The meteoric rise of PCR packaging

The meteoric rise of PCR packaging

  • Nov 09,2023

Governments and consumers put goods manufacturers under mounting pressure to use PCR packaging

Post-consumer recyclate (PCR) has been on the radar of goods manufacturers for some time. As governments continue to tighten up regulations and nudge up the taxes, it’s moved upfront and centre-stage. Add in today’s increasingly eco-conscious and demanding consumers, and PCR packaging is making serious waves in the business world.

If, like thousands of manufacturers worldwide, you’re wondering how you can best future-proof your business and your brand from the fallout, this article tells you everything you need to know.

But – before we dive in – let’s take a moment to define PCR packaging.

What does PCR mean?

Post-consumer recyclate (PCR) refers to pre- and post-consumer recyclate. In other words, it’s been processed in some way. While this usually means it’s been recycled from consumer products – such as paper, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles and aluminium cans – this isn’t always the case.

Most commonly, PCR is made from recycled plastics including Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), Recycled Polypropylene Plastic (PP) and High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE). Typically, recycled plastic contains 30% or more PCR.

What are the benefits of PCR packaging?

From an environmental perspective, PCR packaging saves on waste creation in landfills and pollution. It also helps free up our limited petroleum resources for other purposes, translating quickly to meaningful, measurable reductions in your carbon footprint.

From a commercial viewpoint, PCR packaging is a great way to attract and retain customers, many of whom expect and demand environmentally friendly, recycled product packaging. Arguably, using PCR plastic packaging – and clearly promoting it on your goods – may be the only way to combat the stigma of plastics among today’s eco-conscious consumers.

Moreover, if your product packaging doesn’t match your wider green corporate promises, your increasingly savvy customers will simply take their business, their loyalty and their wallets elsewhere. And they won’t have to look far to find a competitor that delivers…

The other major driver of uptake relates to evolving regulations and taxes. To address climate change, most (but not all) European governments have been nudging up their taxes on plastics for some time.

Current UK regulations stipulate that manufacturers and importers of over 10 tonnes of plastic that doesn’t contain at least 30 per cent PCR have to pay an additional Plastics Tax. (Importers and manufacturers of less than 10 tonnes are exempt.) Mindful that this tax is likely to increase going forwards – as is consumer pressure regarding sustainability – many on-the-fence companies have now embraced PCR packaging. They argue that, over time, PCR also wins the financial argument.

What are the disadvantages and obstacles?

That said, a number of factors work against a more widespread adoption of PCR packaging.

First up, somewhere along the supply chain, there are additional processing costs which ultimately drive up the per unit cost. When brand values and target consumers don’t necessitate the use of recycled plastics, it’s often pricing that trumps other considerations.

But the tide is turning. Driven by mounting consumer pressure to use PCR, many companies – and industry at large – are adopting a more long-term view. The business world is investing heavily in new recycling centres and machinery designed to improve the quality of recycled materials. Combined with economies of scale, this investment is expected to drive down the costs and increase the reach of PCR in the medium-term future.

Uncertainties relating to quality, health and safety, and performance, have also slowed the uptake of PCR, particularly for the industrial sector. Fearful of delivering potentially sub-standard products – and of devastating claims being levelled against them as a result – many industrial companies have opted to stick with the status quo.

An extreme example is that of dangerous products. For explosives, flammable liquids and toxic substances, PCR packaging is simply not an option. As it’s impossible to ensure the strength quality of recycled material 100% of the time, it doesn’t meet with the overseas shipping safety regulations required for UN approval. At least for the moment…

Confusing rules – which vary depending on recycled material – can also act as a barrier. The most common recycled material, PET, is straightforward. Made largely from water bottles and soft drinks using the same spec., this clear material easily assures food safety and quality. PP, on the other hand, cannot guarantee food safety. Its use is therefore limited largely to buckets and pots with an industrial use (e.g., paint).

HDPE – which we use for all of our bottles – is another case in point. It’s extremely popular with milk bottle companies. The complication here is that cosmetic products – which also tend to use HDPE – dye the material, rendering it unusable for milk companies.

To address the challenges outlined above, retailers – particularly food and cosmetics brands – conducted in-depth quality control testing some time ago. They now have firmly established processes and supply networks in place. And their approach has proven successful and lucrative. The industrial sector, conversely, has been dragging its heels. Until now…

What’s next?

Despite all the challenges mentioned above, change is afoot in the world of PCR packaging. And it’s gathering momentum…

We have already seen that pressure to make the transition – from the government and consumers – is mounting. Today, it makes more sense than ever – from brand and commercial perspectives – to make the switch to PCR packaging sourced from local providers. Add in the devastating effects of climate change and the move is urgent.

At PWC, we have been preparing our award-winning products and services for many years to help companies like yours make a smooth, quick, cost-effective and successful transition to PCR packaging.

We have worked hard to offer a vast range of PCR packaging that delivers on quality, cost and efficiency. None of our customers need to worry about the Plastics Tax – all products sold by P. Wilkinson Containers will have had all relevant plastic taxes already paid! And we’ve dramatically increased our range of PET products, almost all of which now have PCR content.

So whatever the stage of your PCR journey, please get in touch to find out how our proven PCR packaging solutions can satisfy your accountants, your eco-conscious customers and your planet. Unparalleled quality, incredible cost-effectiveness and green credentials you’ll want to shout about.

Are you ready to join the PCR Packaging Revolution?

Please get in touch with our packaging experts on +44 (0)20 7237 4500 or at sales@pwcon.co.uk to brainstorm the options today!

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