Instytutu Gospodarki Surowcami Mineralnymi i Energią
Polskiej Akademii Nauk
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1 Uniwersytet Ekonomiczny w Krakowie, Wydział Towaroznawstwa i Zarządzania Produktem, Katedra Opakowalni-
ctwa Towarów, Kraków; ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6895-6613; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Uniwersytet Ekonomiczny w Krakowie, Wydział Towaroznawstwa i Zarządzania Produktem, Katedra Opakowalni-
ctwa Towarów, Kraków; ORCID iD: 0000-0001-5081-1416; e-mail: email@example.com
rok 2019, nr 109, s. 5–16
Agnieszka KAWECKA1, Agnieszka CHOLEWA-WÓJCIK2
Challenges for the packaging industry in the Circular Economy
Abstract: The concept of a Circular Economy assumes that the value of products, materials and resources is to be
maintained in the economy for as long as possible to ultimately reduce waste generation to a minimum. In this
concept, raw materials are repeatedly put into circulation many times, often passing from one branch of industry
to another. So energy, water, metal ores, oil, gas, coal and others, and wherever possible, their replacement
with renewable resources (wind and solar energy, natural resources). It is important, and this is the essence of
the Circular Economy, the maximum re-use of scarce materials and raw materials from already produced and
used products. This concept has found the support of the European Commission and activities in this area will
successively be implemented through appropriate legal acts of the European Union. The need to implement
solutions in the eld of minimizing the consumption of raw materials, materials and energy or reducing waste pro-
duction is also felt by consumers and industry. The packaging industry is particularly interested in implementing
the concept of a Circular Economy. Due to the dynamic growth of the packaging market, which in 2017 reached
around EUR 9.6 billion in Poland (data from the Polish Chamber of Packaging) and the increasing amount of
post-consumer waste, it is necessary to introduce solutions limiting the consumption of raw materials and energy
throughout the product life cycle.
The aim of the article is to present current practices regarding the reduction of the negative impact of packaging
on the environment and the indication of directions for the implementation of the Circular Economy concept in
the packaging industry.
Keywords: packaging industry, Circular Economy, sustainable packaging
Wyzwania dla branży opakowaniowej w gospodarce o obiegu zamkniętym
Streszczenie: Koncepcja gospodarki cyrkularnej zakłada, że wartość produktów, materiałów i zasobów ma być utrzy-
mana w gospodarce tak długo, jak to możliwe, aby ostatecznie ograniczyć wytwarzanie odpadów do minimum.
W tej koncepcji surowce są wielokrotnie wprowadzane do obiegu, często przechodząc z jednej gałęzi przemysłu
do drugiej. Zatem energia, woda, rudy metali, ropa, gaz, węgiel i inne, w miarę możliwości, są zastępowane
odnawialnymi zasobami (energią wiatrową i słoneczna, zasobami naturalnymi). Jest to niezwykle ważna kwestia,
która stanowi istotę gospodarki cyrkulacyjnej poprzez maksymalne ponowne wykorzystanie rzadkich materiałów
i surowców z już wyprodukowanych i zużytych produktów. Koncepcja ta znalazła poparcie Komisji Europejskiej,
a działania w tym obszarze będą sukcesywnie wdrażane poprzez odpowiednie akty prawne Unii Europejskiej.
Potrzebę wdrożenia rozwiązań w zakresie minimalizacji zużycia surowców, materiałów i energii lub ograniczenia
produkcji odpadów odczuwają również konsumenci i przemysł. Branża opakowaniowa jest szczególnie zaintere-
sowana wdrożeniem koncepcji gospodarki obiegowej. Ze względu na dynamiczny rozwój rynku opakowań, który
w 2017 roku osiągnął w Polsce około 9,6 mld euro (dane Polskiej Izby Opakowań) oraz rosnącą ilość odpadów
poprodukcyjnych, konieczne jest wprowadzenie rozwiązań ograniczających zużycie surowców i energii w całym
cyklu życia produktu.
Celem artykułu jest przedstawienie aktualnych praktyk dotyczących ograniczania negatywnego wpływu opakowań
na środowisko oraz wskazanie kierunków realizacji koncepcji Circular Economy w przemyśle opakowaniowym.
Słowa kluczowe: przemysł opakowaniowy, gospodarka cyrkularna, zrównoważone opakowania
The general assumption of the Circular Economy concept assumes closing the product
life cycle, which requires the transition from the linear economy model to the model called
“cradle to cradle”, which includes activities related to: production – use – waste utilization
in the next production cycle. This idea aims to increase investment and support eco-inno-
vation, without unnecessary losses to the environment. The new economic model changes
the approach to product life cycle analysis, which goes beyond focusing on its nal stage.
New environmental technologies are to be an impulse for the development of the European
economy. By announcing the concept of a Circular Economy on December 2, 2015, the
European Commission has given the economic operators a clear signal that one of the Eu-
ropean Union’s priorities for the coming years will be to use all the tools available to fully
implement the principle of sustainable development (Attitudes of European…2017). One
of the areas important for the concept of sustainable development are solutions aimed at
reducing the negative impact of the packaging industry on the environment. As part of
the implementation of the concept of sustainable development, the packaging industry has
developed and perfected the idea of “sustainable packaging”. According to it, the criteria
for sustainable packaging are complex objectives of sustainable development, namely eco-
nomic, social and environmental. These criteria dene the areas in which companies should
be encouraged to transform, innovate and optimize. By solving problems in areas dened by
criteria, the ow of material streams can be transformed into a system that is economically
ecient and provides benets across the entire sustainable packaging system.
The aim of the article is to present current practices regarding the reduction of the nega-
tive impact of packaging on the environment and the indication of directions for the imple-
mentation of the Circular Economy concept in the packaging industry.
1. Characteristics of the Polish packaging market
Poland is one of the largest packaging markets in Europe. The packaging industry is
equipped with modern means of production and the latest technologies, and the oer of
packaging producers is fully competitive on foreign markets. The last twenty years have
been a period of dynamic growth of the packaging market in Poland. The constant increase
in demand for modern packaging has been noted since the systemic transformation. The
1990s brought both the assignment of packaging to the marketing function and the inux
of technologies used for years in Western European countries, enabling the production of
previously unused forms of packaging (aluminum cans, PET bottles, etc.). This was possible
due to the entry of foreign investors into the Polish market and resulted in a dynamically
growing supply and sale of packaging. The rst decade of the 21st century brought conti-
nuity and stabilization of these trends.
According to Equity Advisors, in 2017, the value of the packaging industry market in
Poland was PLN 38.2 billion. However, forecasts for 2020 indicate an increase in value of
up to PLN 46 billion, with an annual growth rate of approx. 6.8%. The forecasted increase
in the value of the packaging market in Poland was presented in Figure 1.
The increase in the value of the packaging market is determined by macroeconomic in-
dicators, such as GDP and trends in the Polish society and the economy. Firstly, the growth
rate of the packaging market is positively correlated with spending on consumption. The
Fig. 1. Forecasted increase in the value of the packaging market in Poland
Source: Branża opakowań w Polsce. Podsumowanie 2010–2016 i prognozy 2017–2020, Equity
Advisors, Kraków 2017
Rys. 1. Prognozowany wzrost wartości rynku opakowań w Polsce
latest CSO data shows that in all of 2016, consumption dynamics amounted to as much as
3.6 percent, y/y, which is the best result since 2008. Secondly, the forecast of almost double
the dynamics of the Polish packaging market in comparison to the international market is
a consequence of the growing demand for packaging per person. According to the calcula-
tions of the Polish Chamber of Packaging (PIO), the average consumer coming from highly
developed countries, such as the US, Japan or Western European countries uses packaging
worth EUR 300–340 per year, on average. For comparison, the average for Poland is about
EUR 100 lower (Wasiak 2018).
Global corporations operate on the Polish market, however, a larger part of the sector’s
revenues is generated by smaller companies competing with each other in various segments.
Almost 500 companies with annual revenues below PLN 50 million in total account for of
the 77% industry revenues. There are denitely fewer entities with higher revenues. Only
59 companies achieve revenues in the range of PLN 50–100 million (9% of revenues), and
90 – higher (14% of revenues). Sales revenues generated by the 20 largest enterprises con-
stitute 32 percent. When analyzing the structure of the packaging market based on the type
of materials used to produce packaging, the dominant role of plastics (50%) and paper pro-
ducts (25%) should be emphasized. The structure of materials in 2015 and the forecast share
and value in 2020 are presented in Table 1, the predictions were made by Equity Advisors.
TABLE 1. The structure of the packaging market in Poland
TABELA 1. Struktura rynku opakowań w Polsce
Packaging materials Share and value in 2015 Share and value in 2020 (forecast)
Paper and cardboard
50% (PLN 16.5 bn)
25% (PLN 8.2 bn)
13% (PLN 4.3 bn)
10% (PLN 3.3 bn
2% (PLN 0.7 bn)
38% (PLN 17.5 bn)
37% (PLN 17.0 bn)
11% (PLN 5.0 bn)
9% (PLN 4.1 bn)
5% (PLN 2.3 bn)
Source: Author’s elaboration on the basis of (Branża opakowań w Polsce 2017).
Packaging is a product used in various sectors of the economy. Packaging for food and
beverages accounts for as much as 63% of all packaging produced in Poland. Subsequently,
the packaging is intended for industrial products such as: household chemicals, paint and
varnish industry (24%). Cosmetics packaging accounts for 7%, and drugs for 6% of total
production. The packaging industry is closely related to industrial production in the country,
because its value depends on the general trends of the economy, and the share in the GDP
of the industry is relatively constant and amounts to 2% of Poland’s GDP.
2. The role of packaging in the supply chain
The dynamic development of the packaging market inuences the growth of interest in
packaging, which is the basic element of the supply chain dened as the activity related to
the ow of products and services from its original source through all intermediate stages, to
the form in which products and services are consumed by the nal customer. In the structural
(organizational) approach, the supply chain is dened as a group of enterprises that jointly
implements the activities necessary to satisfy the demand for specic products throughout
the entire ow of goods – from obtaining raw materials to deliveries to the nal recipient,
which is the implementation of the linear supply chain model presented on Figure 2 (De-
nition of Sustainable Packaging, Sustainable Green Blue 2015).
The leading task of suppliers of raw materials necessary for the production of packaging
and ready elements is to provide raw materials with appropriate characteristics and proper-
ties of the right quality of packaging. The role of the next entity in the packaging supply
chain, i.e. the producer of packaging materials and packaging is to conduct the production
process. In turn, the task of enterprises packaging products is the selection of packaging ma-
terials taking the characteristics of the packaged products and possible interactions between
Fig. 2. Linear model of packaging supply chain
Source: Cholewa-Wójcik 2016; Fechner 2016
Rys. 2. Liniowy model łańcucha dostaw opakowań
the product and the packaging into account. The next link in the chain are sellers whose job
is to sell packaged products to other individuals or consumers. After consuming the product,
taking the selective collection of post-consumer packaging into account, consumers get rid
of waste by handing it over to companies in the waste management sector.
This model requires a transition to a Circular Economy, in which waste will be trans-
formed into new consumer goods. In the circular model of packaging turnover, a denitely
larger share of reusable packaging should also be predicted, which will be returned to com-
panies lling them with new products. Such a model is shown in Figure 3.
In order for the circular model to function correctly, verifying the existing practices of
handling packaging and packaging waste is necessary.
3. Practices regarding the reduction of the negative impact of packaging
on the environment
Practices regarding the reduction of the negative impact of packaging on the environment
for many years have been implemented, the assumptions of which deal with packaging and
packaging waste are presented in Directive 94/62/ EC of the European Parliament and of the
Council of 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste (L.365, 31/12/1994). The
Fig. 3. Circular model of packaging supply
Rys. 3. Cyrkularny model dostaw opakowań
requirements of the directive indicate that the most important action is to reduce the mass,
volume and impact of packaging materials and packaging on the environment. Another
action to be considered is the use of reusable packaging where possible. Another in the hie-
rarchy of solutions is to provide the possibility of recycling post-consumer packaging waste.
Other recovery processes exist at the lower levels of the hierarchy, including composting
and incineration with energy recovery (Paszun and Spychaj 1997). The storage of waste is
not recommended and this process is considered only when there are no other solutions for
waste management. All methods of waste management are included in the Circular Economy
concept, in addition to storage. The key action in the case of the packaging industry should
be to reduce unnecessary packaging levels, for example in the case of a toothpaste packaged
in a tube together with the protection of resigning from a cardboard box. In addition, the
trend of reducing the weight of PET bottles for water or beverages is clearly visible. In 2015,
the average weight of a 500 ml PET bottle ranged from 15 to 20 g, in 2017 the new bottle
was 12 g, the producers currently market 8g bottles (www.packagingpolska.pl.). Therefore,
the trend of reducing the weight of the packaging while maintaining its protective function,
as well as the unchanged way of production and packaging is clear. It can therefore be said
that the search for the optimal weight of the packaging with the chosen design using the cho-
sen material is underway. The search for the optimum is to nd a packaging weight below
which the packaging can no longer be oered due to its failure to meet the requirements.
Therefore, an optimal package is sought, which is ideologically shown on Figure 4. Below
this optimum there is talk of underpacking, above of overpacking. Attempts to reduce pac-
kaging impacts should only be pursued if they maintain or reduce the impacts of the packed
product (Żakowska 2017; Wojnarowska 2018).
Fig. 4. Optimal packaging
Source: Packaging in the Sustainability Agenda... 2009
Rys. 4. Optymalne opakowanie
Multiple use creates a very simple connection between the units responsible for packa-
ging the product, distribution, consumption and operator ensuring the return of the packa-
ging to the product manufacturer, and preparing the packaging for re-use and the packaging
of products. It should be remembered, however, that reusable packaging may be damaged,
destroyed and does not circulate an innite number of times in the economy. It should be
possible to manage the waste generated after reusable packaging, mainly through the possi-
bility of their processing (recycling) (Ucherek 2005). Unfortunately, there are not many re-
usable packagings available on the market, mainly glass bottles, and their value is estimated
at PLN 150 million. The big market of reusable packaging is market of transport packaging
such as: boxes for bottles, boxes for fruit, vegetable, meat use in transport. Transportation
packaging are very often in a reusable circle, where they come back to producers from sel-
lers, are prepared for use (they are cleaned) and reused again. For economic reasons some
of them are constructed in the way that it is possible to fold them. This is an example where
capacity needed in transport is reduced (cabka-ips.com).
Another activity that is implemented by the packaging industry is material recycling. In
this case, in the economy, the return road from post-consumer waste to packaging the pro-
duct in a new packaging is no longer as simple as in the case of reusable packaging (Fortelný
et al. 2004). The material must be processed by the appropriate units. A new packaging or
other product is produced from the recirculation tank and the return to the economy is im-
plemented (Yam 2009). Recycling is easier to connect with on the industrial scale – where
dierent types of technologies of mass recovery and the reuse of materials are used. This is
clearly visible, for example, in metallurgical, chemical, paper or electronic factories. There
are well-known examples of obtaining rubber from shredded tires, re-melting precious me-
tals contained in used electronics or reusing waste paper or glass.
In the case of this end-of-life management method, many requirements should be taken
into account in both design and production, use and the collection and management require-
ments. This form of end-of-life management is possible and that the new product obtained
in this way it is not losing value. Scientists and the processing industry are constantly trying
to improve existing technologies so that the loss of properties would be as small as possi-
ble, or even improve the properties of new products (Packaging in Sustainability Agenda…
2009). In the case of such processing of raw materials, which is associated with a decrease
in the quality of the material, it is referred to as downcycling. The opposite of downcycling
is upcycling, that is, a solution that gives new objects life, makes them even more attractive
than during their original use – for example, increasing their functionality or giving aesthetic
There is a lot of examples of recycled packaging on the market. On the signicant scale,
plastic waste becomes a raw material in the production of transport boxes, plastic pallets,
shopping bags, packaging used in household chemicals. Recycled materials are not used
in food packaging due to problems in hazard analysis and unpopular chemical recycling
Other activities bearing the hallmarks of development processes include composting.
Composting is a way to recover organic matter, which returns it to the environment and
can be used to grow plants, nourishing them. This method of closing the cycle is shown
in Figure 5. Bioplastics are becoming more popular in the food industry as packaging ma-
terials, there are companies that uses this kind of material – the Coca-Cola company uses
the Plant Bottle where about 30% of the plastic is bio-PET (https://www.cocacola.com.pl
/historie/plantbottle-bo-30-ma-znaczenie). Material such as PLA or other fully biodegrada-
ble materials are commonly used on the packaging market (www.european-bioplastics.org).
4. Challenges for the packaging industry
Despite the current legislation in the eld of packaging and packaging waste manage-
ment, the aim of which is to reduce the negative impact on the environment, entrepreneurs
are introducing, to a small extent, the necessary changes aimed at the transition or closer
approximation to the assumptions of the Circular Economy concept. The challenges still
facing the packaging industry include (Kawecka 2018):
further reducing the weight and volume of packaging, maintaining the functional
use of reusable packaging along with an eective system of packaging collection
from consumers and return to users,
building an eective collection system for segregated waste,
Fig. 5. Organic recycling
Rys. 5. Recykling organiczny
development of modern processing processes, so that there is no downcycling in
practice but for recycling or upcycling,
designing packaging useful for recycling,
wider distribution of bioplastics as an alternative to plastics,
change of legal regulations,
applying incentives to enterprises and consumers, while penalizing non-compliance,
education of consumers and entrepreneurs.
The implementation of the trend related to the desire to further reduce the weight
and volume of packaging forces the necessity to develop new materials with improved
barrier and strength properties, which in turn may lead to the protection of the packed
product at a very low weight of packaging material. It is also necessary to build eective
collection systems for both reusable packaging and segregated post-consumer waste. The
organization of such systems forces the involvement of more entities or the introduction
of solutions in the form of recyclers. Packaging designers should take better account of
the requirements of recycling systems, implementing the ecodesign of packaging (Lewis
At the same time, the recycling industry and research units are working on new ways
to recycle materials, including the chemical recycling of polymers allowing for depolyme-
rization, obtaining monomers and re-conducting the polymerization process (Paszun and
Spychaj 1997). The challenges of the packaging industry also include: striving to improve
the properties of biodegradable plastics from renewable sources and spreading their use
to packaging various types of products. Plastics of this type t perfectly into the Circular
Economy concept, causing the return of packaging waste in the form of biomass to the
environment and the supply of new raw material resources. The above proposed actions
will have a chance of implementation if legal regulations are introduced that will encourage
or forcefully change existing packaging to more environmentally friendly packaging. These
activities should be supported by appropriate educational campaigns among consumers and
The publication was nanced from the funds granted to the Department of Commodity Science and Product
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