Rob Brown, Head of European Business Development, OKI Europe
New EU rules on packaging will be taking effect in 2025, introducing a framework that mandates all packaging must be fully recyclable by 2030. In response, brands will quickly need to source a solution to ensure compliance with these changing regulations. For smaller retailers and producers, finding a cost-effective solution such as in-house printing will be critical to remaining competitive and ensuring a reliable customer experience. While 2030 might seem like a long way in the future, the journey to compliance is already underway.
Time to Act: Behind the EU Recycling Rules
Sustainability is no longer just an industry buzz-word. In fact, a survey of consumers in five European markets in 2021 discovered that an overwhelming 77% consider it important that products are recyclable. On the back of this, governments feel more confident in imposing regulations that force the printing and packaging industry to rethink how they create eco-friendly products.
The latest rules being introduced by the European Commission announce a number of significant changes and will see packaging and labelling being monitored to ensure that recycled content and plastic levels meet the increased targets, and that fresh produce also carries biodegradable labels. Given the stringent demands being introduced, agile businesses are already thinking about how this will impact their existing operations and taking action to ensure business continuity. As these regulations are introduced, firms are justifiably cautious about making large batch orders of packaging and labels today. Actions that result in goods being delayed due to regulatory compliance issues are also likely to cause reputational damage when customers receive late shipments.
Prove your green credentials, or pay the price
Just as cars and power plants across the continent are squeezing out pollution, high-waste packaging is being silently squeezed out of the consumer ecosystem. Packaging will be soon assessed on a sliding scale from A to E, with the lowest grade of packaging already in the process of being phased out.
While it’s clear that brands and manufacturers have no choice but to act, there are common challenges that often prevent brands from leveraging eco-packaging. Firstly, there’s the costs and lead times associated with using third party creative and print suppliers which can be high. Secondly, this practice often requires high volume orders when some retailers only require small batches of packaging, sometimes even individual labels, which inevitably leads to wastage.
The material used is just one piece of the printing and packaging eco-puzzle. While changing regulations and heightened consumer awareness are pressuring brands to up their green credentials, customers still desire a personalised product that doesn’t compromise their expectations. Thankfully, technology has evolved to enable retailers to print sustainable packaging affordably and profitably in-house or for print service providers to accept lower volume orders from their customers. This is particularly beneficial for smaller retailers, and those brands involved in Direct to Consumer (DTC) sales that require additional personalisation on each order.
Challenge the status quo
The industry must not be afraid to challenge existing processes. Companies that wish to take advantage of ecommerce across the European Union need to have the best available packaging, which meets all durability, cost and recycling requirements. One aspect of achieving this goal is to challenge the current process and be prepared to do things differently. While it may seem daunting to modify existing operations, such as shifting printing models, given the requirements imposed by consumers, and now governments, it is becoming a much more attractive option. As a solution to the problem of retaining market access, printing in-house can be instrumental in helping brands adapt to the growing demand for sustainable packaging.
Only brands that remain agile in the face of regulatory change and customer pressure will succeed. With the technology available today, staying agile and responding to changing demands doesn’t require any specialist skills or a huge amount of space, and companies can be more selective about the materials they use and have more control over the print process.
With customers demanding sustainable products, and prepared to pay more for them, retailers who don’t prioritise sustainability are at risk of not surviving the next 5-10 years, according to research by Deloitte. The increase in government regulation, in particular across the European Union, has only accelerated the shift to sustainable packaging, and the clock is counting down quickly as fines and possible market access restrictions get closer. Accordingly, agile firms are accelerating their own transition to sustainable solutions with the help of affordable technology that tackles the twin demands of meeting consumer requirements and passing government regulations.