27 November 2023

In the world of packaging and packaging waste, companies and projects play a crucial role, both in ensuring quality and striving for sustainability. In Belgium, essenscia, as a sector federation, represents companies that are users of packaging, ranging from basic chemicals to the health sector, as well as producers of plastic packaging. While the packaging industry provides important societal benefits, including protecting food crops from climate change and extending the shelf life of food, it also faces challenges and opportunities in terms of optimisation, innovation and sustainability.  

High-quality packaging solutions and environmental impact  

The packaging solutions these companies focus on, such as food packaging, transport-safe packaging and packaging for pharmaceuticals, contribute to positive environmental impact and play a crucial role in various sectors. These packaging solutions not only preserve food quality and safe transportation, but they are also vital in ensuring the stability and effectiveness of medicines and medical materials.  

Protecting food crops from the effects of climate change is an important aspect of this industry. High-quality packaging prevents waste and ensures that food reaches consumers in optimal condition. This not only helps reduce food waste, but also ensures food security, which is essential in a world where population continues to grow.   

Bottlenecks and opportunities   

Despite these positive contributions, companies in the packaging industry face challenges ranging from regulations to sustainability pressures. The current review of European packaging legislation is a concern for the industry, as the initially proposed policies seem to take little account of the complexity and diversity of the industry. The need for a balanced regulation that encompasses both environmental objectives and socio-economic realities is crucial.   

In 2020, the total amount of packaging waste in Belgium was around 2.3 million tonnes, of which 1.3 million tonnes was recycled, representing a recycling rate of around 56%. However, the revised European packaging legislation sets more ambitious targets for recycling and reducing packaging waste.  

Optimisation of the packaging industry can take place in several areas. First, there is a need for more targeted regulation that takes into account the specific needs of different packaging applications. This could include differentiation based on the type of packaging and the sectors it serves. Promoting innovative solutions, such as reusable and biodegradable packaging, should be encouraged by incentives  

A look at innovation in the packaging industry 

1. Reusable packaging for sustainable consumption 

A company has invested in research and development of reusable packaging for consumer products. These packages reduce the demand for single-use packaging, reduce waste and contribute to a sustainable consumption culture.  

2. Biodegradable packaging in the food industry  

A food company has innovated by introducing biodegradable packaging for their products. This packaging reduces ecological impact and contributes to a circular economy. 

3. Smart packaging solutions for medicines  

A pharmaceutical company has invested in smart packaging solutions that monitor and optimise the stability of medicines. This not only improves drug safety but also minimises waste through more accurate dosing.  

Sustainability, climate targets and the energy transition  

The packaging industry not only faces sustainability challenges but is also affected by broader climate goals and the energy transition. Reducing the environmental footprint is a shared responsibility, and companies in this sector need to adapt to changing standards and expectations.  

One opportunity for optimisation lies in the use of renewable energy sources in production processes. By switching to green energy, companies can not only reduce their environmental impact, but also meet sustainability standards and climate targets.  

In the energy transition, companies in the packaging industry play a role in reducing their dependence on fossil fuels. Investing in energy-efficient production processes and using renewable energy sources are essential steps to contribute to a more sustainable future.  

European legislation in the packaging industry

The European Union aims to recycle at least 55% of plastic packaging waste by 2030. The revised European packaging legislation aims to reduce the use of plastic packaging, encourage recycling and reuse, and reduce the environmental impact of packaging waste. Specifically, the EU aims to:  

  • Reducing plastic use: The legislation aims to significantly reduce the use of plastic packaging, especially for single use.   
  • Mandatory recycling targets: Member States will be required to set and report recycling targets, with specific targets for different materials, including plastic.  
  • Extended producer responsibility: Producers will be made liable for managing packaging waste, encouraging them to develop more sustainable and recyclable packaging.  

Belgian targets within the framework of the European Green Deal  

Within the framework of the European Green Deal, Belgium has set ambitious targets to become climate neutral and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. These targets include specific measures for the packaging industry:  

  • Reducing plastic waste: Belgium aims to significantly reduce the use of plastic packaging and promotes the development of alternative, sustainable materials.  
  • Promoting recycling: The country aims to increase recycling capacity and invest in advanced recycling technologies to support the circular economy.  
  • Energy efficiency: As part of broader climate goals, companies in the packaging industry are expected to invest in energy-efficient production processes and use renewable energy sources.  

The packaging industry is at a crossroads of challenges and opportunities, with sustainability guiding its future. Companies and projects dealing with packaging and packaging waste play a vital role in shaping a circular economy and achieving climate goals. 

With FI Group as your reliable partner, you can navigate the evolving landscape of R&D funding and fully leverage the available incentive measures. 

Yvette Poumpalova 

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