Packaging at the dawn of its revolution

The objective of this ALL4PACK Paris talk from November 2018 is to discuss the transformations that humanity is likely to undergo in the coming decades, and more particularly the impact of these changes on packaging. All the studies surrounding the issue arrive at the conclusion that packaging is the perfect reflection of our society.

Four strong themes emerge from these studies: the impact of an ageing population on packaging design; the depletion of the natural resources used in the manufacturing of packaging; the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) for processing data; and the mobilities revolution in transport.

AGEING POPULATION

Around 53% of consumer goods in France are purchased by the over 50s. Over 65's represent almost 20% of the European population, and this figure will increase by 80% by 2050. Worldwide there are 500,000 centenarians; there will be 26 million in 2100.

Packaging on which the writing is hard to read is becoming a problem for consumers. The same applies to the opening and closing of products, their weight, their format and the messages they convey.

The graphic codes conceived by the younger generations are not understood by the elderly. Also, the more difficulties you have in reading, opening or carrying products, the less you are likely to continue using the brand concerned. There is still a lot of progress that needs to be made on the ease of use of packaging. Smart packaging would be an essential component of this scenario, providing intelligence about the risks, use and history of the products contained therein.


THE DEPLETION OF THE NATURAL RESOURCES USED FOR PRODUCING PACKAGING

It is now an indisputable certainty: the planet's resources cannot be treated as though they were infinite. The "Earth Overshoot Day", which is the day on which the annual worldwide consumption of resources was higher than the planet was capable of regenerating in one year, first occurred on 29 December 1970.[IA1]  That year the world therefore had to go two days “in the red”.

In 2018, this day fell on 1st August, and if we continue at the current rate it will arrive in April in 2050, and at the start of the year by the end of the century. We will therefore have consumed one year in advance the resources that can be regenerated by the Earth.

Oil could run out in 2050 or 2070, iron between 2072 and 2092, silica between 2100 and 2150 and aluminium between 2140 and 2160. We are therefore heading toward a situation in which packaging materials will no longer exist.

To mitigate this, it would be necessary to prohibit superfluous packaging, overwrap, composite packaging, non-recyclable packaging and plastic packaging from fossil fuel sources. It would also be necessary to limit the quantity of these packagings, favour recyclable materials, develop biosourced materials, relaunch the concept of reusable packaging and create products that need no packaging.

For these solutions to succeed, the citizenry needs to be educated and informed. More also needs to be done in terms of obligations, crackdowns, taxation, facilitation, reward, as well as in terms of new materials and models.

Furthermore, adopting plant-based and biosourced solutions must not create an adverse phenomenon, at the risk of overusing natural resources once again and depleting them in turn. It is important to find more viable solutions in terms of ecology, aimed in particular at using less packaging.

It is not possible for retailers and brands to create spaces where there is absolutely no packaging whatsoever, and so it is important to avoid certain materials, reduce the use of the most polluting materials and rethink what can be rethought.

Certain more radical policies would enable consumers to be rewarded or, conversely, sanctioned. In China, for example, there is a citizen ratings system. Adapting this system for the processing of waste in France could yield results. Another solution might be to put in place systems of traceability from pack to home.

THE ADVENT OF AI IN ALL FIELDS

Artificial intelligence is making real inroads. It will extend into every area of our lives, with the aim of providing greater safety and more information for consumers. AI offers many benefits:

  • Selling and communicating better thanks to better knowledge of the consumer.
  • Combating fakes and guaranteeing the quality of the contents.
  • Making products easier to use.
  • Combating waste.
  • Assisting ageing populations.

Artificial intelligence can serve to prick our conscience as consumers, making our consumption more intelligent, and based more on logic or conscience than today, when it tends to be linked more to emotions.

THE MOBILITIES REVOLUTION

With the mobilities revolution, the problems of packaging will be linked to its dimensions and form, along with its sealing, stability, thermal conditions and waste management. Mobility will give the impetus to new products, which are less prone to spillage, for example, and which have a longer shelf life.

Lastly, the advances in self-driving vehicles and the associated technology are promising, although there is a risk of making a car into a moving garbage can. A car that does not need a driver will only carry passengers, who are potentially consumers of food and packaging during their journeys. We therefore need to develop packaging which can be sealed and which isn't easily knocked over, while at the same time considering the question of how to deal with waste in a moving vehicle.

Speakers