Interview with Henkel

Ahead of his presentation at next month's Sustainability in Packaging Asia 2021 online, we spoke to our speaker, Alexander Bockisch, Global Head of Market Strategy – Flexible Packaging at Henkel, to gain deeper insight into Rethink packaging: sustainable solutions for packaging. Find out what he shared with us below!

Current Industry Focus:

Q. The pandemic has obviously impacted the packaging industry, what are some of the most important impacts that you are already seeing?

Over the last few years, we've seen a negative shift in the public opinion and consumer perception of plastics in packaging. This negative reputation is challenging and misleading, as packaging plays a vital role in keeping essential items like food and medicines fresh and safe. Interestingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the importance of packaging clear: consumers are more hesitant to purchase food without packaging, and the demand for packaged food has been growing.
The challenges of the pandemic make the importance of packaging very clear, not only for preserving food, but also for keeping it and the consumer safe. It is important to note that the environmental footprint of the goods contained in any type of packaging is vastly higher than the footprint of the packaging itself. Packaging strongly reduces losses in goods and therefore strongly contributes to overall sustainability. This is particularly noteworthy in these challenging times, when consumers are purchasing goods in bulk and have the expectation that packaging enables food to stay safe and fresh.

Q. How do you think consumer attitudes have changed in the context of pandemic?

We see a changing consumer behavior in different categories. Most of all, the pandemic obviously accelerated digitalization, especially in grocery shopping. We can observe large increases in click & collect and home deliveries as well as contact-less payments, which also translates into a profound shift of retail to digital and a strong focus on eCommerce. In 2020, a leading retailer in the US reported year-on-year growth of 74% in its US e-commerce sales - growth that was primarily attributable to the spike in curbside pick-up orders.
We also see a shift in shopping behavior from luxury to necessity as well as increased concerns about the origin and safety of products consumed, which underline the continuous focus on highest safety & hygiene standards in packaging.

Q. What are some of the biggest opportunities gaining attention within the packaging industry?

It's clear that sustainability and specifically circular economy will be driving a transformational change in the packaging industry. But there won't be one particular breakthrough or solution – many factors need to come together to create a circular economy with packaging that is both practical and economically viable. On the one hand, sustainability and a circular economy mean a clear increase in the demand for recyclable packaging and new designs that enable recyclability and/or make use of recycled raw materials without compromising functionality. On the other hand, we need the proper infrastructure that enables the production of high-quality recyclate from both post-industrial and post-consumer waste.
This is also leading to an increased challenging and questioning of existing packaging design choices. The main trend we see is the increased usage of mono-material designs that are designed to achieve the same or similar functionality as multi-material film structures.
Additionally, we have the challenge of using recycled materials for food contact applications, as mechanically recycled plastics and paper are not yet allowed in food contact in many cases. Chemical recycling could be the answer here, but it is still in a very early stage and is still a new technology.

Q. How has your company chosen to react/adapt to stay on trend?

Our vision is to lead with technologies and solutions in adhesives and functional coatings that will have an impact on solving those challenges. 
We continue to focus on our sustainability approach to offer specific solutions to solve the challenges of our customers: One the one hand side, we focus on solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of packaging, i.e. via biomass balance approach and the replacement of packaging layers via coatings. Secondly, we focus on adhesives & coatings to enable better recyclability, for example with certified coatings that are compatible with recycling, adhesives with debonding properties and functional coatings that enable new packaging designs. Last but not least, our third strategic pillar focuses on health & safety to protect brands and consumers via our unique package of products & services and enhancing occupational safety.

Future Focus:

Q. How do you think COVID-19 will impact the packaging industry in the short and longer-term?

We expect demand for grocery e-commerce to remain high post-COVID-19 and a continuous acceleration of widespread eCommerce. In this context, we see opportunities for the industry for optimized packaging design, i.e. towards stronger shipping materials and packaging technologies to facilitate shipping speed.
We also expect adoptions in the value chain to reduce supply and production risks which might lead to a stronger shift towards strengthening regional footprints and contingency plans. Another aspect might be increased transparency and monitoring of supply chains, while production might see a speedier automation and the use of artificial intelligence to drive productivity and greater resilience.
Last but not least, we see sustainability requirements increasing at every step of the value chain and believe that it will remain a key industry-shaping trend.

Q. What does your company/organization hope to achieve over the next 5 years with regards to the future of packaging industry?

We believe that our sustainability approach is the right foundation to develop future technologies and solutions for the packaging industry. We strive to support brands & converters to reduce their packaging footprint, enable better recyclability and enhance health & safety during production and end-use.
Q. How do you expect to see the recycling infrastructure change in Asia in the next few years?

The Asian waste infrastructure and recycling sector is evolving, and we observe an increasing number of investments to support local solutions. But there is a strong need for economic instruments and public-private partnerships for developing sustainable waste infrastructure. Some countries in the ASEAN region are working towards an extended producer responsibility and we believe that more recycling facilities will be built in the coming years across Asia.

Q. What do you think will be some of the most interesting advancements in materials or packaging types in the near future?   

For sure, recyclability is going to be a crucial factor in near future. Therefore, we believe that more mono-material packaging designs will be introduced to the market with barrier enhancing technologies. This applies to both film structures as well as the continuous functionalization of paper through new coating technologies.
Conference Related:

Q. Your presentation at this year's Sustainability in Packaging Asia will cover 'REThink packaging: sustainable solutions for packaging'. Why is it important for others in your industry to hear this message? What are some of the key take-aways?

We believe there is value in everything, and this value can be captured by REthinking processes, product design and use of resources. Henkel is committed to enable customers to reach their sustainability targets as well as current packaging design trends via three different pillars: Carbon footprint reduction, circular economy, health & safety. This presentation will provide specific examples of adhesives and coatings that can make a sustainable difference in flexible packaging, paper solutions as well as tapes & labels. 

As a leader in adhesive technologies, Henkel understands how the right adhesives and coatings can make the sustainable difference of packaging and consumer goods.
  • Heat seal coatings that eliminate laminating step to redesign PET trays
  • Coatings that reduce footprint in production
  • Adhesives for mono-material pouches optimized for mechanical recycling
  • Certified recyclable coatings for paper that enable mono-material packaging designs
  • De-bondable labeling adhesives for optimized PET recycling
  • Functional & sustainable EPIX technology to replace foil, wax, and non-recyclable coatings
  • Adhesives based on safer chemicals with lower migration potential

Q. Which presentations (what session topic) are you most looking forward to hearing about at Sustainability in Packaging Asia? 

I am really looking forward to the different panel discussions, such as designing for sustainability.