The shape of things to come: predictions for plastic packaging 2022

We are fortunate to represent a number of clients in the fast-paced plastics industry, which means we are right in the thick of the action. In this blog, we pull together the key trends that are shaping the future of plastic packaging.

There is growing acknowledgement that ‘no plastic’ is not the answer; we are waging a war on waste, not on plastic. As the Alliance to End Plastic Waste puts it: “The plastic waste problem is a waste management problem”.

Therefore, as communicators, our role has evolved from defending the very raison d’être of plastics to helping the industry talk about what it is doing to address the issues of waste management and climate change.

Efforts are now being channeled into transitioning to a circular plastics economy, which requires industry innovation, government investment in infrastructure and a change in consumer behavior. The TikTok craze of seeing how far you can stretch a Kinder wrapper[1] demonstrates that there is a lot of work to do in terms of getting consumers to take responsibility on waste.

Circularizing plastic packaging

In 2022, we expect the shift to a circular economy to be the single biggest trend influencing plastic packaging development. This will be manifested in the proliferation of mono-material packaging that is easier to recycle. In flexible packaging, resin producers are pouring their efforts into developing PP-and PE-based solutions that match the sealing, barrier and printing properties of conventional laminates. In rigid packaging, one of the challenges is producing cap and container combinations from a single material family.

In addition, we expect to see the adoption of technologies that facilitate recycling. The HolyGrail 2.0 project[2], for example, is piloting a digital watermark on packs.

While circular economy measures on recycling are essential, they need to go hand in hand with the decarbonization of materials and manufacturing. Going forwards, we expect to see more brands actively assessing the carbon impact of their packaging from cradle to grave. In a low carbon economy, reducing reliance on virgin plastic will be crucial to tackling the climate crisis at the same time as reducing plastic waste. Therefore, as well as seeing more recyclable plastic packaging making an appearance, we anticipate the emergence of more packaging with recycled content. This trend will be underpinned by the UK Plastic Packaging Tax, which comes into force in April.

Embracing tech

Digital technologies such as NFC (Near Field Communication) are often talked about in terms of potential, but have not as yet been adopted on a mass market scale for consumer goods. However, 2022 could be a breakthrough year for NPC, on the back of its ability to improve the circularity of packaging by providing up-to-date and localized recycling information.

QR codes are another technology that will become more commonplace on packaging in a world where brand transparency is imperative. These codes are the ideal vehicle for enabling consumers to access a virtual world of traceability and sustainability information. 

Then there are RFID tags, which have several applications in packaging. Not only can they help to reduce food waste by aligning inventory with variable demand and notifying retailers of ‘soon to expire’ products, but they can also assist with the tracking and separation of plastic waste.[3]

Protective packaging

Increasing demand for e-commerce goes hand in hand with tamper-evident packaging being applied to more categories of products than ever before. When people receive packages from an e-commerce provider they will never physically visit, they want to be confident that the products they receive have not been interfered with. Marrying the dual demand of protective packaging solutions and recyclability will be one of the challenges facing the packaging industry during 2022.

Communicating through design

Ultimately, regardless of whether packaging has recycled content or integral tech, it still has to look good. The trends that we are seeing in packaging design are reflective of the current Zeitgeist: a shift from the minimalism and muted pastels that have dominated packaging design in the last decade in favor of bold, bright colors that shout confidence and optimism; a return to retro that reflects a mood of nostalgia as people seek a return to the ‘good times’ of the past; tactile packaging that re-establishes the physical connection that has been missing during the pandemic and with e-commerce; and transparent packaging that enables people to see the contents, underlining brand values of honesty and openness.

How we can help

We are continually scanning the horizon for changes in trends and applying these to the multi-channel marketing communication campaigns we design and implement for our clients. If your business needs support with its communications and you would like to work with an agency that knows your industry, please get in touch.


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Posted by
Kim Lommaert 
on March 10, 2022

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