Insights by AUSPACK

Dr Michael Okorafor AUSPACK 2019

The future of the packaging industry in four parts, according to sustainability guru

Posted on August 6th, 2019 in Insights by AUSPACK

It’s always hard to predict the future, but when someone with vast experience gives their opinion on the way the packaging industry is going, it’s wise to pay attention.

Dr Michael Okoroafor, the current vice president of global sustainability and packaging at McCormick, is one such person. With a career that includes stints at Coca-Cola and Heinz, as well as induction into the Packaging and Processing Hall of Fame, Okoroafor is someone who truly understands the workings of the industry.

In his talk at the AUSPACK Business and Industry Conference, he talked about the future of the packaging industry and the four key drivers of change that we’re likely to see.

Circular economy

One of the big talking points at the conference was to do with waste reduction and Okoroafor’s presentation was no different. He sees this as one of the key things that will need to change in Australia and wants to see the circular economy – where materials are reused and recycled – implemented more commonly.

He said, “The era of make-use-dispose is over. Forget your waste. We are now in the era of make-use-reuse. By 2025, you are going to be not putting things in landfill.”

“I can’t overemphasise the circular economy. Why? We don’t need waste. A world without waste is what we are driving towards.”

Designing for ecommerce

When there’s a huge shift in the way we do business – as we have seen from the boom in popularity of the internet – many industries are slow to catch up. Okoroafor believes that the packaging industry is lagging behind in terms of responding to ecommerce, with traditional techniques being adapted for the online world with little thought.

He said, “The second thing is ecommerce, and I will add direct to consumer. Ecommerce is going to be driven by packaging as a trigger, a conduit, to how people can get things.”

“What we do today for packaging for ecommerce is wrong. There is no packaging designed for ecommerce. You know what we do today? We take the packaging that is designed for brick-and-mortar, we insulate it as though its plutonium for nuclear weapons, then we ship it and call it ecommerce. That’s wrong, that has to change.”

Transparency in the supply chain

More than ever, consumers want to know where their food, drink and products come from. With a simple change to packaging, customers can use their smartphones to see the journey of their purchase: where the food was grown, where the packaging materials came from and where everything was put together.

As well as giving your customers peace of mind about where their purchases were grown and made, it also gives extra benefits such as improved anti-counterfeiting measures.

He said, “The third one is this idea of a re-aligned supply chain. You know what that means? Transparency. We are working on blockchain with IBM. The idea is so that you have transparency from farm all the way to table. You’re going to have transparency so that if you have a problem, you can identify that and eliminate it before it becomes a hazard.”

The Internet of Things

With more of our lives connected to the internet – especially with the uptake in devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home – and improved technology making automation of tasks simpler, Okoroafor believes that we’re soon to enter a stage where are appliances and electronic devices can remind us when to make repairs or orders, if not carry them out automatically.

He said, “Finally, advances in the internet of things. If you drive a good car today, you don’t need to call for servicing, your car will remind you when it’s ready. Similarly, in the future, machines will tell people when they need to be serviced. You can fix it remotely – that’s the future and we better embrace it.”

Soon it will be much more common for fridges to give reminders about food that has been in there a bit too long. Give it access to your online supermarket account and it can order replacements when it thinks you’re running low.

To enable this, products will have to be able to speak to devices, whether that’s in terms of codes or uniform design features that fridges and freezers can universally understand.

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