Sustainable from the start: rising to the Ecopack Challenge

The future of branded and inspirational packaging

3 & 4 March 2021 | Halls 11-12 Birmingham

Sustainable from the start: rising to the Ecopack Challenge

Consumers are concerned that packaging is not recyclable and goes to landfill, with 3 in 5 UK consumers rating these as significant problems.  Only marine plastic pollution rates more highly as a packaging-related issue. So brands and retailers looking to protect brand value and take their customers on the sustainability journey need to respond with easy to recycle packaging designs.

In our third year as sponsors of the Ecopack Stage OPRL is thrilled to be supporting the Ecopack Challenge by validating the recyclability of entries by running them through our PREP UK recyclability evaluation tool to ensure claims of recyclability are founded on fact.  The tool, free to OPRL members, evaluates whether a packaging design will be collected by local councils, how it fares in the sorting systems at Materials Recycling Facilities and at reprocessors, and whether there are markets for the recycling recyclate.


Commenting on the challenges facing packaging buyers searching for sustainable packaging Jane Bevis, Executive Chair of OPRL and Ecopack Challenge judge says “With continuing consumer concerns on unrecyclable packaging and plastic packaging everyone is looking for the Holy Grail and all too often claims of sustainability have been exaggerated or don’t take account of the recycling infrastructure here in the UK.  Something that’s recyclable in Germany or France, for example, may not be recyclable here.  That’s why a rigorous evaluation is so important – the risk to brand value of greenwashing charges is just too high.  And it is FMCG brands and retailers, not the packaging supplier, who will take the hit.”

PREP UK complies with ISO 14021 requirements for self-evaluated environmental claims such as recyclability.

“The default positions must be that all reusable and single use packaging is designed and properly assessed as recyclable or realistically compostable – bearing in mind we currently have no household collections infrastructure for compostables in the UK.” adds Jane.  “That’s what OPRL’s 430 members (and rising) are looking for.  There will, of course, be situations where the carbon and water footprint of the product warrants a particular packaging material that is not recyclable, perhaps because shelf life is significantly extended by controlled atmosphere or resealable packaging.  But these should be exceptional and consciously taken decisions to support sustainable production and consumption.  However, consumer expectations are high and increasingly brands have to justify the choices they make to a critical public. We can’t expect consumers to go the extra mile in recycling if producers aren’t going even further to help them.”

Given this increasing demand for sustainable packaging, innovation is essential to produce new solutions for packaging needs across consumer products, but particularly in FMCG where packaging volumes are huge.  The Ecopack Challenge, sponsored by M&S each year at Packaging Innovations, is an invaluable showcase for those ready to take their products to market.  OPRL will be offering a year’s free membership to the winners and any highly commended entries for the first time at this year’s show at the NEC.


With recycling rates in the UK stalling the only way to meet challenging packaging recycling targets is to make it as easy and clear as possible for consumers to recycle.  That requires good design, easy separation of any incompatible components and clear, consistent communication.  Good design considers material choices, colour, NIR detectability, pack dimensions and attention to detail on labels, sleeves, glues, sealants and bonding, inks and barrier coatings.

Are pack designs really sorted for recycling at MRFs?

“PREP UK is a game-changer.  It’s the first time that a buyer who is not fully trained as a packaging technologist can make these assessments.  You don’t have to take things on trust anymore, you can undertake due diligence to protect your brand value.”

Jane will be joining Laura Fernandez from M&S, Paul Jenkins from Packhub and Martin Kersh of the Foodservices Packaging Association as a judge.  The dragon’s den style panel will take place on the first day of the show where finalists will pitch their designs to the judges and audience.

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