we’re ready to help and support you in your journey to measurable and sustainable packaging. 

Gillian Garside-Wight Consulting Director

About the Author

Gill leads our consulting offer, with over 20 years’ experience in the packaging industry, strategically developing packaging strategies, roadmaps and packaging solutions to meet the needs of clients, consumers and the planet. She has worked with many global retailers and household brands on projects spanning sustainability and innovation to supply chain optimization. With a real passion for sustainability, her quest is to educate, influence and drive a circular economy wherever possible while complementing creativity, technical functionality and commercial realities.

Gill grew up on a tiny island in Scotland and this is where her passion for sustainability started. She loves nothing more than (trying) to grow her own veg and exploring nature with her son.