The move to more sustainable packaging – what does the industry have to say?

Industrial Physics, the global test and inspection organisation, looks at how manufacturers can address the challenges of transitioning to sustainable packaging


Calls for sustainability are driving innovation within the packaging sector. With a growing pressure for packaging professionals to shift from typically used plastics, paper, and foils to more sustainable materials, many businesses are committing to a more sustainable future. 

But how is this impacting the world of metal packaging? In the can making sector, this often means finding alternative solutions (such as non-destructive testing or can light weighting to reduce waste), without compromising the quality of beverages or other canned goods. Embracing change for the good of both our planet and future generations is undoubtedly a positive step, but the implementation of these changes is bringing new challenges to the industry. This move to more sustainable packaging requires rigorous testing standards. 

In response to these challenges, Industrial Physics (IP) carried out international research into sustainable packaging. The results show that 49 per cent of the 255 global packaging decision-makers surveyed felt that meeting standards was one of the biggest challenges they faced in the wider migration to sustainable packaging materials. 

The research results highlighted a clear need for new, updated standards. The Sustainable Packaging Research Survey revealed that 53 per cent of respondents think new standards, dictated by the move to sustainability, will have the biggest impact on sustainable packaging over the next five years. Similarly, 42 per cent of respondents feel that new legislation and regulatory requirements will be introduced to support the shift to sustainability, which will also have a notable impact on the packaging sector. Could changes toward sustainable legislation lead to a significant rise in the adoption of metal packaging over less traditionally sustainable alternatives? 

The survey revealed that optimising material performance to protect goods (53%), passing increased material costs onto the consumer (50%), and ability to meet safety and testing standards (49%) are all challenges that companies are facing when looking to move to more sustainable packaging solutions. 

Test and inspection solutions 

High quality test and inspection systems are essential to helping maintain quality levels throughout innovation phases of sustainable raw materials and packaging. The campaign for sustainability continues to grow in popularity, pushing many companies to explore new territories when it comes to sustainable packaging solutions. Whether this means trialling new raw materials or exploring new packaging mediums altogether – businesses are being forced to pivot. For example, we’ve already seen many beverage packaging manufacturers transitioning from bottles to metal packaging – IP explored this issue in its insight report, A Thirst for Perfection. 

Trialling new materials or packaging types calls for quality control and testing to ensure the integrity of the new materials and products, and that products are safe from contamination, spoilage or spills. 

To ensure sufficient performance of new materials to protect goods, testing is needed at all stages of the production process. This testing confirms the physical properties of materials, whether it be seal, scratch resistance, life prediction, recyclability or any other factors needed to meet performance and durability standards. IP’s research found that many manufacturers attempting to introduce sustainable packaging materials feel that testing poses difficulties, with 71 per cent saying that quality control processes were “somewhat” to “significantly” more difficult to follow with new materials. 

Using any new material requires rigorous testing, putting your packages through a series of realistic simulations to understand how the end product could be damaged throughout the supply chain is key. Working with an appropriate packaging, product, and material test and inspection partner will give you a clear picture of what will happen to products as they are transported, crushed, droped, or pushed against other materials in storage. 

Industrial Physics instruments are used to test the quality of a varied range of materials for packaging and products. And within the metal packaging industry, the company offers a range of destructive and non-destructive solutions to test across a variety of applications, including leak testing, the, viscosity of liquid coatings, and the seams of metal cans, amongst many others.

While there may be multiple solutions to these issues, manufacturers that employ alternative testing techniques can often resolve their quality control and testing challenges. The introduction of new materials often calls for new testing techniques and standards, due to their different properties. Manufacturers, production lines and laboratories would benefit from seeking out a dedicated test and inspection partner, to eliminate these issues. This means choosing a provider that does more than just supply equipment – it means choosing a true partner that works closely with them to make informed quality control decisions, adjusting the process along the way. IP is helping customers shape their testing, providing them with a better way to transition successfully to sustainable packaging materials. 

Consumer pressure 

Although consumer pressure does play a substantial role in decision-making, the survey results showed that manufacturers are investing in sustainability because they believe it is the right thing to do. Many organisations view sustainability as a duty rather than a forced obligation, and are driving toward more ethical approaches on a global level, influencing their supply chain, as well as taking a proactive approach to their development in green criteria. 

Finding a balance between sustainability, and the ability of new materials to meet performance and durability demands, is essential. The survey found that while recyclability of source materials (60%) and use of renewable source materials (45%) are the two primary objectives of manufacturers when it comes to sustainable packaging, nearly as many (41%) recognise the importance of ensuring the performance of those raw materials. 

Due to supply chain issues, many companies are expanding their supplier base to meet their sourcing needs, increasing the importance of internal testing to maintain quality control. Similarly, an increasing social awareness of climate change is creating mounting pressure on companies to reduce their environmental footprint and provide more sustainable alternatives for their goods. With rising energy prices and living costs, many can-makers are looking for solutions that do not involve additional costs being pushed onto the consumer. In light of this, manufacturers need to work closely with the industry to achieve greater sustainability, despite these constraints. IP is constantly developing new solutions to ensure customers are able to save energy through testing, helping control both cost increases for consumers, and can-makers themselves. 

Implementing new practices and working with new materials can often be daunting, with a number of hurdles impeding the process. The research found that issues do not typically lie in the new product, but the test method. As such, closer collaboration with a testing partner can bring new insights and improvements in this area, making for a smoother transition to more sustainable materials. For can makers in particular, Industrial Physics is able to advise and provide highly accurate, cost-effective testing equipment to check the integrity of their products at key points in the canning and filling process. 

IP instruments can remove ambiguity around material integrity, offering testing instruments that can provide a detailed insight into double seam inspection, non-destructive seam inspection, abrasion testing, abrasion testing, and headspace and dissolved oxygen testing. Industrial Physics’ mix of semi and fully-automated, affordable testing equipment, combined with advice and support from expert teams, can help ease the transition to more sustainable materials and lessen the burden on can makers looking for solutions to minimise their impact on the environment.

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