Reading Time: 4 minutes

Packaging is an integral part of a product in today’s developed world. And yet, with today’s environmental concerns, reducing waste and energy usage while increasing overall product sustainability has been the priority. A major challenge faced by packaging technology advancement relates to sustainable packaging. Innovation in sustainable packaging technologies can play a vital role in supporting the United Nations (UN) 2030 agenda – “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. However, sustainable packaging is no longer just recycling-focused; rather, it now has multiple dimensions to qualify – serving consumer preferences and enabling business growth while promoting environmental protection. Other drivers are government regulation, public health and retailers. Stringent measures adopted by governments, such as directive 94/62/EC [1] by the European Union, the National Environment Agency (NEA) of Singapore’s [2] mandatory requirements for sustainable packaging are examples of government initiatives. Companies such as The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, BASF [3,4,5], and others are proactively developing initiatives or materials for sustainable packaging which also give them a competitive advantage. Large retailers such as Amazon, Walmart [6] and others are developing supply chain processes to progressively meet their targets of sustainability. The sustainable packaging market is estimated to reach USD 303.60 Billion by 2020, with a projected CAGR of 7.17 % from 2015 to 2020 [7].

What do these encouraging developments suggest?

Sustainable packaging is no longer a nice-to-have, but an essential part of doing business. In response to the vital needs of sustainable packaging, the industry has been focusing on innovation across three key areas – design, materials and manufacturing techniques.

Sustainability goals focus on the following points:

  • Reducing weight and volume of packaging
  • Eliminating or minimizing toxic additives
  • Reducing energy consumption
  • Creating sustainable business models

Given that the scope of research for sustainable technologies is vast, the current study puts an emphasis only on the relevance of packaging materials in sustainable packaging development. Packaging materials play an important role in the packaging value chain, as it usually comprises of over half of the total cost of packaging.

Where it all began…

Evolution of packaging began with natural sources such as bark, leaves, leather, etc. Later, considering their strength and durability properties, glass, metal and ceramics gained popularity. In the early 20th century, milk was commonly transported in glass bottles. However, these materials had their own disadvantages with regard to fragility, flexibility, manufacturing cost, hygiene issues and ease of delivery. This was when thermoplastics came into the picture and replaced the earlier packaging materials. But their disadvantage is that they are not found to be environmentally friendly. With the awareness of environmental friendly packaging commencing in the late 80’s, research on biodegradable materials began. In order to assess how packaging raw materials can address the sustainability requirements, the following methodology was adopted to derive our insights.

Step 1: Categorization

As packaging materials spans across a wide spectrum, it was first necessary to group those into three broad categories based on their material characteristics as per Figure 1:

  • Reusable materials -metal, glass and ceramic which are reusable
  • Synthetic materials -plastics that are derived from fossil-based resources and are non-biodegradable
  • Bio-derived materials -bioplastics that are made fully, or partly, from biomass, which are biodegradable. While some conventional biobased plastics, such as Polyethylene (PE), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), etc. which are non-biodegradable, also fall in this category.
Step 2: Patent Research

To understand evolving patterns in the three categories of packaging raw materials, patent research was conducted covering two decades each during Pre-2000 and Post-2000.

Step 3: Packaging Performance Metrics

The three categories of packaging materials were benchmarked against a framework designed around packaging performance

Step 4: Comparison Of Innovation Trends

Key innovations during Pre-2000 and Post-2000 timeframes were studied for two prominent categories.

Step 5: Latest Innovation Techniques

Our research also considered most recent innovation methods that will define the future trends in research on sustainable packaging.

Patent Research

Our observations from the patenting trends are listed below:

  • Reusable materials did not draw as much attention Pre-2000 due to dominance of plastic and papers in the packaging industry. However, Post-2000, there is a significant interest (CAGR 8.1%) due to introduction of cans for beverages and pressurized aluminum containers for aerosols.
  • Consistent upward patenting patterns of synthetic materials indicate a preferred category. Eventhough, a brief decline in patenting pattern during 1992-1996 is correlated to several factors including the “1990 oil price shock” [8], which resulted in finding alternatives and increase in awareness of bio-degradable materials.
  • Although, Post-2000, a steady growth (CAGR 3.75%) in bio-derived materials is observed, they are trailing in comparison to synthetic materials. This fact can be attributed to prolonged time required to develop novel bio-derived materials that would effectively address the key issues pertaining to packaging performance metrics.
  • BARRIER PROPERTIES: Resistance to light, moisture, water vapour and gas
  • RAW MATERIAL AVAILABILITY: Abundant and high quality material
  • PROCESS ABILITY: Ease of fabrication with available equipment and machinery
  • USER-FRIENDLINESS: Non-toxic and easily recoverable raw materials
  • MATERIAL IMPROVISATION: Ability to innovate new materials or optimize properties of materials

The packaging performance metrics were used to rate the three categories of packaging materials between values 1 (lowest) and 5 (highest). From Figure 4, it is observed that the top two categories of materials (synthetic materials and bio-derived materials) substantiate the patenting trends.


Hence, the remaining part of the study is concentrated on only synthetic and bio-derived materials.

Comparison Of Innovation Trends

The study of key improvements in technologies during Pre-2000 and Post-2000 period for both synthetic and bio-derived materials is presented as below:

Latest Innovation Techniques

Findings on current innovation trends in sustainable packaging indicate promising progress and novel techniques that will have great impact on offering sustainable packaging solutions.

Synthetic Materials:

The major focus of companies on synthetic materials has been towards process improvements enabling reduced density and usage of raw material; and improved recovery and reuse of materials. The following are some examples:1. The MuCell® Technology[9] reduces density ofthe bottle and the amount of plastic required(Unilever, ALPLA and MuCell Extrusion)2. Micro foaming technology[10] reduces density incoextruded films (The Dow Chemical Company)3. Industrial injection compression[11] system reduces 20% weight due to reduced wall thickness (Coveris, Unilever and Plastisud)4. The “EPS-Fish” project[12]to recycle expanded polystyrene waste from fresh fish packages toachieve a high quality, non-odor recycled material (Spain’s plastics technology center, Aimplas and Acteco Productos y Servicios)

Bio-Derived Materials:

Companies doing research & development in this area are working towards leveraging inherent properties of bioplastics and enhancing barrier properties, durability, process ability and material improvisation. The following are some examples:

  1. A biodegradable material for cheese and fresh pasta developed by employing wax coating derived from olive leaves to provide water vapor resistance (AIMPLAS) [13]
  2. A new technology for producing compounds that can be processed into flexible packaging films with low thickness as low as 8 micron while retaining high puncture resistance (FKuR) [14]
  3. A new bio-based and fully compostable flexible packaging solution that biologically decomposes in just 180 days and becomes a fertilizer for soil (TIPA) [15]

Though, a lot of research on bio-derived plastics is focused in material improvisation, there is scope for process innovation as well. Many conventional manufacturers have equipment/processes for synthetic plastics and hence, are hesitant to make separate investments for new equipment favorable for bioplastics.

A unique model that leverages equipment for both synthetic and bio-derived materials is that of Bosch VFFS[16] – Bosch Packaging Technology developed a vertical form, fill and seal machine (VFFS) with ZAPModule, which allows coating with the sealing agent on a minimal surface area, preserving the paper’s mono-material character.


Most of the current packaging solutions fall within linear economy model which is “take, make, waste”. The foundation of sustainable packaging lies in making a big leap towards a circular economy model which is the “take, make, restore/recover and remake”. The following inferences are drawn based on our research:

  • It is clearly evident that synthetic materials are most preferred across various industrial applications as they are economical, attractive to consumers, and available in abundance
  • However, fluctuation in prices of synthetic materials and serious initiatives to reduce adverse environmental impact are forcing manufacturers to improvise processing abilities to reduce their usage and accelerate usage of bio-derived materials
  • Although, Post-2000 there is a steady growth towards utilization of bio-derived materials, yet they lack pace in comparison to synthetic materials; the reasons being extended time required for development of novel materials, inferior barrier- and mechanical-properties
  • Overall, there exists a healthy competition between synthetic materials and bio-derived materials to collectively develop sustainable packaging solutions
Future Prospects For Research
  1. Synthetic materials require support of process improvements to reduce density and usage of raw materials
  2. The future of bio-derived materials lies in enhancing inherent properties of bioplastics and inventing novel materials
  3. Design and development of cross compatible equipment for processing / fabricating synthetic and bioderived materials for optimized manufacturing

Acknowledgements: Dr. J. V. Sivaprasad Rao, Mr. Vikramaditya Thakur, Mr. Sishir Peyyeti, Mr. G. Pavan Kumar, Mr. T. Vishnu Vardhan, Ms. Harita S. Achanta

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this document are based on collective analysis of independent research, information retrieved from various sources and tools used for compilation. This document is for general information purposes only, and was compiled with reasonable attention. However, no liability is accepted by SciTech Patent Art Services Pvt. Ltd for any inaccuracies or from using or relying upon the information in this document.

About SciTech Patent Art: We are a 14-year old technology and patent analytics firm based out of Hyderabad, India. We work with a number of clients in US, Europe, Japan and India. Our research is based out of proprietary patent databases and non-proprietary sources for technical information to provide succinct findings. For any questions or comments on this document, please contact us at [email protected]



  • This document has been created for educational and instructional purposes only
  • Copyrighted materials used have been specifically acknowledged
  • We claim the right of fair use as ascertained by the author


Dr. J. V. Sivaprasad Rao
Mr. Vikramaditya Thakur
Mr. Sishir Peyyeti
Ms. Harita Achanta
Submit your review

Create your own review

Scitech Patent Art
Average rating:  
 0 reviews