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Exclusive Interview with CJ CheilJedang

 Ahead of this year's Sustainability in Packaging Asia 2024, we spoke with Olivia Park, Manager of Global Packaging R&D at CJ CheilJedang, to get a sneak peek of what we can expect from her presentation on 'Case study of sustainable packaging from a food brand.' Here's what she had to say...

Your presentation at this year’s Sustainability in Packaging Asia will cover Case study of sustainable packaging from a food brand. Why is it important for others in the industry to hear this message?

At the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, a landmark global agreement was reached to address climate change and its negative effects. Subsequently, in 2017, NGOs such as Greenpeace called upon leading global consumer packaged goods (CPGs) companies to actively address environmental issues.

Many environmental NGOs recommended companies not to use plastic through the Plastic Free Campaign, but with the outbreak of COVID-19 in late 2019, there has been a shift in awareness regarding the necessity of plastic usage, particularly in areas essential for personal hygiene and safety.

Companies have recognized that adopting a circular economy approach, which focuses on resource circulation to ensure responsible plastic usage, holds the potential to address the fundamental challenges related to plastic. Universities and corporate research institutes are actively engaged in extensive research aimed at developing technologies that facilitate sustainable resource circulation and usage.

In 2020, South Korea formally announced its "2050 Carbon Neutrality Goal." This declaration has prompted companies to assess their value not solely based on financial outcomes but also considering non-financial factors such as ESG (environment, society, and governance). As a result, many companies are actively involved in initiatives aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

Our future consumers, the M-Z generation, accept eco-friendliness as a basic attribute of products rather than as a separate sustainable packaged products or category.

Global companies, including CJCJ, are actively striving to introduce technologies aimed at enhancing recycling processes and minimizing the utilization of petroleum-derived virgin plastic. Moreover, these companies are championing eco-friendliness by fostering collaboration across the entire value chain. This is because sustainability cannot be achieved by one company alone, but can be solved through collaboration across each value chain.

Why processed food packaging should consider recycling and the environment ?

Processed food packaging should be designed to be sustainable while maintaining the packaging's inherent ability to protect food and maintain safety within its shelf life.

Processed food packaging is not a linear economic concept that is discarded after use, but if it can be used continuously as a resource, it is considered the best option to reduce the environmental impact.

Processed food packaging can contribute to the development of a sustainable ecosystem by strengthening existing protective functions and incorporating new features that promote post-use recycling.

CJ CheilJedang's Hetbahn is the first product in Asia-Pacific to be made in collaboration with SABIC, to make ready-to-eat rice packaging with rigid bowls using certified renewable PP.

What are the main challenges in your day-to-day work relating to sustainable packaging solutions?

In my work, the main challenges in developing sustainable packaging solutions revolve around balancing environmental concerns, practicality, and economic viability.
  • Compliance with different regulations in each global region: Keeping up with evolving regulations and standards related to packaging materials, recycling, and waste management is essential. Compliance requirements vary by region and can impact the design and implementation of sustainable packaging solutions. Recently, K-Food has garnered significant popularity among global consumers, leading CJCJ to expand its range of exported products worldwide. However, packaging for these products poses challenges due to variations in recycling infrastructure, regulations, and standards across different countries.
  • Same material performance as traditional packaging materials: In processed food packaging, ensuring the safe preservation of foods takes precedence over minimizing environmental impact. Sustainable materials often need to meet the same performance standards as traditional packaging materials in terms of water resistance, barrier properties, durability, and shelf life. Finding materials that offer similar performance without compromising sustainability can be difficult.
  • Consumer Perception and Education: Consumer awareness and acceptance of sustainable packaging solutions are crucial. This is because consumers cannot see a difference with the naked eye even if the thickness of the packaging film is reduced or the tray is made lighter. Therefore, educating consumers about the benefits of sustainable packaging and overcoming misconceptions or resistance can be a significant challenge.
  • Higher Cost due to new resources or processes compared to traditional packaging material : While the long-term benefits of sustainable packaging are clear, upfront costs can be higher compared to traditional packaging materials. Finding ways to minimize costs without compromising sustainability is a constant consideration. these challenges requires a holistic approach that considers safety, environmental and economic factors.
What are some of the biggest opportunities gaining attention within the packaging industry?

The packaging industry is undergoing significant transformation, driven by technological advancements, changing regulation, consumer preferences, and sustainability concerns.
  • Sustainable Packaging: There's a growing demand for packaging solutions that minimize environmental impact. This includes the development of biodegradable, compostable, recyclable materials, and recycled material usage as well as innovations in lightweighting and package design to reduce material usage and transportation emissions. Recently, packaging suppliers are commercializing easy to recycle packaging solutions such as mono film or bottle design.  
  • E-commerce Packaging Solutions: With the continued growth of e-commerce, there's a need for packaging solutions that are optimized for online retailing. In traditional brick-and-mortar retail, most products are packed on pallets and shipped in bulk from a distribution center (DC) to the retail store. An e-commerce package is an opportunity for the item to be dropped or damaged, e-commerce supply chains create much higher requirements for packaging robustness and product protection. This includes packaging designs that prioritize product protection, space efficiency, and ease of shipping, as well as sustainable alternatives to traditional single-use packaging materials.  
  • Smart Packaging: Incorporating technology into packaging offers opportunities for enhanced functionality, efficiency, and consumer engagement. Smart packaging offers consumers greater access to product and company information, resulting in a more satisfactory shopping experience. Consumers are promptly redirected to a designated encounter using the provided code, such as a webpage. In addition, this includes features like RFID tags for tracking and enhanced supply chain transparency and intelligent sensors for freshness monitoring maintaining quality control and product integrity.
By embracing these opportunities and leveraging innovation and collaboration, the packaging industry can continue to evolve and meet the changing needs of consumers and the environment.

What do you think will be some of the most interesting advancements in packaging in the near future?

In the near future, several advancements in packaging are likely to emerge, driven by technological innovation, sustainability and carbon net-zero goals, and changing younger consumer preferences.
  • Advanced Recycling Technologies: Advancements in recycling technologies, such as chemical recycling, solvent-based recycling and enzymatic depolymerization, offer opportunities to improve the recyclability of packaging materials and increase the efficiency of recycling processes. These technologies also influence other value chain technologies. In order to create high-quality circular materials, watermark technology and AI-equipment that can sort collected plastic by material type are being developed. These technologies can help address challenges associated with complex multi-layered packaging structures. This ongoing technology research can help solve problems associated with complex multi-layer packaging structures.  
  • Biodegradable and Edible Packaging: Innovations in biodegradable and edible packaging materials offer opportunities to reduce waste and enhance sustainability. These materials, derived from sources such as algae, seaweed, and edible polymers, can be consumed along with the product or decompose naturally after use. This technology can help solve problems associated with plastic waste ending up in landfills or single-use plastic for food service industry or e-commerce industry. CJ Biomaterials developed microwavable paper coating technology combining its patented PHA with PLA. This paper coating solution increases bio-based content, reducing petroleum-based plastic use without compromising the function and quality of the paper cup. The coating technology is used on the convenience store’s popular New Today’s Chicken Noodle cup packaging.  
  • Carbon-Neutral and Carbon-Negative Packaging: As companies strive to reduce their carbon footprint, there's growing interest in developing packaging solutions that are carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative. This involves utilizing renewable materials, implementing sustainable production practices, and offsetting carbon emissions through carbon capture or other means.
What are the challenges the brands have to overcome in the next few years?

In the next few years, brands will face several challenges as they navigate an increasingly complex business landscape shaped by technological disruption, shifting consumer preferences, and global socio-economic trends.
  • Sustainability: Addressing sustainability concerns is paramount for brands across all industries. They will need to adopt more environmentally friendly practices throughout their operations, including product design, sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, and distribution. Achieving sustainability goals while maintaining profitability and competitiveness will be a significant challenge. For consumers, sustainability is no longer just another packaging method, but a fundamental attribute for all products. Packaging should not only protect the product but also consider disposal after use. Consumers are able to dispose of products more conveniently when separating and disposing of them after use. Sustainable and convenient packaging design provides consumers with a brand experience.  
  • Consumer Trust and Transparent communication : Building and maintaining consumer trust in an era of heightened transparency and social accountability is crucial. If a brand lacks integrity or trustworthiness, consumer loyalty can be undermined. It needs continuous efforts to make consumers aware that packaging is eco-friendly. Even if less plastic is used or non-petroleum-based materials are used, the look and feel of the product does not change, so it may be difficult for consumers to directly recognize it.
Climate change and rapid changes in the natural environment can raise consumers' concerns about sustainability. Therefore, it will be very important in future brand activities to clearly explain why this product is Sustainable Packaging.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Compliance with increasingly stringent regulations and standards across different jurisdictions presents a challenge for brands operating in global markets. There may be confusion until a global standard regarding environmental issues is created. Recycling infrastructure may vary depending on the country, and standards for problematic materials may vary. While addressing environmental concerns may be a shared objective, the strategies for resolving them may differ based on local circumstances. As a result, brands should adopt a comprehensive approach to navigate these variations effectively.