The benefits of packaging need to be heard. The world has changed enormously since INCPEN was established in 1974. Yet today, some of the issues the packaging industry has to deal with seem depressingly familiar.
One of the first challenges we faced in 1974 was the growing problem of litter, with environment groups blaming packaging. They were also critical of increasing consumerism and people’s changing lifestyles but they criticised packaging instead because this put the blame on industry, not individuals.
Litter, especially marine litter, remains a problem and packaging is still singled out as the main culprit. The reason given by politicians for introducing charges for carrier bags is typically to prevent them ‘spoiling the landscape’ as litter. The facts are conveniently ignored. According to the latest (2014) survey of litter by Keep Britain Tidy, commissioned by INCPEN, carrier bags were less than 1% of littered items. But the charge has set a precedent for adding costs to packaging and there are now campaigns to impose deposits on drinks containers and taxes on other types of packaging.
No one points out that there is a huge difference between a carrier bag charge, which can be avoided simply by using your own bag, and deposits or taxes which everyone has to pay. In response to the public’s negative perception of packaging, policymakers are tending to propose measures that typically focus on used packaging.
The industry needs to continue to develop clever packaging that responds to changing demographics, lifestyles and shopping habits and helps make supply chains more sustainable. But if companies want the freedom to be able to use the best pack for the job, they will also have to explain the role of packaging and that it has a net positive enviroment benefit in protecting more resources than it uses.