As 2020, the year that nobody predicted, finally draws to a close, Antalis’ Head of Business Development for packaging, John Garner, offers a mix of realism and optimism as he looks ahead to 2021.
2020 is a year that very few will look upon fondly, but one thing it has shown, according to John Garner, is the extraordinary capabilities within the UK’s packaging industry. “In the face of the most challenging period in living memory, it has shown a resilience, adaptability and depth of expertise that makes me feel very optimistic for the future.
The work rate and innovation from our team here at Antalis over the last few months, as they have supported our customers to adapt and cope with different ways of doing business, has been incredible to witness.” Now the freneticism of the past few months has started to settle, John believes 2021 is about getting back on track with some key issues.
Refocusing on sustainability
Prior to COVID-19, the ‘Blue Planet effect’ had brought about a revolution in the way people think about and use plastics, particularly plastic packaging and single-use plastics. However, concerns around virus transmission, coupled with the immediate need for businesses to simply get orders out of the door quickly, has seen issues around sustainability and use of plastics take a back seat. “It’s been a case of act now, worry about the fallout later”, says John.
He believes that 2021 is the time for businesses, and the public, to refocus on this very important issue. While a lot of businesses, have shifted from plastic to paper packaging, other non-wood fibre sources need to be found to support the transition away from plastics. “At Antalis, we’re working on a number of projects to see how we can develop packaging products made from sustainable sources,” explains John, “It’s something that will need to be accelerated over the next 12 months with the new Plastic Packaging Tax scheduled to be implemented in April 2022.”
Preparing for the Plastic Packaging Tax
The Plastic Packaging Tax will see manufacturers and importers paying £200 per tonne on packaging materials made from less than 30% recycled plastic. For many Antalis customers, packaging film is one of the biggest contributors to their plastic waste and so the company is looking at ways to help them reduce this through achieving better yields, plus Antalis will be continuing its research into other options: “We’re currently looking at a solution using recycled film. First indications are very promising, so we shall be looking to progress this in 2021 along with our investigations into nano films.”
Noise around Brexit has been drowned out over the last few months, but from the 1st of January it will be very much reality. “There is still a degree of uncertainty about how new rules and regulations will affect businesses, but what is certain is that Brexit will be top of the agenda for anyone involved in exporting to countries in the EU and further afield”, comments John.
Heat treated pallet alternatives
The big issue facing many companies is the regulations around heat-treating pallets, which, as part of the EU, the UK has up until now been exempt from. It has led to a rush in businesses stockpiling ISPM 15-compliant pallets needed to export to the EU. Pallet shortages have been reported in the past and may well become a problem in the future. “It’s going to be important for businesses to find alternatives. Probably one of the best is PALLITE® recyclable paper pallets. As well as being environmentally-friendly and very light, which can help reduce freight costs, PALLITE® pallets are also ISPM15-exempt. We’ve already helped a number of customers to make the switch, and I anticipate we will be helping many more to follow suit in 2021”, says John.
Longer freight journeys
With exports to countries outside the EU expected to increase post-Brexit, John believes there is also likely to be a greater need for volatile corrosion inhibitor (VCI) packaging for industrial products making long journeys via sea freight. Similarly, this is also likely to see a growth in requirement for heavy-duty packaging boards able to withstand knocks and humid conditions.
Availability of labour
The impact of Brexit has already been felt on the availability of labour over the last couple of years and John expects this to increase in the coming year: “Use of machinery and automation, and ensuring agility and flexibility are built into packaging operations, is going to be key in helping e-commerce and logistics companies to cope with the continued rise in online ordering in the face of a reduced labour pool and ongoing social distancing measures.”
In addition to the many practical issues of getting product packed and safely to its destination in good time, the anticipated continued rise in online ordering – accelerated by changing consumer habits – e- companies need to ensure they are balancing this with providing standout customer experiences, particularly for luxury goods.
John believes that there have been some interesting developments over the last few years as businesses understand the growing importance of delivering e-commerce experiences that really ‘wow’ customers, such as personalisation and the increasing recognition of the role of transit packaging in creating a complete experience. “It’s something that will gain momentum in 2021 with developments in packaging design and technology, such as augmented reality, being used to tell a brand’s story and engage the customer.”
John concludes: “2021 is going to be an interesting year for all sorts of reasons. I think we’re going to see lots of changes and developments but, one thing I am sure about, whatever the year throws at us, I know the packaging industry is ready. At Antalis, we offer free audits whereby we will come in and review your operation and make recommendations on the kinds of improvements that can be made. But I can’t stress enough that it’s something you need to do now if you’ve any hope of coping with changes like we’ve never seen before.”